10 ways moms can support their daughters’ healthy relationship with food
Top 10 tips on how moms can support their daughters (and sons) in having a strong, healthy relationship with food and their bodies.
A lot of times, the idea of achieving wellness is oversimplified, and boiled down into diet hacks and buzzwords that promise fast results. You know the ones I’m thinking about: keto, plant-based, intermittent fasting, gluten-free, clean eating, all-natural, organic. But in reality, health is complex and multifaceted, influenced by genetics, diet, activity level, sleep, stress, socioeconomic status, gender, education, access to healthcare, social support networks and the environment in which we live.
And what does this have to do with moms supporting moms and daughters? Having a daughter myself, I know how much she picks up on from what I say (for better or worse!) One of my mom friends and I were joking about how sometimes looking at our oldest kids interact with their younger siblings is like looking in the mirror.
Our daughters learn from us every day: they watch how we eat, take note of which foods we don’t eat. They hear the way we describe different foods, how we treat and talk about our bodies, and they feel the emotions that we feel in relation to eating, physical activity and our bodies.
Without trying to oversimplify this too much, these are my top 10 tips on how moms can support their daughters (and sons) in having a strong, healthy relationship with food and their bodies.
1. Focus on healthy habits like eating well and regular physical activity instead of tracking weight on a scale.
2. Drop the weight talk. Research shows parental weight talk (about their own dieting or weight) and commenting on their child’s weight is associated with an increased risk for the child of being overweight or having an eating disorder.
3. Eat as a family as much as possible. Eating family meals more throughout the week is associated with eating more fruits and vegetables, calcium-rich foods and fiber. Family meals offer a time for parents to role model healthy eating behaviors, and helps parents be more aware of their child’s eating habits.
4. Keep mealtimes pleasant. Avoid unproductive talk about food such as commenting on what your child is or isn’t eating or telling children not to take seconds.
5. Make eating well and being active a family affair. It’s good for everyone to eat well and include daily movement that’s enjoyable. Make healthy meals for the whole family including a balance of each of the food groups at each meal:
- Protein-rich foods (chicken, fish, beef)
- Whole grains or starchy vegetables (brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta or potatoes)
- Vegetables and/or fruits
- Fats (olive oil or butter, for example)
- Water or milk
6. Serve meals family style and allow your child to eat until he or she is satisfied.
7. Ensure your child gets enough sleep – children and teens have different needs depending upon their age:
- 3–5 years: 10–13 hours (including naps)
- 6–12 years: 9–12 hours
- 13–18 years: 8–10 hours
8. Have a plan for sweets, treats and sugary drinks. Don’t avoid sweets altogether, as when children are given the chance to eat them (at parties, friends’ houses), they are more likely to overeat them. Instead, limit the number of sweets and treats brought into the house, and aim for a balance of healthy foods 90% of the time and sweets and treats 10% of the time.
9. Don’t label foods as good and bad. It makes us feel bad when we eat “bad” foods. One alternative is calling sweets and treats “fun foods.”
10. Offer regularly scheduled meals and snacks every 3-4 hours for children and every 4-5 hours for teens. And limit meal skipping – skipping breakfast tends to lead to grazing throughout the afternoon and evening. Eat meals at the table, without distractions like TV or cell phones. Close the kitchen between meals and snacks. Routine, predictable meals and snacks help with appetite regulation and promotes healthy habits.
It starts with us, moms. You got this.
Jacqueline Ballou Erdos
Jacqueline Ballou Erdos, MS, RD, CCSD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian and Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. She is passionate about helping clients foster a lifelong, healthy relationship with food and their bodies, and works with her clients to create a custom plan that suits their needs.
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