As parents we just want to raise healthy, happy kids. We want them to enjoy food and love their bodies in a world that sends them very mixed messages and sometimes, those messages come from us. I grew up in a house with a mum who wasn’t always comfortable with her body and from a very young age I knew that. She never ate proper meals and watched very closely what I ate. As a consequence it took me a very long time to love my body, imperfections and all, and change the message that had been etched in my own brain growing up.
I’ve tried really hard not to put the same pressure on my own children but sometimes talking to my kids about food can feel like such a minefield. The other day my 3-year-old told me she ate too much food. I was completely horrified! She absolutely LOVES eating but I have never told her she ate too much. I wondered where she was getting this message. Was it from me? Childcare? Relatives? For a moment I didn’t know what to say, but quickly went with, “You don’t eat too much, you eat enough to make you strong and healthy.” Luckily she has run with that. I’m not sure where she heard that she ate too much, but in a blink of an eye she had absorbed that message which made me really scared.
Fiona Sutherland is a Dietician and Co-Director of Body Positivity Australia who has also worked as a specialist in eating disorders for over 12 years. She has some fab tips for talking to kids about food:
- Do be a good role by eating together with your children as much as possible.
- Do set a good example by enjoying delicious and socially appropriate foods without judgement.
- Do aim to offer a wide variety of foods in a relaxed and matter-of-fact way.
- Do set some boundaries around meal times rather than grazing or picking all day.
- Do help all of your kids, regardless of their size (because they might be different) enjoy and appreciate foods.
- Do invest time and energy into having a good relationship with food yourself.
- Don’t talk about food too much! Just keep it simple and neutral.
- Don’t “food-shame” – this means talking about foods as “bad, junk, rubbish” (even if you think they are, you don’t need to say it).
- Don’t stress if your kids don’t eat everything you think they should. Vegetables are not the be all and end all, and stressing about it won’t make them eat more of them.
- Don’t feed your kids differently if they are different sizes. They know you’re doing it.
Teaching our kids at a young age to have a healthy relationship with food and their body can save a lot of angst in adolesence and childhood. As a mum with two daughters I want my girls to love and enjoy food but in a way that enriches their lives. It can be SO hard to filter the outside messages the world gives them about food and weight, but following these positive food and body messages at home is the best start I can give them.
How do you talk to your kids about food?