Parenting to raise healthy, happy eaters

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) –  Many parents are unaware that their parenting style has implications for their child’s diet quality and weight. But depending on the style, their child is five times as likely to become overweight or obese. This morning Susie Zachman, registered dietitian and founder of Better Beginnings, stopped by our studio to teach us the different parenting styles that contribute to healthy eating.

Parenting style has implications on what children eat – a healthy balanced diet that includes fruit and vegetables, or a lot of sweets and junk food.

Permissive food parenting:

  • Parent has trouble setting rules, limits, boundaries
  • Child is in charge
  • Child eats more junk food and treats, may never learn to like fruit & vegetables and may gain too much weight

Controlling food parenting:

  • Strict rules, high expectations for child behavior, one-way (“top down”) communication
  • Little sensitivity to child’s preferences, needs, perspectives
  • Child loses touch with own hunger/fullness, eats fewer fruit & vegetables, most likely to be overweight or obese

Unengaged food parenting:

  • Busy, distracted parent that doesn’t notice child’s needs & perspectives
  • Because food is a low priority for the parent, the child becomes preoccupied with food
  • Child may gain too much weight

Authoritative food parenting:

  • Parent has structure and boundaries around food and eating, but respects child’s food choices and preferences
  • Child eats according to their own appetite and enjoys a wide variety of different foods, eats more fruit & vegetables, is more physically active and maintains a healthy weight.

What does authoritative food parenting look like in practice?

  • Give your child a voice, but not the voice
  • Schedule your child’s favorite meal (and yours too!)
  • Involve children in grocery shopping / meal planning
  • Offer (healthy) choices (carrots & hummus or cheese & apple slices for snack)
  • Serve at least one thing your child likes
  • Do not short order cook
  • Structure meals & snacks; no grazing or filling up on juice/milk in between.
  • Trust your child’s appetite
  • Do not pressure or bribe your child to eat or reward them for doing so
  • Serve meals family style & let your child help him/herself
  • Use balloons to teach your child to listen to their tummy

For more information, send Susie a message at

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