Parents set the stage for their children’s relationship with food
What comes to mind when you hear healthy eating? While everyone has a different definition and approach when it comes to healthy eating for themselves and their families, the fundamentals remain the same – focus on building a dietary pattern rich in veggies, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans, lean meats and low fat dairy. But have you ever stopped to think about how to approach healthy eating? The way parents interact with their children when eating is setting up the stage for their children’s relationship with food. Interestingly, a person’s relationship with food is just as important as the actual food they are eating. A healthy relationship with food can influence a child’s nutritional choices, food preferences, eating habits, self-regulation of eating, and furthermore their weight.
Parent's mindfulness of their own eating habits is key
If this is the first time you hear about a healthy relationship with food, let’s pause. Before we talk about promoting a positive relationship with food for your children, it may be time to reflect on your own relationship with food. Becoming more mindful of your own eating habits will not only benefit yourself, but also your children’s eating habits. After all, children learn by observing and not just listening.
10 tips to help promote a positive relationship with food for your children:
- Set a routine for meal and snack times. create a positive mealtime environment at home and offer regularly scheduled nutritious meals and snacks.
- Follow the division of responsibility for mealtimes. Parents are responsible for what and when a child eats, while the child is responsible for if and how much they will eat.
- Involve your children in the process. From menu planning to grocery shopping and child-friendly food preparation. This exposure from start-to-finish can encourage picky eaters to try new foods, especially if they helped pick and prepare them.
- Reward without food. Avoid using food or treats as a reward good behavior, good grades, going to a Doctor’s visit, or for eating their vegetables. Instead, offer compliments or non-food rewards like stickers or small toys, or an activity they would like such as pool time or story time.
- Avoid categorizing foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. This can lead to demonizing desserts, candy and other sugary foods, which can then lead to unhealthy restrictions or overindulgence. Practice mindful eating with indulgent foods, focusing on the frequency and portions to help create a sense of responsible freedom that contributes to a healthy relationship with these foods.
- Distraction-free mealtimes. Turn off electronics, which includes TV, iPad, cellphones, laptops in order to encourage distraction-free eating. It may seem difficult but it is possible. Focus on your time together and the foods in front of you.
- Positive communication. Maintain a neutral attitude towards foods (all foods, especially sweets and desserts) and towards your child’s food selections. This may be tough when your child refuses to eat a food. Instead of sounding upset, compliment them if they tasted it, and let them know that maybe next time they may like it. Remain patient and positive; perseverance will pay off in raising a healthy eater that has a positive relationship with food.
- Follow hunger and fullness cues. Ask your child how their tummy feels – does it feel empty? Is it growling? Is it almost full? This encourages them to get listen to their natural hunger and fullness cues, which helps them become a mindful eater. They will learn that they do not have to eat a food that is in front of them if their body is not hungry.
- Be their role model. Children will mirror your eating habits. As much as you tell them to do something, it may be your actions that speak louder than your words. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, this may be challenging since your own food insecurities may surface and require you to work on them as you become that healthy role model for your children. After all, your children will notice if you do not eat your veggies!
- Have fun! Take a family approach to fostering a healthy relationship with food as a family. Visit a local farm, let them pick their own fruits and veggies, learn about where food comes from, cook together, and even more adventurous – start your own home garden. Positive and fun food experiences such as these can help kids develop a healthy relationship with food.
Bottom Line: Remember this is not a competition nor about perfection. It is about finding the balance and healthy eating pattern that works for you and your family, while fostering a healthy relationship with food. We hope these tips inspire you to take that first step for you and your family!
Little Lunches offers a holistic approach by promoting positive mealtime experiences, expanding food choices, and fostering a healthy relationship with food. Through our app's creative and inclusive meal planning strategies, families can embark on a journey of exploration, where every bite becomes an opportunity for growth, discovery, and enjoyment.
By: Lucette Talamas, MS, RD, LDN
Bio: Lucette Talamas is a Miami-based Registered Dietitian. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition from University of Florida and a Master of Science in Nutrition and Wellness from Benedictine University. Her expert tips and advice have appeared in print and broadcast media, including The Miami Herald, South Florida PBS, CBS Miami, Telemundo and Univision. Active in professional nutrition organizations, Lucette received the 2018 Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year Award from the Florida Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She enjoys translating the science into practical, individualized nutrition information to promote healthy lifestyles.