Food for thought - eating by example

One of the best things you can do for your kids is to eat a healthy diet – not just to help improve your wellbeing, but theirs, too. 

Bupa dietitian Gemma Cosgriff shares some ideas on how you can make wholesome food a family affair.

Our kids are super sleuths. They pretty much notice everything – including that jar of cookies in the cupboard and your 3pm chocolate fix. The problem is, when they see us piling into the processed foods they think it’s also okay for them to do the same.
Research suggests that children can be influenced by the diet their parents eat, so to encourage them to have a positive approach to food, we need to model the healthy eating and drinking habits we would like our kids to develop.

Gemma Cosgriff is a Bupa dietitian. She says, “Young children learn mostly by observing others and the people they see most are usually their parents. So it’s really important that parents (and carers) encourage healthy behaviours to set them up for success – and health – throughout life.”

Cosgriff believes the most important thing we can do is eat a wide variety of different foods from the five main foods groups (fruit, vegetables, dairy, protein and legumes) so that we get all the nutrients we need. She says, “It’s about allowing children to explore as many different flavours, textures and colours of nutritious foods as possible.”

Setting a good example

Foodswitch ambassador and Olympic swimmer, Nicole Livingstone, agrees on the importance of leading by example. The mother of three says, “With healthy living, your kids see what you do and it then becomes part of their routine.”

So fill your fridge with vegies and fruit, and stock the pantry with a wide variety of grains, legumes and wholefoods. And remember to only stock foods that the entire family can eat. “If you keep food in the house that only adults are allowed to eat then the kids will want it as well. They’ll think: ‘Why are you different to me?’” says Cosgriff.

Of course, as with shaping other aspects of your children’s behaviour, getting your kids to eat well requires perseverance – it can take up to 20 tries for a child to like a food item, so keep offering your child different foods.

boy eating apple at the table

Hands-on for health

One way to help get them interested in the food, says Cosgriff, is to include children in planning, preparing, buying and cooking it. “Kids can be very curious and it’s worthwhile bringing that curiosity into the kitchen,” she says. “We want our kids to know a little bit more about what goes into our food, and to try to eat as many wholefoods and as few processed foods as possible.”

She advises reducing the amount of salt, sugar and sauces we add to our meals – instead opt for herbs and spices – and perhaps consider creating your own veggie and herb garden. That way kids are actively involved in what they are eating. 

Avoid the treat trap

The liquid diet is equally important, so remember to sip water through the day and don’t be tempted to guzzle too much juice, as it’s often loaded with sugar and can cause dental issues. 

And, while it’s a trap that many of us fall into, avoid offering lollies or dessert as a treat. If you do this Cosgriff warns it is sending a message that you need to be rewarded for eating healthy food.

Finally, Cosgriff suggests parents sit with their children at meal times, encourage kids to help themselves to the meal, and not get too hung up if they eat more or less than what is on their plate.

This way, meals are a collaborative affair and shared in a friendly environment. 
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