5 Strategies to Talk to Your Kids About Food
By Christy Campbell
Talking to our kids about healthy choices can be like tricky. We want our children to grow up with healthy bodies and sound nutrition habits. Yet, as soon as those little tummies get a mind and voice of their own, “I don’t like it” and “I don’t want it” become the resounding chorus when macaroni and cheese is replaced with broccoli. Meal time can be a huge source of conflict for many families. Remember that how we approach these battles may impact our children’s future relationship with food.
For parents striving to get quality nutrition into growing offspring, many end up having to explain or justify healthy food. Foods are labeled as bad and good. We begin the narrative of forcing down healthy choices while other bad foods are off limits. Sugary foods become rewards and children are punished for not eating their vegetables. Sometimes, despite good intentions, we end up pushing kids towards unhealthy food because we don’t know how to talk to them about it.
According to New York Times, 81% of 10-year-olds have a fear of being fat. Meanwhile, the National Health Nutrition Examination Study found that 18.5% of children are obese. It’s no wonder parents are conflicted. How do we help our children make healthy choices at the table, but not set them on a path of disordered eating?
Here are 5 simple strategies to help you talk to your kids about food.
1. Instead of labeling food as bad or good, talk about what the food does. For example, milk helps make our bones and teeth healthy. Carrots help our eyes see. Chicken keeps our muscles strong so we can do fun things. Conversely, candy makes us feel sick if we eat too much of it.
2. Talk about the source of food. Vegetables grow on a farm with sunshine and water. Meat comes from animals and we want to choose animals that had a good life. Eggs come from chickens. Fish comes from the ocean. On the other hand, vending machine “snacks” come from a factory and don’t have any of the nutrition our bodies need.
3. Make treats occasions rather than rewards. Sugar doesn’t have to be forbidden. But sharing an ice-cream at the beach with family is an occasion. Ice-cream before bed because you stuffed down your asparagus or did your chores is a reward. Utilizing treat food as a reward will reinforce the desire for it and ultimately lead to overindulgence at the first opportunity.
4. Remove the sources of conflict from the house. You, as the parent, buy groceries. If you don’t want your children to eat sugar pops for breakfast, don’t buy them. This strategy will have growing pains at first, depending on the age of your children, but ultimately it will work. When your children ask for the offending snack, simply say you didn’t buy it. Feel free to say: “Certain food is ok to have sometimes, but we don’t want to eat it every day”. This is an adequate explanation a child can understand.
5. Ask your children what they like and allow it to change. Taste preferences change over time. Assuming your child hates tomatoes and always will, limits his potential food choices. Continue to revisit food options and ask your children if they like food served in certain ways. This gives them ownership over their food choices and allows them to change their mind. For example: “You said you don’t like tomatoes in tacos, but do you like them in chili?”
Talking to your kids about their food choices doesn’t have to be a battle. Be consistent and have regular conversations utilizing the strategies above. Ultimately, you can help your kids make healthy food choices and build a strong body and a healthy relationship with food.
Christy Campbell is a NCI Certified Nutrition Coach, CrossFit Level 2 Trainer and a USAW Advanced Sports Performance Coach. She is a Navy veteran, Navy spouse and mom of two boys. Read about Christy’s personal transformation and nutrition coaching services at www.fitmenutrition.com.