How to help your children to develop a healthy relationship with food?
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Even though it might seem like your child doesn’t always listen or pay attention to you, they’re observing everything you do. They want to mimic your actions and be just like you, even if they won’t say that out loud.
That desire to “copy” your habits includes what/how you eat, too.
One study found that parents with disordered eating habits are more likely to raise children with similar habits as well. That’s the last thing you want for your child. Poor eating habits could impact their physical and developmental growth, and it could cause them to have a negative relationship with food that stays with them well into adulthood.
So, what can you do to teach your children about proper nutrition and how to care for their bodies with what they eat? Developing a healthy relationship with food will create positive lifelong habits. As a parent, you can help to fuel that relationship now.
The benefits of a balanced diet
By a certain age, most kids have heard about the food pyramid. It serves as a guide for what children should be eating every day, focusing on serving size and portion size. But, when a child sees that their diet should mostly be made up of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, they might not initially be excited to stick with it.
Don’t just assume your child will be on board with healthy eating habits right away. Studies have shown that 14-50% of preschool-aged children are picky eaters. It’s important to exercise patience, but it’s just as necessary to educate your kids, no matter how old they are.
Talk about the benefits of healthy eating – now, and in the long run. Some of those benefits include:
- Strong bones and muscles
- More energy
- Healthy eyes, skin, and teeth
- Improved mental health
- Better focus
- Fewer health problems and stomach issues, like GERD or reflux
- Reduced risk of future health issues, including diabetes and heart disease
You can use these benefits to get your child interested in taking care of their bodies. For example, if they’re into sports or being active, focus on how fueling their bodies the right way can help them get stronger and faster. If they want to do better in school, hone in on how the right nutrition can be “brain food” to help them focus.
Like adults, kids often want to know “what’s in it for them” when they’re trying something new. Thankfully, good nutrition has a lot to offer, so you’ll have plenty of positives to offer.
Honing in on hunger cues
Maybe your children know what to eat, but do they know when to eat it?
That might seem like a silly question but think about your own habits. Many people eat out of boredom, stress, sadness, or even mindlessly while watching a television show.
Teaching your children about intentional or mindful eating will help them with everything from weight management to have a better understanding of portion size. To practice intentional eating, your child needs to understand their own hunger cues and cravings. Talk to them about pausing before they eat something – especially a snack or a second portion of something. Are they really hungry, or is something else triggering it?
Intentional eating isn’t dieting. It’s being aware of your body and its cues, and it can be a lifelong habit for children who learn about it early on. Some of the benefits include:
- It helps to prevent binge eating
- They will be full with less food
- It improves overall mindfulness in other areas of life
- They will eat more foods meant to fuel their mind and body
If you have younger children, a great way to introduce intentional eating is with the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It’s a classic for a reason, but can be used as a great lesson on listening to your body and your hunger cues.
Get creative to get your kids excited
Let’s face it – your child probably isn’t going to get as excited about a piece of broccoli as they would about a candy bar.
But, there are things you can do to make healthy eating more fun and exciting for them. One of the best ways to do that is to get them directly involved.
That starts by letting them get their hands dirty. Literally.
Plant a garden in your yard or join a community garden to show your children how they can grow something delicious on their own. A small garden or a raised planter is a perfect way to introduce your kids to the idea. You can talk to them beforehand about what they want to grow, and tend to the garden frequently to get them excited about little changes. When it’s harvest time, your child will be more likely to eat whatever they’ve grown out of a sense of pride.
You can also get them excited by letting them help in the kitchen.
If you’re not able to plant a garden, you can let your child help you with meals every day. Give them small tasks that allow them to be your “sous chef”. It will make them feel important while giving them the chance to ask questions about different ingredients. It’s a wonderful opportunity to educate them on nutrition. Plus, when they feel like they’ve helped put the meal together, they’re more likely to eat it and enjoy it.
By making healthy choices, yourself, modeling them, and educating your children about good nutrition, you can instill better eating habits in them that will last a lifetime. Doing so can improve their health and well-being, and provide them with a better relationship with food that they can pass on to the next generation.