Be a Role Model for Good Nutrition

AMES, Iowa — An adult’s diet is influenced by an array of factors such as environment, income or preference. However, a child’s diet is largely influenced by his or her parent or guardian. Research shows that adolescents are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if their parents eat fruits and vegetables. But research also shows that adolescents are more likely to eat fast food and drink soda if their parents are eating and drinking the stuff.

MyPlate“It is important for parents and guardians to model healthy behaviors. In doing so, you are showing young people how important it is to live a healthy lifestyle,” said Sarah Francis, an Iowa State University assistant professor and ISU Extension and Outreach nutrition specialist.

Currently only one in five youth eats the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables, Francis said. However, almost one third drink at least one non-diet soft drink each day.

“These unhealthy dietary practices can lead to weight gain, resulting in a child or teen becoming overweight or obese,” Francis said. She noted that in Iowa, almost one in three children — about 31 percent — is either overweight or obese. Overweight and obesity increase the likelihood of a youth developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems, or heartburn, as well as lower self-esteem.

Francis offers the following tips on how to be a healthy role model. For more helpful tips and information, visit

Show by example. Follow MyPlate recommendations when planning a meal. Include fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grain and dairy. “When choosing snacks, select from these food groups more frequently than you choose foods that are high in added sugars and fats,” Francis said.

Get creative in the kitchen. Involving children in meal preparation can be fun and a positive experience for child and parent. “You both can enjoy using cookie cutters to cut sandwiches into fun shapes. Make homemade trail mixes for afterschool snacks using whole grain cereals, dried fruit and nuts. When you try a new recipe together, name it for your child, such as ‘Sue’s spectacular sweet potato fries,’” Francis said.

Focus on each other at the table. Families that share mealtime together often consume more nutrient-rich meals, communicate better and report a stronger family bond, Francis said.

Live Healthy Iowa

The Live Healthy Iowa 100-Day Challenge ends May 1. This team-based weight loss and physical activity program helps Iowans make positive changes that lead to a healthier lifestyle. For more information, visit Live Healthy Iowa is a partnership of the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Sports Foundation and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

For more information on nutrition and health or to receive a weekly e-mail from ISU Extension and Outreach including a food, recipe and activity of the week, visit