Who’s Teaching My Kids to Make Healthy Choices?

My 10-year old looks over my shoulder as I type the title of this blog and then answers the question, “You. Duh!”

I attended a meeting at the National Academies of Science last week on the parent’s role in preventing childhood obesity. As always, I thought as much about my family and myself as a parent as I thought about how could help other parents to be empowered and effective in guiding their children’s health habits.

Before I had kids, I was clear that it is the parent’s responsibility to teach their children how to make healthy choices, about food, sleep, activity, brushing teeth, etc. Then I had kids. And I realized a few things.

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First, I have never been the sole caregiver for my children. My husband and I are both very involved, which means he has an opinion about what and how to teach our children– and we don’t always agree! My in-laws live close-by and are very involved in caring for my kids. The girls were in day care as babies because I worked full time, then preschool, and now grade school. There are their friends and their friends’ parents, other neighbors, the church pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners, sports coaches, and our extended family. I have sometimes had to champion healthier choices for them in these environments, but more often count my blessings for all of the wonderful people who help us raise them.

(The “n” is a scientific reference. In any research study you read or hear about, it’s important to know how many people were in a study (the “n”) to understand how those results apply to people who weren’t in the study (the rest of us). It’s unwise to look at what works for one person and apply it to everyone. On the other hand, I believe it is unwise to look at what works for the vast majority and assume it is the only thing that will work for each individual. What works for most people is an excellent starting point. Then, I as a dietitian and each of us for ourselves and our families have to do the work of understanding what works for the individual.)

As I was saying, each person is unique, so I figure out as I go how to apply science to our daily lives in a meaningful way, what to tweak, and what to ignore. And I rely as much on the community with which I am raising my children as I do the science.

The great thing about last week’s  meeting was that there was no finger-pointing. Instead, there were many present who work daily to help find solutions to the real challenges parents face in today’s society, through science, education, and access to food… and food “know-how.” There was a strong voice for the need to look out for families who live in neighborhoods where they are hard pressed to find frozen vegetables without freezer burn, much less fresh fruits and veggies. Although some may think the key to raising healthy kids is held only by the parents or only by the government or food producers or doctors, most seem to be embracing the need for all of us to do our part, work together, and hold each other accountable.

So when you plan your meals for the coming week, balance what you know about nutrition with what works for your family. Think of what we can do together to make it easier for our kids to live a healthy life, not only for their physical health, but also their mental and social health. We can do it together!

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