Whether your children are toddlers or tweens, developing good eating habits for your kids isn't just about making smart decisions at the grocery store. There's a lot involved that goes far beyond the food aisles. It starts with you — the parent — and how you talk about your own body image, as well as how you discuss food in general. We all want our kids to make smart choices when it comes to food, so we turned to Matthew Roth, PhD, for guidance.
Don't make it about dieting.
It's best if "weight" and "dieting" are just words you toss to the side. You'll achieve more by focusing on other facets of eating entirely. "We need to help children understand the benefits having a varied diet and keeping things in moderation. Having a 'dieting' mindset, and focusing on what foods to restrict, can lead to rigid rules about eating, which can further lead to unhealthy eating habits in the future," explains Roth.
But what if they want junk food?
You can work on this with your family by labelling this food in a way that makes sense to the kids. "We want to avoid labelling foods as 'good' or 'bad' but more in terms of 'sometimes' foods and 'everyday' foods,' says Roth. So potato chips can be referred to as "sometimes" instead of "bad" or "fatty." Roth continues: "Children also don't always understand that if you eat the same food over and over again, you'll get bored with it, so varying your diet is exciting for your taste buds!"
How can you ensure they have a positive body image?
Telling your child to have a positive body image might not make as much of an impact as just focusing on the way you discuss everyone's bodies. In short, it comes down to what you say. "Be mindful of how you talk about your own body or comment on other people's bodies. It is more about praising healthy choices and focusing on behaviour, whether that is a healthy food choice or choosing to exercise over screen time," Roth says.
So what should you focus on?
Make eating fun, and create an environment that promotes that. "You can start to model healthy eating habits by packing a balanced meal for your child. It's okay to have fun with it, too. You can make sheep out of cauliflower or use food colouring to make a silly face on a sandwich," Roth begins. "It's even better to have your child be a part of the meal preparation process. Getting children more involved in their food will get them excited to try different things." And talk about the food you're preparing too. "If they are preparing meals with you, talk to your child about the properties of the food (colour and shapes, for example) and praise them for their interaction with foods (particularly if they are more of a picky eater)."
Be a good model for them.
As parents we may have our own issues with foods, and that's perfectly fine, but remember the kids are watching, so do as you want them to do. "As parents, be mindful of how your eating habits influence your children. This includes the way you talk about food, going back to avoiding labels such as 'good' and 'bad.' Also, talking about the properties of the food, like the way it looks and its shape (not necessarily the taste), can get a child curious about trying it."