As parents, keeping your kids healthy and happy is always a top priority. One of the best ways to do this is to help them develop a healthy relationship with food.
That’s a loaded question because of how rampant diet culture has been through most of our lives. It can be really hard to even conceptualize how to help your kids have a healthy relationship with food if yours is in a state of turmoil.
BUT I’m going to give you a few tips to help you help them regardless of how your current relationship with food feels.
Focus on internal motivation.
Internal motivation is the desire to act that is self-driven rather than brought about by external forces.
So, you might be thinking, the only way to get my kid to eat is with praise, pressure or consequences. But kids do have internal motivation to eat it can just be hard to identify when those external forces have become so powerful.
Some of the reasons kids are driven by their internal motivation to eat are:
When you focus on internal motivation you want to try to reinforce those things in your words and your behaviours. When talking about food you can ask your kids how they feel and if they need more prompting, bring them to these internal motivators.
As a parent you can make sure that meals/snacks are spaced out enough (but not too far) away so that the kid comes to the table hungry.
You can also make sure their eating environment is comfortable and engage with them at meals.
Use neutral language.
How you talk about food can play a big role in how your kids internal motivators respond.
Try your best to use neutral language around food. One of the easiest ways for parents to do this is just to simply call the food by its name, instead of using labels we’ve learned in our lives.
Also, removing shame or praise of certain foods like “oh wow, I can’t believe you ate that many cookies” or “you’re such a good eater, you ate all of your vegetables.”
In conversations around food, try to bring the focus back to their internal motivators as much as possible.
Create positive eating experiences.
Creating positive eating experiences by being engaged and keeping the environment enjoyable can be so important to the development of a healthy relationship with food.
In the newest version of Canada’s Food Guide, they actually added a whole section about pleasurable eating experiences because the research has shown that this is a key part to healthy eating.
So, as a parent I invite you to think about your mealtimes and if there are any parts of the meal time experience that could be improved both for your child’s experience and the whole family experience.
One of the ways that can be an instant change is removing stressful conversations from mealtimes. Try to pick a time outside of meals that you can have those more intense conversations about things like low grades, and behavioural challenges. If you have a partner this goes for conversations with them too. When else could you have these conversations?
The best way to nurture that development of a healthy relationship in kids is to role model a healthy relationship with food yourself. I know not everyone is there yet so these tips are meant to help you before you’re ready to take that journey for yourself.
If you want to learn more about encouraging your kids to develop a healthy relationship with food, I have a self-paced course, FED Kids, that is designed to help you learn about the theory behind what to do, gives you an opportunity for self-exploration and provides actionable items that you can start doing now regardless of your relationship with food.
If you’re interested, click here to learn more.
With kindness and compassion,