7 Simple Ways Dads Can Positively Influence Their Kids’ Health

by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on June 17, 2011

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With Father’s Day weekend fast approaching, it’s a good time to consider the role that dads play in the health of their family. While more fathers play an active role in cooking than ever in our history, mothers still take on brunt of these daily chores.

But according to a recent survey of 1000 dads, the majority of fathers want to be more involved in the day-to-day kid stuff. Fifty-three percent said they would consider staying home if finances weren’t an issue. And fathers actually rated job security and flexible hours as more important than high income and advancement opportunities.

So dads, while you may not have as much time as you want to be involved in your kids’ lives, here are some things you can do to positively shape their current and future health.

1. Be there for meals as often as you can. Everyone knows family meals are important but late hours and demanding jobs can make this tough for fathers. What’s a dad to do?

Make a point to get off early once or twice a week or sit down with the family at other times like breakfast. Take advantage of weekends when there is usually less to do. When you show your kids that you value the family meal it makes a difference. In fact, two recent studies show that dads’ fast food habits, both with kids and without, negatively impact the eating habits of their children.

2. Try more foods: According to our 2010 survey, some of you complained that the dads in your lives are just as picky as your kids, making mealtime a challenge.

Dads, if this applies to you, show your kids that you are willing to try new foods and accept less-than-favorite meals. Don’t let previous experiences with foods, like vegetables, hold you back. Studies show that as we age our taste buds are more accepting of bitter tastes in many vegetables.  

Remember, it takes kids many years to learn to like a variety of foods and they look to both parents for guidance.

3. Be on the same page as mom: In two parent families it’s much more powerful if both parents feed in the same way.  If one parent follows the division of responsibility but the other exterts pressure or restricts the child, it sends mixed messages.  So when it comes to feeding, have a unified approach and stay consistent.

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4. Make feeding yourself a priority: My experience as a dietitian and nutrition counselor tells me that men, in general, are not as good at planning meals for themselves as women. The trend I see is skipping breakfast or eating something quick, grabbing a quick lunch and coming home ravenous followed by eating all night.

Show your kids that eating and food are priorities for you by sitting down for breakfast and packing snacks and a balanced lunch if access to good food at work is limited. Do this enough and you’ll start liking it.

5. Deal with stress positively: Every dad deserves a late night of relaxation once in a while. But if staying up late, eating erratically and avoiding exercise are all ways you deal with the stress, your kids — and your stress — will take notice.

Stress only gets worse when we are sleep-deprived and not fed well. When things get rough at the office, it’s even more important to take care of yourself. Teach your kids this early and you will save them lots of hard lessons when they get older.

6. Give mom a feeding break: Okay, I’m adding this one in for selfish reasons. I know some of you dads already cook a lot. But for those of you who don’t, help out with a meal or two. If cooking seems too daunting, help with the feeding (especially kids under 2), set up and clean up. It’s great for kids to see dads active in the kitchen and playing a role in feeding.

Every Saturday morning in my home I go for a long workout while my husband feeds the kids. They enjoy the daddy time and I love the break.

7. Spend active time with kids: This article on The Motherlode discusses the importance of dads playing with their kids. According to the authors of The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old Fashion Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It:

“Physical fitness is an obvious benefit of roughhousing. A less obvious — but more important — benefit of roughhousing is the way it helps dads and children tune in to each other. When a father and child work together to master a complicated flip like the Houdini or the Red Tornado, they both gain a sense of accomplishment from paying close attention to each other’s emotions and cues. The result is a feeling of closeness that benefits both father and child.”

Other “active” father and child activities include hiking, throwing a ball, or going to the park. Let’s face it, physical activity makes everyone feel better and is a great way to spend quality time together

Benefiting the health of a child, for fathers, is really simple. Share balanced meals together, spend active quality time and be a positive role model when it comes to self care.

Since most of my readers are women, make sure to send this to the dads in your lives. Happy Father’s Day!

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

mostlyfitmom June 18, 2011 at 9:57 pm

My husband is a great dad in many ways, but he is terrible at meal planning. For some reason, it never really occurs to him to include a vegetable. At least he’s not picky. Great post!

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD June 20, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Thanks guys. Mostly fit mom — At least your husband will cook! My husband has just started bbqing which helps a lot.

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Tammy (Healthy Kids Challenge R.D.) June 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm

I agree. I think this is a really great post. I hope some Dads out there are taking it to heart!

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