Whether we realize it or not, as we grow up, we develop our own assumptions about food. What’s good, what’s bad, and everything in between. By recognizing our own beliefs, changing our own unhealthy habits, and creating positive food associations for our kids, we can help them form healthy habits and values to last their lifetime.
Be mindful of your own thoughts and beliefs
Being aware of your own mindset around food is the first step to ensure you don’t pass down negative associations to your kids. Notice how you think or talk about certain foods, whether it’s desserts, bread, or vegetables. Stay curious about your food beliefs and be mindful of what you say in front of your children.
If you’re noticing you have a lot of negative associations with foods, or you feel compelled to diet or restrict food regularly, it may be beneficial for you to seek help in healing your own relationship with food. The work you do to heal your own relationship with food will have positive rippling effects on everyone in your life, especially your kids.
Intuitive Eating can be a great place to start when exploring how you relate to the foods you do and don’t eat. It is a way of eating that helps you to identify which foods make you feel your best and which don’t agree with you, or leave you wanting for more.
If you’re struggling with your own body image, consider finding a therapist who specializes in body image or a community you can learn from. And there are some pretty amazing leaders on social media having these conversations about positive food associations, too.
Talk about what food does for the body
Rather than categorizing a particular food as “bad” or “good,” describe what the food offers the body. Make it fun and educational, rather than about restriction. For example, you could say, “Chicken has protein and helps build the cells that make up your body.” or “Cookies give you short-term energy.” When kids learn how food fuels their bodies, they can start making their own healthy choices.
Aim for family meals
According to research, eating meals together as a family is associated with less disordered eating and better self-esteem for children and adolescents. It also helps generate healthy habits and enjoyment around eating. Plus, this time gives your children a safe and comfortable space to playfully try something new on their plate.
Avoid pushing certain foods
Forcing kids to eat particular foods can dull the internal cues they have about what they like, what their body needs, and when they’re full. Mealtime battles often backfire anyway, leading them to resist the vegetables or protein on their plates.
Pressuring kids to eat certain foods can even lead to a negative association with mealtime, with them feeling anxious about even sitting down to eat. Instead, serve well-rounded meals but allow them to have some voice and decision. Giving them choices about what they eat helps build long-term habits where they feel confident and in control of their nutrition.
Notice changes in your child’s eating
If your child’s eating habits change noticeably, it could be a sign of a deeper problem, such as depression, anxiety, or even an eating disorder (no matter their body type). Consider talking with your child or getting help from a trusted therapist or pediatrician.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- Jennifer Anderson MSPH RDN. “Kids Eat in Color.” Kids Eat in Color. 2022. https://kidseatincolor.com/links/
- Kaitlyn Kamleiter. “Avoiding picky eating during holiday meals.” Children’s Minnesota. November 25, 2019. https://www.childrensmn.org/2019/11/25/avoiding-picky-eating-holiday-meals/.
- Sumner Brooks, MPH, RDN. “How to Raise a Kid Who Is Satisfied With Their Body, According to a Registered Dietitian.” Good Housekeeping. Hearst Digital Media. December 9, 2021. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/parenting/a38029229/positive-body-image-for-kids/