Preventing Type 2 Diabetes: Cooking Up Healthy Habits

One of the best things we can do for our children, or grandchildren, is be a role model for healthy lifestyle behaviors.

An interesting two-year study recently published in JAMA Pediatrics illustrates the power of parental modeling by comparing two types of interventions designed to help overweight children:

  • In the family-based intervention, overweight kids (aged 8 to 12) worked on lifestyle modification with their therapists, other children in a group, and with their parents at home.
  • In the parent-based intervention, parents received the same education and behavior modification techniques as in family-based sessions, but were responsible for sharing the information with their children, and modeling the behaviors at home.

It was expected that the family-based approach would achieve better outcomes, so researchers were surprised when the two types of intervention achieved similar results.

“Parents play a critical role in the process of helping their child lose weight by modeling healthy behaviors and reinforcing a balanced diet and exercise,” said researcher Kerri Boutelle, PhD, a professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Cooking Up Healthy Habits

The study emphasizes the role parents can play as agents of change in their children’s lives, and maybe one of the most helpful things we can role model is cooking with fresh ingredients at home.

Not only might we practice home-cooking more often, we can invite our children to participate in the process, and there are at least five good reasons why we should:

  1. Learning to cook promotes mindfulness, or the simple act of giving our full attention to what we are doing. It gives children a chance use their math (measuring) skills, to practice reading, following a recipe, and to problem solve. There are also plenty of small, manageable cooking tasks that preschool family members can accomplish.
  2. Some kids will be less enthusiastic about cooking than others, but being competent in the kitchen is a practical life skill to have—especially since eating at home is much better for our longterm health than consuming fast or processed fare. Competence with any skill is also a great confidence booster.
  3. Preparing meals with our kids, or grandkids is a great way - albeit sometimes a messy way - to create positive memories and strengthen family ties. Cooking together is a purposeful, creative endeavor that requires communication, and cooperation. When undertaken with a spirit of playfulness or adventure, children can learn, have fun, and experience a sense of accomplishment and contribution.
  4. Understanding how the flavor and texture of each ingredient enhances a meal develops an appreciation for good food, and the effort that goes into creating it.
  5. Everyone, kids and adults, will benefit from eating meals that are more nutrient rich than processed foods that often contain added sugars, unhealthy fats, and unsavory additives. Plus, cooking together is the perfect setting for talking about the importance of good nutrition.

As parents, it is impossible to not model behavior for our children. They grow up with our lifestyle choices as a template for how life should be lived. There could be no better incentive for practicing healthy food habits.

Source: Science Daily; Clean Plates
Photo credit: Tim Pierce

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