Are you a fast-food dad?

A few years back, we ran across an unusual way of looking at a father’s influence and the importance of setting a positive example … and it has to do with food!

Here’s a statistic that probably won’t surprise you: In 1974, out of all the money that Americans spent on food, 34 percent was spent eating out. In 2008, it increased to 48 percent—almost half of all food spending! (More recent statistics show that number hovering around 43% in 2018 and 2019, and then of course everyone’s eating out habits changed during the pandemic in 2020, when 32% of food spending was at restaurants. And it’s unclear where food delivered from a restaurant fits into the numbers.)

So, generally speaking, we’re eating out more, which is usually not as nutritious. And in today’s world we’re much more aware of childhood obesity and other kids’ health concerns.

What really caught our eye was a study that zeroed in on fathers.

Researchers at Texas A&M found that dads influence their kids more than moms do in this fast-food trend, mostly because dads often treat a trip to the burger joint or pizza palace like a special treat or a celebration—reinforcing the notion that unhealthy eating is fun.

It’s different with moms. When they stop for a drive-thru meal, usually it’s because they’re grabbing something in a hurry, squeezing in a meal between trumpet lessons and baseball games. The kids know it’s more of a practical thing than a treat.

As fathers, hearing about how much dads influence their kids in this way should lead us to look at ourselves and our fathering habits, and we should be motivated in at least two ways:

We need to take our children’s health seriously.

There are many different ways to address this, and diet might be a good place to start. You probably have a decent idea about what your children need to be healthy, or you can find the information easily. So do it! And get your kids involved in finding healthier food options, so they have some ownership in any changes your family decides to make. Start or renew some active pursuits that you and your child can do together. At the very least, have a discussion about any lifestyle changes your family may need to make.

And this doesn’t mean you can never treat your kids to food they enjoy. Many great father-child memories have been made while eating French fries or ice cream cones. The point is to start better overall habits; there can still be fun times with a favorite food.

Remember the powerful influence of the example you set.

To our children, our words and actions really do say, “Follow me.” We’re role models who are being watched all the time. And our fathering influence includes what we do even when we aren’t with our kids. Our children are influenced by our moods and attitudes, by our choices and habits, by our negativism or our hope. We need to be intentionally positive and consistent.

Do you want your children to be like you—not just in how they eat, but in who they are and how they treat people? Is your example helping to lead them toward health and responsibility and maturity? Look at your own life, dad, and give some good, long thought to how you’re influencing your children.

How do your food choices influence your kids? In what other ways do you see your habits showing up in their lives? Share your experiences and insights with other dads on our Facebook page.

Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  • Take an end-of-summer look at your family budget and make any necessary adjustments.
  • When eating out, choose healthier options on the menu. (You’re setting a good example.)
  • What’s one change you can make that will lead to better health? Start a new habit or renew a resolution, and stick with it.
  • Go grocery shopping with your kids, and if they’re old enough, actually read labels and look for better options, if necessary.
  • If possible, accompany your child to the next doctor’s appointment. Ask about things you can do to help with any ongoing health concerns.
  • What are your moods generally like at home? Try to be more aware of how you’re coming across to your kids. Be intentional about injecting more positivity and joy into their lives.

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