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5 Ways to Help Kids Develop Healthy Habits

Contributors: Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN

Reviewers: Academy Nutrition Information Services Team

Published: August 27, 2020

Reviewed: September 19, 2023

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A study by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation showed parents have significant potential to influence their children's behavior. This includes eating habits and physical activity. In fact, parents outrank sports celebrities, with mothers and fathers taking first and second place as the person their child "would like to be most," according to the survey. So, teach your kids about how to make healthy food choices and engage in regular physical activity by being a good role model.

Embrace the Concept of Family

Family dynamics can have a positive (or negative) effect on a child's health. Family patterns that seem most related to health include spending quality time such as cooking or sharing a meal together, playing and family routines. Eating at home also showed more benefits over dining out.

Promote Positive Habits

Aim for balance and openness around food and mealtimes. Include your children in meal planning, shopping and preparation to encourage participation. Create a warm and open family environment at mealtimes. The same goes for exercise. Make sure your kids know they are part of the team and that health and fitness are a family affair. Take turns letting your child pick a family activity.

Keep Foods Neutral

Stay away from using food as a reward and don't forbid specific foods. Using food as a reward, such as giving a child a cookie for completing his or her homework, can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. Labeling foods as "bad" or forbidding foods may also increases a child's desire for the food.

Don’t Force Feed

As they grow, children’s appetites fluctuate. So, when they’re full, don't push them to clean their plate. Also, don’t force children to stay at the dinner table until they’ve finished those veggies. Though this might appear to help your kids get the nutrition they need, these behaviors may lead to kids disliking those foods and having negative associations with mealtime.

Plan Regular Family Activities

Because family routines and time together are associated with positive habits, make activity a family affair: Take your kids to the park to walk when appropriate, jog, inline skate or play catch. Make walking the dog a fun game by counting how many times the dog stops or how many rabbits or squirrels the dog sees.

Research suggests that parents can positively affect children's development and behaviors, especially in the early years. So, engage with your children and be the person you hope they will become!

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