PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
Food Smarts: Family Eating Habits

Even if you're free to choose some of the food you eat, chances are that the adults in your household do most of the shopping, plan most of the meals, or have the final say on where you eat out. If your family has healthy ideas about food, this is a good thing. But what if they have eating habits that aren't all that great?

We asked IML'ers about this. Here's what some of you said:

Stephanie writes: "Other people in my family eat stuff like steak and cheese curls. And no, I don't think they set a good example for me." Ashayla puts it this way: "The people in my family are not what you call 'healthy'." Says Chelsey, 12: "My mom and sister are both obese and they both eat a lot, and it makes me want to sometimes."

Think about what your family eats. Can they use a healthy eating makeover? Don't think that because you're younger, you can't have any say in household food habits. Here are some ideas:

  • Speak up. If you think your family could be eating healthier food, say something! Gently ask your parent or guardian to consider making different choices, like cutting down on fats, sugars, and salt. It could be that your folks have eating habits that they learned from their parents, and have never stopped to consider the idea of cooking healthier.

  • Learn together. It might also be that your family wants to develop better eating habits, but just doesn't know how. Read through this IML section with them, or visit one of these helpful sites:

    Nutrition.gov
    http://www.nutrition.gov

    Food Advice for Consumers
    http://www.consumer.gov/food.htm

    Another good idea is to ask if your school has a nutritionist who can help you with what to say to your parents, or even meet with the family to talk about healthy diets. By learning together, you can begin to make changes that will help everyone in the family lead long, healthy lives.

  • Talk about portion size. Many parents ask that kids finish all the food on the table, because wasting food wastes money. But since a lot of Americans eat portions that are too big, your family may be serving up too much food in the first place. Sit down with your parent or guardian and go through the Serving Size Surprises section together. Try to work out a way to make those portions the right size. It may mean cooking less food, or saving more leftovers for tomorrow's meal.

  • Break out of the rut. If your family is like most, going out to eat or ordering in can be a real treat. It might give you the quality time you need, or make things easier when parents are too tired or busy to cook. But does your clan automatically head to the same place again and again? Instead, suggest new options. If you usually head for burgers, suggest mixing it up with a sandwich place or fresh Mexican food. Is your family addicted to pizza? Convince them to order a salad with it or a pie with lots of veggies instead of just meat. If your suggestions aren't welcome, you can at least set a good example by ordering a healthy combination of food wherever you go.

  • Ask for more control of your choices. Sometimes parents have been eating a certain way for so long that it can be hard for them to change. If this is the case in your family, ask if you can make some healthy choices of your own. This could be as simple as having your own bottle of low-fat salad dressing while everyone else uses a high-fat brand, or broiling a chicken breast for yourself while the rest of the family has it fried. You might also want to ask if you can pack your own lunches. Explain to your family members that you're not judging them; you just want a chance to choose for yourself. Who knows, you might just set a good example and inspire your family to change THEIR habits!

  • Help out. If you're interested in helping your family eat healthier, help out with the shopping and cooking. Sometimes parents can get angry if you don't eat what they prepare, mainly because they worked so hard to make it. If you offer to help out, your parents will probably be willing to give you more say in what foods reach the table.

  • Volunteer to plan a dinner. Sometimes, actions speak louder than words. If talking about better nutrition isn't working so well, ask if you can be responsible for planning and preparing one meal a week. Choose healthy foods that taste great, and you could convince your family to eat well more often (especially if you keep helping out in the kitchen).

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