If you’re eating healthy foods, drinking plenty of water (versus sweetened soft drinks), and eating at regular times, chances are pretty good that your children will model your behavior and develop healthy food habits of their own.

Healthy food habits don’t happen overnight, and parents can play a significant role in shaping their children’s eating habits. For starters, keep plenty of fresh foods on hand—fruits, vegetables, nuts all contribute to a healthy diet; they aren’t processed, and they make great snacks. Sugary snacks and overly processed snacks should be kept to a bare minimum. Also choose low-fat options in things like dairy and meat.

Ways to Integrate Healthy Habits into Daily Life

Try and schedule a regular dinner hour. The grab-and-go lifestyle might enable parents and kids to get back to work and school, respectively, but sitting down as a family to enjoy a meal goes a long way in establishing healthy food habits.

According to webmd.com, it takes about fifteen minutes from the time we eat to the time our brain sends a message of fullness, so it’s important to eat slowly. Put that sandwich down between bites; give the fork a rest between forkfuls of salad. If children are still hungry after a first helping, make the second helping slightly smaller and include plenty of veggies.

While food as a reward might work well for training a puppy, it sends the wrong message to a child about healthy eating habits. “Eat your vegetables and you can have ice cream” is not the way to go. Neither is withholding food.

If you’re able to involve your children in selecting and preparing food, even better. Walking through a produce store or grocery exposes a child to a variety of options—colorful peppers or unusual-shaped fruit might even prompt your child to want to introduce something new to the whole family.

Similarly, teaching children about the fundamentals of preparing a meal can instill healthy food habits, build self-esteem, and serve as a creative outlet. Let children be part of the food conversations—what to shop for and how to prepare it. Admittedly, not everyone has the luxury of cooking every meal from scratch, but even when the options are prepared meals or a restaurant meal, a child with informed input is likely to grow up with healthy eating habits.

Children are sponges and absorb what they see and learn. Start them on the right track when it comes to healthy eating habits.

This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging. Do not use the information from this article for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing medication or other treatment. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read in this article.