For many decades, cooking and nutrition was the assumed role of the woman of the house. Recently however, this has changed and men are now taking on a much larger role in the kitchen, which is great! I’m going to take the opportunity of father’s day to discuss ways a father can encourage healthy eating habits.
Aim to eat together
This can be very difficult for some fathers due to work commitments. However, where possible, a family should try and eat as many meals together as feasible. This should be at a table, without distractions such as TV.
The benefits of doing this can be invaluable and can include:
√ The reinforcement of healthier eating habits
√ Prevention of mindless eating (hence more control over weight) which can often happen when we eat whilst watching TV or partaking in other activities
√ A decrease in screen time – video games, TV, computers, phones
√ Strengthening a families bond
√ Encouragement of communication and involvement in your children’s lives
Don’t introduce discretionary foods!
This is a rule that has to be followed by both parents. Mum can’t play bad cop whilst dad plays good cop and sneaks in ice creams and fries and vice versa. Consistent messages are very important.
Many parents declare that they will never introduce their children to unhealthy foods such as takeaway meals, chocolates, cakes or biscuits. Unfortunately, this ideal tends to slip once the child comes along. Often parents will then offer their children McDonald’s chips, sweet biscuits, soft drinks, potato chips and so on. Before this, the child didn’t even have an appreciation for these foods! I’ve regularly seen this occur in children who have only just started solids (between the ages of six to twelve months).
The early introduction of “extra” foods was also shown in a study conducted in Perth in 2010. The study found that hot chips/ fries, ice cream and cake/ biscuits were amongst the most popular discretionary items introduced before 52 weeks post-partum . By 12 months old:
- 91% (415/587) of participants had been given biscuits and cakes 
- 78.6% (356/587) of participants has been given hot chips/ fries 
- 68.2% (309/587) of participants had been given ice-cream 
These results are alarming. There is no need to introduce heavily processed, high fat/salt/sugar foods from such a young age. This will only increase a child’s desire for these foods, which will be much harder to break later on and will encourage fussy eating. So don’t give in dads!
Be a good role model
It is extremely important that a father acts as a good role model for their children, it’s a case of monkey see monkey do. If mum is cooking a healthy meal and dad sits down with a sausage role, pizza, meat without any vegetables or nothing at all (I know a few dads guilty of all of these), kids will likely want what the father is having instead. The same goes for mothers.
If there is an element of the dish that the father does not like (e.g. salad of vegetables), it is important that he does not make bad remarks about it. A joke seems harmless but it will increase the likelihood that children will follow in the dad’s footsteps and turn their noses up at vegetables also! Children can often mimic their father’s eating behaviours.
Children are strongly influenced by what their parents eat so take the lead and reach for an apple to snack on or make sure you eat all of your vegetables at dinner. This will not only be positive for your children but also for yourself!
Prepare nutritious meals and get involved in the kitchen
Fathers should get involved and encourage cooking as a family. This is a great way to teach kids about preparing nutritious meals – kids look up to their fathers. Children can perform small, age appropriate tasks like rinsing vegetables. It as well encourages children to try new foods and makes meal preparation much faster opposed to one parent doing it by themselves.
When it comes to preparing snacks for children, dads should aim to make them a healthy as possible. If they know a car trip is coming up – take fruits, vegetables, yoghurt etc to avoid pulling in to McDonald’s.
Get involved and exercise with your kids. This gets both of you moving (which is happening a lot less these days) and it again helps to build a bond. Exercise will assist both parents and children in maintaining or reaching a healthy weight and lowering the risk of developing lifestyle related disease. Here are some ideas:
- Go bike riding
- Shoot some hoops
- Go for a swim
- Invest in a trampoline – this can provide hours of fun for children
- Play tag
- Go fishing – this is less strenuous but is still a good way to get outside and get some fresh air
- Too cold or raining outside? Exercise videos can be a novel activity for kids and there’s hundreds on YouTube!
Avoid exhibiting your unhealthy habits in front of your children. Though it is better to give up on these things all together! This can include drinking alcohol, smoking and eating lots of “extra” foods like chips, chocolate or lollies.
Excessive amounts of screen time can be considered an unhealthy habit too. Children of parents who watch a lot of TV or play video games often fall in to the same trap which can easily stick with them in to adulthood and then be passed on to their children. This encourages weight gain, lack of sociability and a decrease in overall health and wellbeing. So get your children up and moving!
- G Koh, Scott J, Oddy W, Graham K, Binns C. Exposure to non-core foods and beverages in the first year of life: Results from a cohort study. J Nutrition and Dietetics. 2010; 67(3): 137-142.
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This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
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