As parents, we tend to categorise our children’s eating habits. Some of us have “fussy eaters”, others have kids who’ll “eat almost anything”. We view their eating behaviours as part of their DNA and, while every child is inherently different, we’re overlooking one big factor: our influence.
The force of your food attitude
It’s not easy being a parent in our image-obsessed society, but the force of your food attitudes can have a huge impact on the way your children eat. I try to set a good example for my two daughters, but I’m certainly not immune to negative thoughts and feelings about my body. Often, we obsess over weight loss goals or dabble with diet fads, forgetting that our little ones learn from watching and listening. And the food attitudes you’re teaching don’t just apply to body image.
Monkey see, monkey do
Seek comfort food when you’re stressed? Rely on take-away because it’s easy? If you want to instil long-term healthy eating patterns in your home, it starts with you. Now I know there’s no magic pill to switch off these insecurities and hang-ups – but we need to present positive attitudes towards food and body image as best we can. How? Thankfully there are some simple principles to follow that will put your family on the path to having a healthy relationship with food.
Take time to teach them
Next time you’re at the supermarket with your children, spend extra time in the fresh food section. Look for quality ingredients, talk about the benefits of vegetables, and be sure to shop for balance. Instead of positioning greens as “something that we have to eat”, teach them as “something that our bodies love to eat”. Educating your kids on the nourishing qualities of veggies and modelling good habits is the best thing you can do for them.
Give fads the flick
It’s okay to want to drop a few kilos or get in shape for summer. But instead of turning to flimsy fads, do it the healthy way. Don’t cut out carbs or say no to sugar – this is confusing to your little ones who rely on a balanced diet to grow and function. Instead, be active, eat a balanced diet and choose your words wisely. That means focusing on “getting healthy” or “building strength”, not “losing weight”.
Turn food into an experience
Kids love to get hands on. Invite them into the kitchen with you and teach them the textures and tastes of different foods. Explain what greens, fruits and whole foods offer your body and why they’re such a healthy fundamental. Some kids are naturally excited by food, others couldn’t care less, but turning cooking into a shared experience is a simple way to engage them.
Be mindful of what you model
Remember how I said it all starts with you? Always eat a balanced breakfast, prioritise food prep, have healthy snacks on hand, and never skip meals. If your day goes out the window and you’re stuck buying from a food court, make good choices or explain that fast-food is a rare treat, not something to rely on. Your attitudes and actions will eventually lead to your children’s own self-regulated food habits. And don’t underestimate how much leading by example will benefit you too.
Q: What is your relationship with food really like?