The earlier healthy eating habits start, the better

The choices you make around your child’s diet can influence your child’s long-term health prospects more than any other action

The choices you make around your child’s diet can influence your child’s long-term health prospects more than any other action you might take as a parent.

As parents we are laying the foundation of a lifetime of eating habits. Children who are well nourished perform better academically, function better behaviourally and emotionally, and have less anxiety, depression and hyperactivity.

Obesity is another result of poor eating habits. As parents we should be concerned not only about the long-term health consequences of obesity (such as increased risk of heart disease and cancer) but also the effect on a child’s budding sense of self.  Obese children report lower self-esteem, more loneliness, sadness and nervousness and were more likely to report smoking and consuming alcohol.

A lot has changed in the world of nutrition in the last 100 years.  In the past, food was often fresh, locally grown and certainly free of preservatives and additives.  Foods such as grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables fish and meats are the foods that our bodies have evolved on for thousands of years.

In the last 100 years, with the advent of the multi-billion-dollar food-processing industry,  things have changed. But our bodies’ needs have not. We are bombarded with quick-fix and highly addictive foods laden with sugar, salt and fat. Kids are big business – the food giants know that kids have a lot of market clout. That’s why they market aggressively to children aiming to program them with brand loyalty at an early age. We need to become media savvy and teach our children to think critically about what advertising is really about:  profits at the expense of our health. Let your children know that “My saying ‘no’ means I love you too much to let you have something that can hurt you”.

Healthy eating habits begin at home.  Set a good example by modelling good eating habits to your children.  Provide healthy choices over and over and over.  Invest time in food preparation.  If you value the health and well-being of your family, you need to invest in it. Get kids involved in menu planning and food preparation. Kids will often eat the foods they choose and make themselves. Plan ahead for snacks on busy days especially on the road.

One of the most important legacies we can leave our children with is a healthy relationship with food. In counselling people with health issues, I often see that the roots of their illness lie in their addictive relationship with “comfort” food. The seeds of using food for comfort almost always start in childhood. Avoid the following pitfalls:

• Don’t make deals with food, like “If you eat all your vegetables, you can have dessert” or “If you stop screaming, I’ll buy you the candy you want.”.  Instead use natural consequences such as “If you scream in the store we will go home now.”

• Don’t celebrate successes with food, such as “What a great report card!  You deserve a trip to Dairy Queen!”.  Instead, seek to encourage intrinsic reward by saying something like “You must feel really proud of yourself for getting good grades.  Have a big hug!”

• Don’t soothe with food by comforting with “treats” when your child is hurt or upset.  Instead, teach real life skills such as relaxation techniques like deep breathing, assertiveness, problem solving and positive self talk.

Consistently expose you child to healthy foods and minimize access to the addictive, processed foods. As a parent, you do your child a great service by setting them up for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician with a family practice in downtown Courtenay.  Her office can be reached at 897-0235 or via