Healthy Diets For Kids: Parents Lead by Example?

By Mel Thomassian (RD)


There’s no doubt many parents are concerned about their children’s eating habits. But, when you are so concerned about what your kids are eating, to the detriment of your own diet, something needs to change.

Marquita Winslow, a mum from Youngsville, N.C, said this,

We’re really health-conscious when it comes to them… We try to do the least amount of processed food we can. In summer, we grow our own vegetables and we freeze some, so in winter, that’s what they’re eating.” Regarding her and her husbands diet though, she says, “We’re just crappy eaters… I will have a can of Coca-Cola in the morning. Then I’ll be so intent on fixing breakfasts and lunches, I’ll skip eating or just snack. I get those Pringles and think I’m really good because they’re only 100 calories. Meanwhile, the kids’ grapes and carrots are sitting mere paces away in the fridge. Source

I imagine this is the case for so many parents these days. Everyone is so busy, and it’s really tough to get everything fitted in to an already packed schedule.

But, I like the comparison used by David Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life Program, at Children’s Hospital Boston. He said,

We use the metaphor from airlines: You put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others. We have to take care of ourselves as parents before helping our children. A mother who is overly stressed and malnourished herself will never be able to provide the best nutrition for her child.

So, what can you do to rectify this problem?

1. Realize there’s an issue
I think many parent don’t realize the extent of how their own eating habits can effect their kids, so realizing that it is a problem is the starting point.

Remember, your children are watching everything you do. And, although they may say very little, they do notice your behavior. So, changing unhealthy habits before your children are old enough to clue in and start mimicking what you do, is a must.

2. Start in the womb
Research suggests that the intrauterine environment plays a key role in future weight, health and diabetes risk of our children. So, if you are pregnant, or planning to get pregnant, try to improve your nutrition right now, to give your baby the best start in life.

3. Get planning
Whether this means writing a weekly menu plan, packing a healthy lunch for yourself and your kids, having meals stashed in the freezer for those extra busy times, or just having a supply of nutritious snacks for you and your kids available at all times – just do whatever it takes to make eating healthy easier for everyone.

Then, plan to eat together at least a few meals each week – chances are you’ll eat better when you are all sitting down together.

These are small changes, but they make a big difference over time.

Image source: Andy Ciordia


  1. Kelly O

    As a new parent, I can easily see how you could focus so much on making sure your child has healthy options that you forget to take care of yourself. I do that now, to a point, and my daughter is only four months old.

    I honestly didn’t understand before, people who talked about trying to fit in showers, or re-heating the same thing half a dozen times until it’s just not fit to eat. And then I had a baby, and I get it. It’s an amazingly time-consuming (and completely worth it) effort, but the day gets away from you so quickly.

    We’re making a conscious effort to set a better example for her, but when you have two parents working 45+ hour work weeks, it takes a tremendous effort. There have been plenty of days that I’ve fallen asleep trying to settle the baby down, or nights I pace around our house trying to help her get to sleep. I sleepwalk through days sometimes, but it’s what I have to do.

    It’s really easy to say “how can people do that?” but until you’ve walked that mile, you don’t really know. Believe me, I did. The only thing that helps me is keeping “junk” out of the house. I just don’t buy it. If all I have are better options, then I won’t be tempted to eat a hand full of chips while I’m folding laundry, or drink cokes instead of water. It’s not the easiest option, it’s certainly not the one I like best, but it’s the only thing that works.

  2. richmond acupuncturist

    kids can have anything in eat because of their low age they can digest easily well it acts exactly opposite to the high age people because they are not quick as kids does.

  3. Melanie Thomassian R.D.

    Wow Ola, that’s quite a motivation, it’s nice to know there are still some out there who are serious about being healthy 🙂

  4. Melanie Thomassian R.D.

    Agreed Spectra.

  5. Melanie Thomassian R.D.

    Is it a variety thing? Perhaps you are bored of eating the same foods? Just a suggestion.

  6. Melanie Thomassian R.D.

    I don’t understand it either, Duane… seems crazy to me.

  7. DSP Rules

    I actually find that I eat the exact opposite of what my mom fed us as kids. Everything was prepackaged, high fructose, margarine-ladden, and so full of bad-for-you stuff that I just can’t stomach any of that as an adult. So I guess I should thank my mom for that — that would kind of be a back-handed comment though, wouldn’t it? Now it’s all organic, whole, grain-fed, and as few prepackaged foods as possible. The diet solution program would never allow for anything else.

  8. Ola

    The way I live now is totally down to my mother who fed us mostly good clean food as children. The result is tat more often, my nutrition choices are healthy and I have less of a sweet tooth than most of my friends. It takes a long time to develop this habit and am glad that I had someone make me pick it. Even when I get lazy or sloppy, my bad choices are limited. Parents are the building blocks of kids futures. Without her input, I am certain I would be struggling more than I do with my nutrition choices.We are constantly bombarded with research news linking bad diet to most chronic and life threatening conditions (I often report on them on my blog.

    When I slack, the fear of dying painfully and causing distress to loved ones, is a kick up the backside for me. I praise and support anyone determined to appreciate good food and live healthily. You are all shining examples.

  9. Spectra

    This is such a copout. Parents want to raise kids that eat healthy foods, yet they refuse to give up THEIR junk food because they’re the adult and feel like they should be able to eat whatever they want. To me, that is totally ridiculous and if you think your kids aren’t catching on, trust me, they are. Growing up, my mom never ate the healthy foods that my dad made us eat–she always ate junk food. I always figured that once I was in college and had moved out from my parents’ house, I’d be able to eat whatever I wanted. So I did for a while…I went hogwild eating pizza, burgers, fries, ice cream, and cookies pretty much every day. Kids learn best by example–if they see Mom and Dad eating veggies and fruits and enjoying them, they are more likely to eat them willingly.

  10. Lestamore

    I can kind of relate, although I don’t have kids. Often if I have spent time cooking and smelling something, I am not even interested by the time it is ready to eat. I make lunches for my boyfriend sometimes and I rarely eat any. And there is the willpower thing, I know I should eat vegetables, but when they are there in front of me looking all vegetable-y on some level I just don’t want to eat them, and if there was someone else to eat them instead I might make myself some excuses to get out of it.

  11. Duane

    “We’re just crappy eaters… I will have a can of Coca-Cola in the morning. Then I’ll be so intent on fixing breakfasts and lunches, I’ll skip eating or just snack.”

    I don’t understand this statement. She’s made breakfast and lunches, why not have some? She’s already further ahead than parents who don’t make breakfast and lunches. This is silliness.