8 Ways to Be a Healthy Role Model for Kids with Food Allergies

Mike didn’t like vegetables and avoided eating them at dinner with his kids. He would pass on them, or load up on other meal items and say that he would get them later.  He was known to gripe about his children not eating vegetables like other kids he knew.

Cecilia rarely sat down to eat with her kids at lunch or dinner. They sat together when her husband was home for dinner, but that was rare. Instead, she would multi-task, washing dishes, talking on the phone, or folding a load of laundry while the kids ate with each other. She was embarrassed to take her kids to restaurants because they had poor table manners.

Martha was slim and very careful with her diet, paying close attention to what she ate and how much. She exercised every day. She rarely ate with her family, preparing them separate meals or ordering takeout. She particularly catered to her little one with food allergies. Even though she was healthy, her kids were overweight and her child with food allergies was a picky eater.

What’s going on here? While there are several running themes here, poor role modeling is key to all of these stories.

Whether we like it or not, as parents we fall under the watchful eye of our children.  How parents behave, what they choose to eat, their lifestyle habits—both good and bad-- influence kids each day. 

Parents have the unique responsibility of being the primary role model for their child when it comes to food and eating behaviors. By the time a child is twelve years old, they will model many parental behaviors in this area. So, if you are a meal skipper, chances are your child may be too. If you diet off and on, so may your child grow up and do the same. If you refuse certain foods or eliminate them from your diet, your child may adopt these practices also. And, if you spend a lot of time watching television, don’t be surprised if your child comes home and plops in front of the TV, Nintendo DS, or laptop. 

It can be overwhelming to realize your child is looking at your behavior every day.  

Here are 8 ways you can be a healthy role model for your child:  

Be Predictable

You are the role model for your child. Mike Kemp/Blend Images/Getty Images

Predictability is a key to a happy child, especially when it comes to food.  Set up a schedule for meals and snacks and time them at regular intervals to avoid too much hunger.  Serve most of the food groups (dairy or non-dairy substitute, protein, vegetables, fruit and whole grains) at meals, most of the time. A child who gets food in a predictable way may have fewer problems with weight and eating later in life. 

Choose Healthy Food

Focus on foods that are rich in nutrients, fiber, and taste.  Choose more whole, natural foods.  Consider processed foods, food colorings and dyes, caffeine, and sugar substitutes as the occasional food rather than a staple in your family’s diet.  If the drive through is a common stop on your way home, envision another way to bring convenience and efficiency to your eating such as with a slow cooker, a pressure cooker, or homemade frozen entrees. 

Expose Without Bias

Expose your child to a variety of foods, even if food allergies stand in the way. Assure that new foods accompany familiar foods. Try ethnic varieties, exotic fruits, seasonal vegetables, and flavorful condiments within the limits of your child's food allergy diet. Experiment with different forms of food like roasted potatoes instead of French fries or baked apples in lieu of applesauce. Don’t rule out a food because you think your child won’t like it—and don’t paint a grim face if you offer it—stay free from food bias and trust your child to let you know their impression. 

Have a Food Adventure

For most kids, eating is fun. Parents can do a lot to keep fun a central theme to mealtime. Show your sense of adventure by having a “new menu item” night during the week and be open to try anything. Above all, let your child see the adventurous eater in you! 

Move It!

Your body, that is. If you want your child to be active, you need to be active too.  Show your enjoyment and enthusiasm for exercise! 

Share Your Food

This is a safe way for young children to try new food items. Sharing food sends the very basic and important message of generosity. 


Talk early and often with your child about food, eating, nutrients, health, and physical activity. Promoting open communication about nutrition will set a foundation of trust, health education, and realism in the world of food and eating, especially if you keep it age-appropriate. Remember, children are curious and will ask questions. Let them know that you are their resource for reliable information. 

Instill Manners

All children need to learn manners. Begin early with the basic “please and thank you.” Make sure you “please” and “thank” your child too and you may be pleasantly surprised when you hear it stated, unsolicited from them. Practice common table manners at home and watch them pay off at friends’ houses and restaurants before you know it. 

Role modeling comes with the territory of being a parent. Remember, your child is watching your every move. While you don’t have to be perfect, you do need to be thoughtful about food, health, and activity in order to grow a healthy child.

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