Instilling good eating habits in your kid can be an uphill climb, what with finding prep time, placating picky eaters, and contending with that age-old influence—your job.
According to a study by researchers from American University in Washington D.C., an increase in the total time a mother works is linked to an increase in her child’s BMI (a ratio of height to weight that estimates total body fat).
For every five months or so a mother was employed while her child was growing up, the study showed that a kid of average height would gain about a pound more than otherwise expected.
Is There a Proven Link Between the Two?
The researchers reviewed data from 990 children across the country in third, fifth and sixth grade, controlling for family income. Although they found a correlation between moms’ work schedules and kids’ body fat, they didn’t find a clear causation.
“We tested the amount of time the children watched TV, their physical activity and the amount of time they spent unsupervised, among other factors, to try to find the link,” said Taryn Morrissey, Ph.D., author of the study and assistant professor in the Department of Public Administration and Policy at American University. “Unfortunately, none of these factors explains the association.”
How Do You Manage Work & Family?
What methods do you use to find time to spend with your family on a week night? Are there any traditions or habits you have set up with your child that you do every night?
While the jury is still out, Dr. Morrissey did have hypotheses: “We think that children in families in which both parents work may be more likely to eat out or eat prepared food,” she said. “Or they may receive less sleep, both of which are associated with higher BMI.” Research is still ongoing.
Of course, we're not saying you should quit your job. There are millions of perfectly healthy children raised by working moms across America. And there are plenty of ways to keep your children eating well—and maintain the right weight for them. We talked with Paula Peters, author of “The Working Mom’s Survival Guide,” for advice:
When It Comes to Food …
Let Them Select Their Healthy Options
Whether it’s in the supermarket or at an actual apple orchard, kids are way more likely to eat healthy foods if they’ve helped pick them out. Let your child browse the produce aisle with you and make her top three picks to put in the cart. (Here are the ten healthiest foods for under $1.)
Cook on the Weekends
Use some free time on the weekend to cook big batches of healthy things you can freeze into portions for a few weeks. Keep that up for a few weeks and you’ll have four to five different home-cooked meals to choose from for any weeknight (bonus points if you can get the kids to help you cook).
Keep Two or Three Healthy Snacks at Your Kid's Eye Level in the Fridge
If your kid can’t see that bad-for-her-snack, she won’t even know it’s there. As soon as she gets home from daycare or school, she’s bound to be hungry. So, keep baby carrot sticks, cooked green beans and low-fat string cheese on the bottom shelf of the fridge, where it’s likely to be the first thing those hungry eyes see.
Find Three Healthy Fast-Food Options in Your Area
We could simply say stop getting fast food, but that's not always realistic. Instead of skipping out on fast food altogether, find something in your ’hood, perhaps a pasta or chicken place, that offers healthy children’s meal options and make this your go-to. As an alternative, many grocery stores are now offering healthy, complete-meal takeout options at the deli. (And here are 8 healthy-ish options at McDonald's, Burger King ... and more.)
When It Comes to Activity …
Plan Something You Can All Do Together
If the thought of planning a nightly walk after work exhausts you (or if it’s too dark when you get home), try finding a workout video you can do with your kids—like a sport on Wii, a video game or Dance Dance Revolution. “My five-year-old son loves to ‘punch and kick’ for 15 minutes with my Tae-Bo workout,” says Peters. “Some days my two-year-old even tries it.”
Find a Daycare That Offers Physical Activity, or Work With Your Current One
Your kid is spending the majority of his day either in school (where hopefully he’ll at least have a P.E. class here and there) or in daycare. If it’s the latter, speak with the supervisor of the daycare to find out what physical activity programs are offered during the day, and how much playground or indoor activity time your child is getting. If it’s not to your liking, see if you can talk them into incorporating more exercise into the day.
Encourage your kid to try as many sports or physical activities as possible until she finds one she likes, from organized team sports like soccer to dance, karate or even kids' yoga. Find a league or classes with weekend or late evening games and classes so you can watch and that will guarantee a high-energy activity at least two days per week.
When It Comes to Sleep …
Stick to a Schedule
In an ideal world, you would be home in time to read a story before bed, or at least to say goodnight. In the real world, this might not always be possible. No matter who's at home when it’s bedtime, make sure little Bobby actually gets to sleep when he’s supposed to. If you tend to work late, you can always try recording your voice to have dad or a caretaker play before your little one goes off to sleep.
Wake Up Early
If you rarely get home in enough time to say goodnight, it can be tempting to keep your child up to make up for lost time. But lost sleep can be bad for him (and you). Instead, make up for it in the morning. Depending on how old they are, kids tend to wake up on the early side, anyway. So, instead of compromising their bedtime, set a date for pre-breakfast bonding time before heading off to work.