According to the 2008-2009 State of Our Nation's Youth Survey by the Horatio Alger Association, more than 75 percent of children believe in family members, family friends, teachers, coaches and community leaders to act as their role models. Fewer than 25 percent claim entertainment figures, artists, sports stars and national or international leaders are qualified enough to fit this role. At the end of the school day, past all of the media and societal influences, children look up to you. Kids observe and imitate parents throughout all activities, including mealtime.
A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that five-year-old girls' fruit and vegetable intake was positively related to their parents' reported fruit and vegetable intake. Parents who consumed fewer fruits and vegetables tended to report greater pressure in child feeding, yet had daughters who consumed fewer fruits and vegetables. It was established that greater pressure during mealtime created greater declines in fruit and vegetable intake among the young girls.
An article published in Public Heath Nutrition collectively reviewed the associations between the family environment and young people's fruit and vegetable consumption. Parental modeling and parental intake were consistently associated with higher children's fruit and vegetable consumption. These studies highlight the importance of focusing on your own food choices to create a greater influence on your children. Encourage your children to establish healthy eating habits through these four positive food role model behaviors:
Most importantly, model eating and enjoying a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Make trying new foods a family activity.
Introduce new foods at the beginning of a meal, when everyone is hungry.
Make mealtimes a fun and positive family environment.
Victoria Nihan is a junior Dietetics, Nutrition and Food Science major at the University of Vermont. She is interning with Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE, cPT, a health, food and fitness coach in southwestern Vermont and online at www.LynnGrieger.com