Improve your kids’ relationship with food

Apr 28, 2010 at 2:49 p.m. ET

When you’re running around juggling your schedule with your families, imparting healthy eating habits to your children can be challenging. But more and more research is showing that children develop their eating habits – and base their relationship with food – on the way they see mom or dad eating. Here are a few easy-to-do things that will help you teach your children to positively identify with food.

Mom and son cooking dinner

Eat dinner at the table

People tend to eat fewer calories – and tend to eat slower – when they're at a table instead of in front of a television. Eating as a family will also give you the opportunity to talk to your children about what they have on their plate and learn your child's likes and dislikes. Talking about food and proper eating will ensure your kids don't think food is a "taboo" subject.

Get your kids involved

Encouraging your children to experiment with various healthy recipes in the kitchen is one of the most fun and easy ways to educate them about proper eating. Whipping up recipes will help them learn about what goes into making a nutritionally-balanced meal as well as allow them to build a sense of pride over making and eating healthy homemade foods.

Introduce variety into everyone's diet

While your children are young, it's important to introduce new foods into their diet. This will ensure, down the road, they reach for a variety of nutritious foods when they're hungry – like whole grains, fruits and vegetables. And while it's important to ensure your children see you limiting salt, alcohol and caffeine, it's also important for them to see you indulging – without the guilt or post-meal complaints – in the occasional snippet of junk food. This will teach them that no foods are really off limits when eaten in moderation and this can help prevent them from binge eating down the road.

Eat only when you're hungry

Instead of mindlessly walking back and forth to the fridge when you're bored, upset or angry, go for a walk or do an activity that will keep you busy. Essentially, take the emotion out of when you reach for food. This will send the message to your children that it's not okay to eat for the sake of eating. Food should be enjoyed because it nourishes our bodies. It should never be abused for emotional reasons.

Take your kids grocery shopping

Letting your kids see where food comes from, and what you look for on food labels, will help educate them a bit more about the good and bad of certain products. Make the experience fun. Talk to them about how certain nutrients will make them strong like Superman. Always talk in the positive, never the negative. Let them grab a few snacks from the shelves on their own. Once you have the snacks back at home, talk to your children about the reasons they grabbed what they did. Creating a healthy dialogue around food will help your child develop a healthy relationship with it.

Don't reward yourself with certain foods

Yes, you can indulge once and awhile, but never let your child see you treating yourself to a certain food item just because you've had a good day or ate your daily dose of fruits and vegetables. This could make desserts even more desirable, causing your kids to reach for them more frequently than they otherwise would.

Modeling healthy eating habits will improve your children's relationship with food, their body and their well-being. The end result is a happy, healthy, well-fed family.

More diet and nutrition tips for your family