As a registered dietitian, I try to lead by example with the foods I offer my children. April 27 is Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day and I recently realized I wasn’t doing the best job of telling my children why I buy the foods that I do.
This awareness came last year when my son suddenly began examining nutrition labels on foods, asking “how many calories are in X” and “how many grams of sugar are in Y?” This was not music to my ears. Clearly, I needed to do a better job of communicating rather than letting him pick up nutrition ideas elsewhere.
I made immediate changes to the conversations I have with my kids. Rather than focus on specific nutrients, I showed them how looking at all the nutrients a food offers is more important. For instance, flavored yogurt may have both added and naturally occurring sugar, but also offers protein, calcium and vitamin D. I told them why we eat more of some foods than others and focused on the health benefits of dairy and how eating well make our bodies feel good and strong.
My son is also an avid athlete. I grasped the opportunity to discuss how food fuels our bodies and helps us play our best and how drinking more water keeps us hydrated, so we can stay focused on the game. He knows how lousy it feels to be dehydrated. I’ve taught him how drinking chocolate milk after practice or a game provides just the right amount of carbohydrates and protein to replenish and rebuild his muscles.
My children aren’t perfect eaters and they still ask for candy more often than I’d like, but now that my actions and words are in line with one another, I know they are well-equipped to make better decisions. And little by little, I hear them asking for the foods that will help them lead a healthier life.
Ann Dunaway Teh, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD is the President of Dunaway Dietetics, Inc., a nutrition consulting business, and the co-founder of My Menu Pal, a menu planning website for busy families. Ann specializes in weight management, sports nutrition, recipe development and family nutrition.