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Dara Chadwick
Dara Chadwick

Three Tips for Teaching Kids to Make Healthy Choices

Got a rebel? Teach her to be healthy her way.

I've been thinking a lot about motivation lately as I've struggled with a work project that I just can't seem to get myself moving forward on. By now, I've come to understand my own behavior pretty well and can usually pinpoint what's happening: For example, right now, I feel like my choices on this project have been limited and it's draining me of creativity.

Choice, for me, has always been a huge part of motivation, whether it's taking on a project or committing to a lifestyle change. Because I am who I am, I need to feel like I'm in charge of my own decisions to really commit to something.

Last week, I wrote a couple of posts over at my You'd Be So Pretty If... blog about choice as it relates to good health; specifically, if removing choice (as in the case of my kids' school, which recently banned food in the classroom), or dictating it (as in the case of Lincoln University, which recently decided that overweight students must take a class called "Fitness for Life" to graduate), motivates healthy behavior. Both posts generated quite a bit of reader feedback on both sides of the issue.

When it comes to teaching kids to make healthy lifestyle decisions, choice is incredibly important. I learned that first-hand during my year as Shape magazine's Weight-Loss Diary columnist. Because I was overhauling my dietary and exercise habits, I decided that my entire family was going to overhaul their habits, too.

That didn't work out so well.

As any parent -- and spouse -- knows, telling someone else that they have to change or do things your way is often a recipe for failure and frustration. There are, however, more effective ways to encourage kids (and husbands) to make healthy choices. Here are my top three:

  • Show, don't tell. The old journalism school rule holds up well when it comes to teaching kids to make healthy choices, too. You can talk and talk about how important it is to eat nutritious foods and to exercise, but if you're doing it from the front seat of the car as you scarf down a fast-food burger, the message gets lost -- or, should I say, you send an entirely different message.
  • Seize the day -- or at least the moment. Every parent knows that kids will tune out a long lecture, but a simple "teachable" moment can work wonders. Case in point: While doing some holiday baking together, I can teach my kids how some simple substitutions (apple sauce instead of oil) and alterations (1/3 cup less sugar, or egg whites instead of whole eggs) can easily make a recipe healthier without losing any of the great taste. Lots of those little healthy choices add up to one painless healthy lifestyle.
  • Know your kid -- and yourself. Though I wear the mask of a "good girl," I've always been a rebel at heart. I like to do my own thing, and I really don't like anybody else telling me what I can and can't do. Because I know this, I've learned to quickly discern what will and won't work for me (e.g., restrictive diet plan won't work, but freedom to choose from a wide range of healthy options works like a charm). If you've got a kid who doesn't like to be told what to do, restriction or heavy-handed approaches to being healthy (e.g., no junk food -- ever!) can all too quickly lead to secret eating and binge eating. Don't go there. Instead, work with your kids' personalities to show them that being healthy is easy. Show them how making good choices about eating and exercise can work for them -- and who they are.
About the Author
Dara Chadwick

Dara Chadwick is the author of You'd Be So Pretty If… :Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies—Even When We Don't Love Our Own.