Raising happy, healthy, thriving children is the primary goal for parents. However, food restrictions and dietary expectations placed on parents from various sources make it challenging to help our children develop a healthy relationship with food as they grow. Whether it’s the constant flow of advertisements on TV for high sugar, high-fat food items or a continual flow of opinions designed to “explain” what healthy eating should be, it can become complex and feel impossible to teach our children what healthy eating truly is.
It is also important to remember that children look up to their parents for inspiration and education. If you struggle with body positivity concerns or with disordered eating, your children will inevitably see that. Unfortunately, the way we as parents interact with food and the dietary restrictions we place on ourselves inevitably impact our children’s relationship with food. So what can be done as a parent to help foster a positive relationship with food for your children as they grow. Below are some tips to help your children develop a love for food and understand the adverse effects of diet culture.
What does Food Positivity Mean
When children have a positive relationship with food, they can enjoy eating food and appreciate the body’s cues about what to eat and when. Fortunately, many children have yet to experience the stigmatizing effects of diet culture. Consequently, it is possible at a young age to learn how to make healthy and safe decisions about food without succumbing to outside influences. Developing healthy and positive eating habits is a process. Below are a few tips parents can use to help their children develop positive relationships with food that can last throughout their lives.
Be a Healthy Role Model
This may be one of the most challenging steps, especially if you struggle with food insecurities of your own. The most important aspect of this step is to avoid categorizing foods. While some foods are indeed healthier than others, try not to label foods. Instead, set a good example around what you eat and what you put in your body to be healthy. Remember, if you try one fad diet after the other, count calories, or consistently restrict food, your children will take these cues and absorb your behaviors.
Forget the Clean Plate
Children know when they are hungry or full. Although it is crucial for their health to ensure they get enough to eat, it is also important to allow them to listen to their body’s internal cues. By forcing them to clean their plates, it can lead to challenges with food down the road. Instead, limit snacks, and guide them to eat proper amounts at mealtime, ensuring that they receive enough vital nutrients.
Not all healthy, nutritious food is yummy. Also, your little ones may not like something the first time around; however, keep trying. Something they refused to eat today may become their favorite entree months four years from now. Also, don’t use sweets to “convince” them to eat things they don’t like. If they expect food after dinner, they are more likely to skip the healthy stuff in favor of the sweets that are to follow.
If children have fun with food, they will develop a positive attitude towards eating. If your children are curious about where food comes from, take them to a farm or a garden. Let them pick out their own vegetables or pick strawberries from the field. Let them help you cook in the kitchen. All of these positive influences can lead to a positive outlook on food for kids.
Don’t Focus on Weight
Perhaps one of the most important things to remember when trying to develop food positivity in children is that children’s bodies will change. Weight-based negative talk during childhood can and does impact people well into their teen and adult years. It is important to remember that children come in all shapes and sizes. As they grow and become more active, their bodies will change with their activity level and age. Encourage them to eat a variety of foods and encourage them to participate in sports or any other physical activity that makes them happy. Most importantly, help them be active. Children are very flexible and will gravitate towards what they enjoy most, so open the door to try new experiences and let them decide for themselves what they find most enjoyable.
Although not common among young children, disordered eating is a growing concern among adolescents and teens. Helping your child develop food positivity while they’re young may help reduce their risk of developing an eating disorder related to a negative food relationship. If you would like to learn more about helping your child develop a positive food outlook or if you are concerned about your teens eating behaviors seeking help from a treatment center focused on adolescent treatment can help you and your family foster healthy food habits. To learn more about our programs, contact us a Selah House today.