We all want to do our best when it comes to our kids, and that includes setting them up with a positive relationship with food and eating. But it’s human nature to associate food with feelings – we use meals to celebrate, commiserate and reward – so how do we ensure our children develop a healthy attitude towards mealtimes?
Teach them to listen to their bodies
At the core of mindful eating is listening to your body’s cues and establishing this in early childhood can set your child up for a positive relationship with food and their bodies for life. The old strategy of making a child ‘clean their plate’ can encourage them to eat past feeling comfortably full and sends the message that they can’t trust their body to signal when they’re hungry and satisfied.
Don’t use dessert as a reward
It can be tempting to offer a bowl of jelly and custard as a reward to a child if they finish their peas and carrots but that simply reinforces the idea that veggies aren’t enjoyable and that they should be rewarded for eating them. The end result? You could end up getting into a routine of serving dessert every night in order to get your little one to eat their 5-a-day.
Make mealtimes a positive experience
For many families, dinner is the only time of day that everyone sits down to a meal together, so make it a part of the day to look forward to. Avoid using this as a time to moan at your partner or discipline the kids as this will make them associate dinner with tension – focus instead on connecting and really talking with each other away from cellphones and the TV. While you should encourage your child to try different foods at mealtimes, don’t force them to eat something or it may create an air of anxiety around meals, and that particular food.
Don’t label food as good or bad
A healthy relationship with food shouldn’t involve feeling guilty over what you eat. Labeling food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ can make a child associate what they eat with morality – meaning they’ll feel like a ‘bad’ person for eating a burger and chips or that they’re more worthy of love or praise if they choose to eat a plate of vegetables. Rather teach them that all foods – including treats like cake – can be a part of a healthy diet if it’s enjoyed in moderation.
Don’t make any foods off limits
You might think that banning chocolate or chips entirely means your child won’t develop a taste for them, but this strategy tends to backfire on parents. When certain foods are restricted, it makes them seem more desirable, so a child is more likely to binge when they have access to them at a friend’s house or at parties. Again, teaching portion control and moderation is a healthier – and more realistic – alternative.
This article was originally written for Squish.