Food. It can be a tricky topic to talk about, especially in today’s culture. The way that we, as parents, view and talk about food directly affects how our children see it, which is why it is so important to foster a healthy relationship between your kids and the food they eat early on. In a recent podcast episode, we had Leah Roethel, a mom and registered dietitian who earned her Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from North Dakota State University. Leah gave us numerous pieces of advice on how to tackle the difficult subject and how to create a good relationship between your kids, their bodies, and the food they eat.
Keep Food Neutral
In our culture today, food is often viewed as two things: good or bad. This directly impacts how our children view food as well. The top area that Leah tells parents to avoid is any potential negativity towards food. Negative views about food can lead to kids hiding food, feeling bad about what they eat, and seeing their bodies in a different way and blaming the actual food. Never call one certain food good or another certain food bad, as this can directly affect children’s ideas and conceptions around what they eat.
Something common that a lot of parents do is rely on only food itself for rewards, which can seem like a good thing because it creates positive correlations with food. However, Leah says that treating food as a reward too often can put food on a pedestal. Doing this can, as Leah puts, make your kids think, “‘in order to eat this food, I have to earn it first.’” This is not to say that food can’t be used as a celebratory thing ever, but it’s about finding that balance.
Bottom line: it’s best to keep food neutral so kids don’t have a skewed opinion of food, which can directly affect their eating habits.
Another piece of advice that Leah offers is to not restrict certain types of food and to not be afraid of “fun” food for kids. Leah does a type of “strategic exposure” as she calls it. For example, she might put a brownie on a plate with a full meal, but she doesn’t make a big deal out of it and doesn’t say anything about it. Sometimes her kids eat the dessert first, but not always. By doing this, it leads her kids into a territory that views food as more neutral, without restricting fun foods that they like to eat. If “fun” foods, like brownies are restricted, it can lead to unhealthy behaviors, such as sneaking food, hiding food, or even binging on food. Ultimately, it’s important to not restrict giving your kids fun foods that they love to eat for fear of not being healthy. It’s better to instead balance out those types of foods with a variety of fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
Focus on What Food Does for Us
Another thing that Leah does that can be beneficial is focusing on talking with your kids on what food does for their bodies. All foods, even “sometimes” foods like donuts, provide something, such as vitamins or simply energy. By avoiding those “good” and “bad” labels, and instead talking with your kids on what the food they eat does for them, it takes the focus away from looks and instead the importance of eating and how it relates to our bodies.
Food can be challenging to talk about, but it doesn’t have to be. By following these tips, you can start developing healthy relationships with your kids and what they eat.
Learn more about nutrition for the family and creating healthy relationships with food by visiting the podcast show notes here or listen using the player below!