The researchers found children want to eat what their dads eat, more so than what their moms eat.
It’s generally assumed that moms have the biggest influence on their children’s food choices. After all, moms are the ones most likely to buy the food and put it on the table. Fathers might believe that their own eating habits have little influence on their children’s. But a study from Texas A&M University found that fathers’ choices on what and where to eat have a huge impact on their children’ choices.
The researchers found children want to eat what their dads eat, more so than what their moms eat. The study also found that the more authoritarian a father is, the more likely his children are to eat junk foods. Children also are more likely to mirror the father’s choices in snack foods and are more influenced to taste new foods if the father does, too.
So, Dad, here are seven things you can do to help make a positive impact on your child’s health and nutrition.
1. Make family meals a priority. Children who sit down with their families at mealtimes are more likely to try new foods, eat more nutritious foods, perform better at school and stay away from drugs. It’s important to make family mealtime a pleasant experience for all. This isn’t the time to criticize behaviors or to discuss a bad report card. If a dad makes family meals a priority, his children will, too.
2. Set a good example. Children are observant, and the “Do as I say, not as I do” approach doesn’t work. If you want your children to be active, you will need to show them by example. Be open to new foods, and encourage the children to try them, too. Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast, unless you want your children to do the same. Show the children that health is a priority, and demonstrate how to lead a healthy, active life.
3. Don’t always be the fun one. Dads, more so than moms, tend to choose places to eat that their children will find fun, rather than selecting food based on nutrition. Same thing goes for cooking at home. Junk food is easy, but it’s not the best choice. Choose better so your children will, too.
4. Unite. Both parents need to be consistent and unified in their approach to feeding their children. Decide what your house food rules will be and stick to them. It’s not much fun for Mom to always be the one insisting on vegetables, especially when Dad doesn’t enforce the rule when she is gone.
5. Snack sensibly. Children will want to snack on whatever you eat, so do your best to make good choices. If you constantly have a soda in your hand, that’s what the children are going to want. Teach your children to make healthier snack choices by making them yourself.
6. Get in the kitchen. Show the children that dads can cook, too. Help with meal preparation, grocery shopping and cleaning up. Feeding the family is not just Mom’s job. Children that help prepare foods are more open to trying new foods and tend to eat healthier. Plus, they’ll be more apt to cook for themselves once they leave home instead of relying on fast food or unhealthy convenience foods.
7. Don’t be overly critical. Be careful what you say about children’s weight. Don’t compare children to thinner siblings or overly restrict an overweight child’s food. Never embarrass your children by making comments about their weight in from of other people.
Dads play an important role in developing good nutrition and activity habits in children. Help them learn to be healthy and active now, and your children will benefit their whole lives.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.