by Charlotte Hilton Andersen, REDBOOK
"Mommy, what are you doing?!" The little voice behind me sounded so shocked and outraged - as much as a 4-year-old really can - that I almost dropped my fork. Into the tub of ice cream I was eating out of. While standing inside the still-open freezer door. What was I doing, indeed.
Every night after my husband and I finish the Bedtime Gauntlet, we each retreat to have a few moments of peace and quiet before the whole rigmarole starts again in the morning. And sometimes for me that means eating the treats I won't let my kids see me eat during the day. It's awfully hard to maintain any moral authority, telling them they have to finish their dinner before having cookies, if I'm eating some while cooking it. Lucy Cooke, a psychologist at the University of London who studies children's eating habits, says of her research, "Parental consumption was the strongest predictor of children's consumption. Parents really need to be aware that they can't eat unhealthily themselves and expect to get the (eat healthy) message over to their children. Setting an example is tremendously influential."
While I try to eat really healthy most of the time, I figure the occasional dark chocolate truffle indulgence is okay. Besides, I'm a grown-up, and the best part of being a grown-up is not having anyone tell you what and when to eat. (Okay, maybe that's not the best part of being a grown-up, but this is a family site, so we'll stick with truffles.) I'm okay with my kids having a treat now and then, too - just as long as they eat their healthy food first. But they hate eating vegetables almost as much as I hate hearing them whine, which is how I ended up eating mint chocolate chip out of the carton whilst standing in the freezer. Not. Pretty. What kind of example am I setting for my kids?
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But parents may not have as much influence as we think, says a study done in February 2011. "Contrary to popular belief, many studies from different countries, including the United States, have found a weak association between parent-child dietary intake," said Youfa Wang, lead author of the study and an associate professor in the Bloomberg School's Department of International Health. "This is likely because young people's eating patterns are influenced by many complex factors, and the family environment plays only a partial role," he said. "More attention should be given to the influence of the other players on children's eating patterns, such as that of schools, the local food environment and peer influence, government guidelines and policies that regulate school meals, and the broader food environment that is influenced by food production, distribution and advertising."
Obviously we need to teach our children healthy habits with our actions, not just our words, but how do we do that? Do you hide a stash of treats from your kids? And do you hide when you eat them? (If so, where do you hide?)
Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything
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