Dads Are Nutrition Role Models Too

Contributor:  Clinical Nutritionist, Desi Horsman

Both parents determine the pattern for the family’s habits and lifestyle but it may be surprising to note that fathers play a significant role in the choices their children make about which foods they eat. While it’s common in most homes for the mom to be responsible for what makes it into the family shopping basket, and she tends to be more focused on preparing healthy meals, fathers still exert a strong influence over what their children eat.

The bottom line is building proper eating habits is critical in early childhood years so both parents should participate in mealtimes and play a role in what their children eat.  Complications occur when one parent is working hard fostering healthy routines, but the other parent isn’t supportive or even on the same page. This sends mixed messages that confuse a child. To be fair, you can say the same about any aspect of child rearing, but this Father’s Day we are talking food.

A dads’ influence in their child’s nutrition is not limited to the kitchen and cooking.  If dad is a meat and potatoes man and never seen to eat salad or vegetables at mealtimes – or makes comments about greens only being food for a cow or that he gets his greens from his beer bottle – then children cannot be expected to understand why it’s important to eat them. After all, if Dad doesn’t eat these food groups then his children believe they should be allowed to eat the same way.

Children watch and imitate adults – they emulate their behavior and learn from their parents. This starts when they are babies. There is no ways children will perceive healthy eating as important if it’s not something that they see dad (and mom) ever doing. Your relationship with food, your attitude to it, and how you demonstrate this will have an influence too. Do you skip breakfast and only have a cup of coffee? Does your child see you only drinking soft drinks in favour of water? Is regular unhealthy snacking routine?  It will be very hard to convince your children to snack on a carrot if you are busy wolfing down a chocolate bar or a bag of crisps. The same applies to eating a meal – you cannot say “eat your broccoli because it’s good for you” if they never see you eat broccoli. If both parents are seen to eat healthy food and be active the child is likely to be the same.

Another valuable adjustment to make around eating, if not already a way of life, is to avoid eating in front of the TV. Instead make mealtime an important part of quality family time – even if it’s just dinner. It will also ensure children don’t overeat and you can make sure they are eating slowly and chewing properly.

Another school of thought is that for time-strapped dads, meals are an ideal opportunity to connect with their children and they tend to want it to be a more “special occasion”. Unfortunately what can happen is nutritional “rules” get bent with more treats offered up by dad.  While not the same in every home, it’s often dads who like to spoil the family with meals out, drive through treats, or take aways. While the occasional excess can and should be allowed, dads they need to think about the impact of these choices [as much as the moms] and consider the effect it may have in developing children with healthy eating habits. It’s never fun being the “food police” and all too often moms are seen as the bad guy – so dads need to support their partners – realizing that as with all things in life, you should start as you plan to finish.

While it’s unrealistic to expect any parent to be a perfect role model, Moms and Dads alike should, as far as possible, demonstrate good eating habits. Be a strong unit and it will positively impact your child.

Distributed On behalf of Desi Horsman and to contact for further information:

SIMONSAYS Communications

Melanie Stevens

083 303 9667 / 011 465-9815