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Being a Healthy Role Model for Children

With school in session and parents struggling to find interesting, healthy lunchbox choices, we have some ideas to pass along. The United States Department of Agriculture created an informative and fascinating program called MyPlate. The concept is to offer people a reminder about a healthy eating style and encourage building upon those choices from childhood to adulthood.

MyPlate encourages people to

  • Focus on variety, amount and nutrition
  • Choose foods and beverages with less saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars
  • Start with small changes to build healthier eating styles
  • Support healthy eating for everyone

Healthy eating is a journey, according to the USDA. The journey to good nutrition moves through stages of life, situations, preferences, access to food, culture, traditions and personal decisions, USDA notes. MyPlate gives people the chance to create a healthy eating style that meets individual needs and improves health.

The USDA offers 10 Tips to being a healthy role model for children – easy tips for parents to follow as the school year kicks off. Parents are critical role models for helping children develop healthy eating habits for their entire lives. Though kids are said to be notoriously picky eaters, it’s critical to offer a variety of foods to help children get all the nutrients they need, from every food group. If children are presented with those choices, the chances are that they’ll be more likely to try new foods and to start liking a more diverse grouping of foods.

The USDA encourages families to cook together, eat together, talk together and make mealtime a family – and distraction-free – time.

Here are the USDA’s recommendations about being a healthy role model:

  1. Show by example: As a parent, model the behavior you wish to see, by eating vegetables, fruits and whole grains with meals or as snacks. Make munching on raw vegetables a fun “crunching time” between you and your child.
  2. Go food shopping together: As you shop, don’t just spend time looking for deals or hurrying through the aisles. Use that time to teach your child about food and nutrition. Talk to them about where vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and protein foods come from. Let them help you make healthy choices.
  3. Get creative in the kitchen: Cut food into different shapes with cookie cutters. Invent new healthy snacks with your child. Make your own trail mix with low-sugar cereal, whole-grain, and dried fruit.
  4. Serve the same foods for everyone: If possible (depending on allergies or food sensitivities) don’t make different dishes just to appease children. Plan family meals where everyone eats the same food. Talk about why the food is healthy, and how good it tastes.
  5. Reward with attention, not food: Choose not to offer sweets as rewards for good behavior. Offer hugs, kisses, and talks instead. If you reward with sweets or desserts, a child may think those are better than other foods.
  6. Focus on each other at mealtime: Talk about fun and happy things during meals. Turn off electronic devices and your phone. Make those moments stress-free.
  7. Listen to your child: If your child complains about being hungry, offer a small, healthy snack, even if it’s not a typical time to eat. Rephrase how you suggest certain foods – “Which would you like for dinner: broccoli or cauliflower?” instead of asking “Do you want broccoli for dinner?”
  8. Limit screen time: Allow a maximum of two hours of screen time daily. Move during television commercials – have contests about how many jumping jacks you can do during a 30-second commercial. Do brisk walking around the room during a 60-minute break.
  9. Encourage Physical Activity: Get your children involved in planning a physical activity. Walk, run and play with your child. If you’re at the playground, walk circles around the swings while they play. Throw or kick a ball to one another. Set an example by being physically active and using safety gear, such as bike helmets.
  10. Be a good food role model: Try new foods and talk to your children about what you like or don’t like. Describe the taste and texture, and let the child smell the food. Serve a favorite food along with a new choice. Offer new foods at the beginning of the meal, when the child is most hungry. Avoid lecturing or forcing your child to eat.

This type of healthy thinking and action carries over into a child’s lunchbox – and yours as well. Keep the basics in mind as you pack: balanced meals should include food from each food group, or at least three different food groups. Include a carbohydrate, protein and some fat to give children sustained energy for a few hours. Consider fruit, bread, crackers and juice for carbs. Look to milk, cheese, yogurt, lean meat and beans for protein. Try giving nuts, peanut butter, meat and some dairy for fat.

Help your child with healthy choices at lunch and dinner, and be assured they’ll be well-nourished and energized for learning. The Dairy Council of California offers “Tips for a Healthy Lunch Box” if you’re in need of more ideas. The council also offers recipes, shopping lists and meal planning. Check out

For more tips on how to be a healthy role model, stop by our Oceans Seven Café this week (August 29-31) and see our new display on healthy foods – and pick-up some handouts to help you at home.