Role Modeling Healthy Habits & Body Image for Your Kids

As an adult, getting to know other adults – coworkers, new friends, significant others – I learned that other people are different than me.


Each of us had a different upbringing. Different states, cities, or parts of town, different homes, different schools, different activities, and the biggest variable: different parents. As a new parent, I’ve been reflecting on this, and thinking about what my parents and others I know “got right” or did well, so that I can do those things for my daughter.

One major part of life influenced by our parents: eating habits. The eating, drinking, and snacking habits of our parents and families have a lasting effect.

modeling healthy eating habits for your kids

I found that friends who were raised in homes where lots of soda was consumed on a regular basis often battle an addiction to sugary drinks as an adult. In other cases, I’ve noticed the opposite: some friends who were never allowed soda or junk food as a child took things too far as an adult, and struggle with proper nutrition.

Looking back, I think my parents did well in their example of nutrition for my brother and me. We drank soda, but were encouraged not to drink too much, and mostly were served milk, watered-down apple juice, or water with meals. We had chips and cookies in the house, but they were not a regular snack for us.

My mom’s personal weight loss journey had a big influence on me. She had trouble keeping weight off after having two children and spending so much time devoted to us. As I was growing up, she attempted different diet plans. She never did any wild fad diets, but did well when she used a plan that taught the value of balancing food groups, making healthy choices, and responsible portion sizes. She also cut out soda all together when I was in high school.

Because I spent so much time with her, and helped her cook dinner many nights, I learned a lot about making good nutritional choices. (Thanks, Mom!) She taught me that simple changes can make a big impact over time. More protein in a meal makes you feel fuller for longer. Wheat bread, though still a carbohydrate, contains more fiber, grains, and nutrients that you don’t get from white bread. Leave off the mayo and substitute mustard on a sandwich for a low-calorie condiment with lots of great flavor. Drink water or unsweetened tea to wash down your meal – skip empty calories and use those calories for something more worth your energy.

My parents encouraged us to be active. We tried a lot of different sports and activities, and were usually enrolled in at least one, from age four all the way through high school. Our instructors and coaches also helped talk to us about the importance of good nutrition and fueling our bodies properly.

For as far back as I can remember, continuing still today, my dad has worked out at the local YMCA almost every day, and at 60 still travels to local open water swims to compete.

My mom’s activity level varied over the years, partly due to two battles against breast cancer. After she won the first battle, she got into yoga and got me inspired to try it! Now that she has won the second battle, I’m her cheerleader and walking buddy.

I talked to her recently about all this and asked what she did and where her inspiration and knowledge came from. She told me how she and her sister had both gained some weight in high school, and her sister started on a diet program (the same one my mom used when I was a kid). She learned how to make healthy adjustments to her diet, and understood the importance of making better choices. She didn’t go on the diet program with her sister, but she stopped eating fries with her school lunch, and even that small change made a big difference.

When it came to raising children with relatively healthy diets, she had some children’s recipe books (since she didn’t have the internet!) that helped her, and they grew some vegetables in our garden. We still had fast food, macaroni and cheese, and other basic kid stuff – my parents tried to be healthy, but reasonable. They always drank unsweetened tea, and I didn’t even know that sweet tea existed until I was in college. Even now I don’t really have the taste for it, because I’m so used to unsweetened tea.

I wish that I remembered her specific words regarding her dieting, but what’s most important is the impact her words and actions left on me. I never felt she was dieting “to be skinnier,” but to be healthier. She did talk about wanting to lose weight, but it came across that she was doing it for health reasons and not just her own vanity.

modeling healthy habits and behaviors for your baby

“Gimme the good stuff!”

I want my daughter to understand nutrition, fitness, and health so that she is not just healthy physically, but healthy mentally. I don’t want her to struggle with dieting and body image issues that so many girls and women struggle with today.

In addition to providing nutritious food options for her, I’m trying to make myself aware of how I talk to her about herself, which is very important now as she starts to develop her language skills and sense of self. I’m definitely still going to tell her she’s pretty, but I will also constantly remind her of how strong, smart, and important she is.

I want to be a consistent model of good health choices for her. It’s a fine line, though. Much like my parents, I don’t want to deprive her of treats and “normal” things, but I want her to eat quality food in balanced food groups and healthy portions.

My husband and I will have to be good models of moderation. As she is growing and learning about the world around her, she is a little sponge, a copycat. The norms we demonstrate to her on a daily basis will influence and stay with her.

It’s only our child’s adult nutritional health. No pressure.

Lisa is a wife and mom of a baby girl. She enjoys trying out new forms of exercise and fitness, but her favorites are pole dance fitness, aerial silks, and yoga. She also volunteers some of her spare time to a local cat rescue. Since discovering her sexy strength a couple years ago, she is the happiest she has been her whole life, and is happy to share it with you. Got a question for Lisa? Write to

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