Ask Dr. Marla: My 12-year old daughter has adopted our diet model

By Dr. Marla Shapiro on June 21, 2012
My husband and I are trying to eat healthier (egg whites instead of whole eggs, whole grains, less white carbs) but we don’t want to overly concern our 12-year-old daughter with watching her weight. She is very active and growing, so none of those things should be a concern for her – yet she sees us being concerned about our diet and has adopted the model. Any advice?

Answer:

In the heart of your question is the answer! You are right that she sees you being so concerned and therefore will adopt the model. The question is, what concern are you passing along to her? Is it the concern that eating healthy is a good thing or is it a concern about body image?

Eating healthy is good for all ages. There is nothing wrong with your teenage daughter eating whole grains. She will need more iron for growth so unless there is a family cholesterol problem she doesn’t have to avoid whole eggs and, in fact, does need the egg yolk, a very important source of B12. If the concern is healthier food choices, any minor variations in content for your specifi c needs can readily be explained. Remember, depending on her growth rate and activity level, she may need more energy than her mother. The best advice is for her to eat a healthy, balanced diet without many processed foods and to have a healthy level of regular activity.

An excellent website is Eat Right Ontario (eatrightontario.ca). They point out (and you also acknowledge), parents and caregivers play a key role in developing children’s eating habits. If the messaging is about healthy food choices, then, indeed, you are offering her lifestyle habits that will follow her into the adult years.

Researchers in one study found that mothers who drink milk have daughters who also drink more milk and less pop. Another study by the same researchers found that mothers who eat more vegetables and fruit have daughters who do the same. We also know that children who eat well and are physically active tend to have fewer issues with obesity, develop better social skills and improve learning.

As this helpful site notes, when healthy foods are the usual choice, and when children see their parents eating these foods, a child has a better chance of eating well and will perceive these foods to be the normal or usual choice. When unhealthy foods are the norm, a child may not learn how to eat well or develop healthy eating habits.

Other Resources:

  • Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide - hc-sc.gc.ca (scroll down to Food & Nutrition or Google “eating well with Canada’s Food Guide” to find resource directly)
  • Canadian Pediatric Society - cps.ca
  • Dietitians of Canada - dietitians.ca


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, July 2012

By Dr. Marla Shapiro| June 21, 2012

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