When it comes to food and healthy eating, it's never too early to start. Children eating habits can start as young as 6 months and they often carry them with them for the rest of their lives. So the early we teach them about a healthy relationship with food the better.
I for one, have always had an odd relationship with food, often fuelled by emotional eating and non stop binging. Needless to say it took me years to get on the right track and be able to make good food choices and enjoy my meals without the dreaded guilt of screwing up the perfect body image. Today social media pressure makes it even harder for our kids to grow up without any influences on their bodies or eating habits, so it's even more important to have the conversation at home as early and as often as possible.
Here are some of my tips on how to talk to kids about nutrition and food.
- Health instead of weight
Leave the weight discussion at the door. Try and engage the kids on why certain foods are better than others, which vitamins and minerals are good for the brain, bones etc. and where they can be found. Talk to them about which food makes our body grow strong and healthy and why some food are better consumed in small quantities and as a treat.
- Intuitive eating
Kids are amazing at realising when they are full or when they need more. Follow their lead, let them develop their instincts about portion sizes. They are not always going to experience the same level of hunger at every meal but contrary to us they are more tuned in to their feeling of fullness and hunger so let them serve their food on their plate, they will feel less overwhelmed and also it makes them independent and in control of what goes into their body. They can always come back from more.
Teaching to clean their plate all the time will just tell them to ignore their own hunger and fullness and start a vicious circle of responding to external cues instead of their own bodies.
- All food is good food
We have developed this attitude that some food is good and some food is bad. Let's change the conversation to some food helps you grow healthy and strong so we need to eat these options often and some food is just a treat sometimes, because we all deserve some fun.
Don't use the sweet stuff as a reward, it's like telling them: "yes, eat this now quickly so you can get to the good stuff soon." It will also lead to emotional eating and using food as a reward or as a way to curb their feelings.
- Options and taking no as an answer
We all have our likes and dislikes, that goes for your kids too. There is no point in forcing them to eat something just because we know it's healthy.
Learn to take no as an answer, a battling at the dinner table it's just going to make every meal stressful for everyone.
Give them options, always put a variety of food and colours on the plate. Make sure there is always something that you know they like eating and then something they have not tried or it's not their favourite. With time and exposure they will try it and expand their flavours.
We are not born with like and dislikes, exposure is key, even if it takes 100 times, keep at it.
- Lead by example and body positivity
Lead by examples. Eat healthy yourself, fuel your body the right way and learn together with your kids. Look for fun healthy recipes to make together, get them to help with the groceries shopping and tell them where our food comes from and what it does to our bodies (if you don't know, look it up together).
Don't body shame, that goes for your body too!!! Don't talk to them and let them hear you about diets, losing weight or how unhappy you are with you body or theirs.
It's not about weight, it's about health, body and mind. Teach them to have a good relationship with food and both and have healthy eating habits and both body and mind will follow suit and grow strong and healthy.