by Nick Nation, Heart Foundation WA Nutrition Manager and Superdad

Watermelon face
It's not just up to mum: dads play a huge role in the health of their kids

Are you that dad, that meat and potatoes kind of dad? You know, the kind of dad that reckons greens are for rabbits? Well next time you sit down at the dinner table, take a look around. Your kids could be mimicking your habits.

Most of us dads want to set a good example for our kids. That’s what parenting is all about right? Helping to nurture their progression into happy and healthy adults. Whilst there are many strategies that we can adopt to achieve the above goal, role modelling is always prominent, whichever angle of parenting you adopt.

Now compared to mums, dads are less likely to perceive themselves as overweight, attempt weight loss, or enrol in weight loss programs. Here lies a problem, as emerging evidence suggests that dads play a key role in the development of their children's dietary habits.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Newcastle found that children are more likely to follow their father's lead when it comes to healthy eating and exercise, as opposed to their mother's. If these findings are consistent with your family dynamic, taking the easy road – that is, leaving the healthy eating stuff to mum – may be rubbing off negatively on your little loved ones.

I contacted a client recently to see how they were going with their eating goals. This client had lost a significant amount of weight by making some small dietary changes (increasing their vegie intake to six serves per day). The client was elated. He had managed to keep the weight off, reported increased energy levels, and had virtually changed his habits around vegie consumption.

He not only highlighted how good he felt, but really emphasised the follow-on effect of the changes made. In particular, he noticed that his three kids, all under the age of 10, had also increased their vegie intake. Best of all, it was unprompted. It was your classic case of ‘monkey see, monkey do’, and he was pleased with the outcome.

So this Father’s Day, while you’re lapping up all the attention and hopefully being spoilt by your kids for being such a great dad, have a think about some changes that you could make to your diet, not just for yourself, but for the little monkeys too.

Nick’s top tips for dads looking to be healthy eating role models

  1. Greens aren’t just for rabbits. Regular consumption of greens such as salad greens, kale and spinach, and broccoli and bok choy may protect against heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Tuck into more greens every day and make sure your kids see you do it.
  2. Only go back for a second helping if you are truly hungry. If you wait 15 to 20 minutes after your first course and you are actually still hungry, you can give yourself the green light for seconds. Going back for seconds straight away validates that it’s okay for your children to do the same.
  3. Avoid the drive-through takeaways. I know you want to be the ‘fun’ parent, but the kids will appreciate you more for not taking them through the fast-food drive through in the long run. Instead, schedule in a time to get in the kitchen with your kids and make healthy alternatives to these unhealthy takeaway foods. A good example could be healthy burgers.

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