A happy childhood starts at the dinner table

Often, it’s the little things in life that have the most profound impact on our health. But when we spend so much time seeking out newer, cutting-edge shortcuts to fix our problems, it’s easy to miss the solutions that have been sitting right in front of our faces.

For this reason, I think it’s important to return to the basics every once and a while. It’s also why I spend so much time here reminding you of how simple good health can be — at any age!

And I do mean any age. This was brought to mind after I recently came across a new study linking diet quality with psychosocial well-being in young children. I don’t know how many more ways I can say that we are what we eat. So let’s just take a look at these results, shall we?

Researchers examined associations between happiness and healthy eating in more than 7,500 children in the Identification and Prevention of Dietary-and Lifestyle-Induced Health Effects in Children and Infants Study (IDEFICS). The study included roughly half boys and half girls — between two and nine years old, and hailing from eight different European countries.

Each child was assigned a Healthy Dietary Adherence Score (HDAS) — which accounts for factors like sugar intake and vegetable consumption — based on weekly food frequency reporting. Higher scores represent healthier eating habits.

Researchers measured weight, height, and well-being (in categories like self-esteem, peer and parent relationships, and emotional health) at the beginning and again at the end of the two-year study. And wouldn’t you know?

Two years out, kids who started with a higher HDAS had 20 percent better self-esteem. They had 20 percent fewer emotional problems. And they had 30 percent fewer peer problems.

That’s a pretty astounding advantage, if you ask me. And all it required was good nutrition. Imagine that!

When researchers broke down the scores into separate categories, they found that high veggie consumption was associated with all factors of well-being — and parental and peer relations in particular. Meanwhile, higher fish consumption (along with lower sugar consumption) had specific associations with self-esteem and emotional and social health.

The takeaway? At the end of the day, kids who are healthy eaters are happier and more well-adjusted — and happier and more well-adjusted kids are more likely to eat healthy. What’s more, this rang true across the board, regardless of weight or socioeconomic status. Which tells you just how powerful they really are.

Ask any parent what they want most for their child and happiness will always be at the top of the list. But the shocking rise in childhood obesity — fueled in no small part by our nation’s abysmal eating habits — makes it clear that this study’s crucial message still hasn’t sunk in.

I’ve been saying it since I wrote my first book, Feed Your Kids Well, nearly 20 years ago. And I’ll keep saying it, again and again, as often as I need to…

Good diet leads to good health, which leads to happiness.

It’s just that simple! They may not be able to appreciate it yet, but as this study shows, teaching your children to eat right is the most precious gift you can give them. So spare them the Doritos, the candy, and the Coke — and show your love with fresh, whole foods instead. The most priceless gift you can give is a healthy habit that’ll last them a lifetime