Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Top 10 Tips for Parents Who Want Healthy Kids

by Dena Cabrera, Psy.D., Remuda Ranch

1.  Be a good role model. Do not follow fad diets for weight loss; eat intuitively. Choose from a variety of foods that are tasteful and satisfying. Eat when hungry; stop when not hungry any more.

2.  Promote Size Acceptance. All bodies are shaped differently; this is natural and a part of one's genetic makeup. Fostering an environment of size acceptance and diversity in shape helps to promote a child's own self acceptance and well being. Differences are welcomed, not feared.

3.  Use positive body language. Are you consistently talking about the weight you want to lose? How much better you would look if you could lose these last 10 pounds? Commenting on others' appearance and making judgments? Talking positively about one's own body will model a healthy self-concept.

4.  Allow for freedom of choice within structure.  Provide food options for children within reason: one snack may be either an apple with peanut butter or graham crackers and milk; another may be a cereal bar or two small cookies. If given the opportunity, children are wonderful intuitive eaters. Make healthy food choices easily accessible and available. 

5.  Create a positive environment around food and eating. We know that children excel emotionally and academically in an environment in which they feel loved and safe (Your Child's Weight, Helping without Harming, chapter 3, "Make family meals a priority", Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, LCSW, BCD). The dinner table is a terrific venue for providing this kind of safety. Make it a rule for the family to eat at least one meal together per day. Keep the conversation positive. The child will associate the context of the meal with positive feelings which in turn promote a healthy relationship with food.

6.  Develop Critical Thinking Skills
Media images and messages about food and bodies are often distorted and kids are the most vulnerable to these messages. Teach them to be watchdogs of the media!  Parents can question advertisements, messages and use talk back techniques with their kids when hearing messages that both discourage healthy realistic attitudes and behaviors related to beauty, eating and weight.

7.  Be active. This can be difficult especially with teens during the summer.  Limit screen time per day: television, computer, video games, text messaging, etc. Build in family activity time to encourage a lifestyle of activity. Set clear expectations for chores done by the child around the house; do not apologize for requiring the child to contribute to the household in this way. Invent games while doing chores. Plan active family vacations: hiking, biking, roller blading, swimming, etc.

8.  Involve the child in menu planning. Invite the child's preferences when planning the weekly menu without dictating the entire menu. Include the child in grocery shopping and meal preparation when possible.  These are great teachable moments.

9.  Everyone should eat the same meal at dinner time. Resist the urge to make a special plate for the child who refuses to eat what is served. Allow the child to decide if she/he will eat and if so, how much; the parent decides what will be served and when.  Parents must be consistent on this issue or they will indefinitely be short-order cooks on demand for the child.

10.  Eat with balance, variety and moderation. Do not require the child to finish everything on his plate. Provide a variety of flavors, colors, textures and aromas in food to expand the child's food repertoire. Depending on the child's age, portion food appropriately or let the child portion on her own. Small, frequent meals and snacks allow the body's metabolism to work most efficiently.

For more information about eating disorders, please call 1-800-445-1900 or visit

To read more excellent articles regarding eating disorders, visit the Eating Disorder Hope Articles Library.

No comments: