Nutrition is essential for you and your child. The foods you eat can impact your energy, mood, and everyday activities. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created MyPlate, an easy-to-follow food guide, to help parents teach their children how to build a nutritious, balanced meal (1). At each meal, we should strive to create a balanced meal that includes protein, dairy, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Studies have shown that children who see their parents eating healthily, are more likely to as well. (2)
What can you do, as a parent or caregiver, to help your child build a positive attitude around food? Some behaviors can negatively impact children and their attitudes towards food. Changing how we approach food can create a positive environment around food to encourage your children to eat well. As the parent, you are responsible for what, when, and where your child eats. Whereas, your child is responsible for how much and whether they eat the foods you offer (2). You can improve children’s attitude toward food and help them to develop a healthy relationship with food by following the tips below.
- DO set a time and place for eating meals (2). Worry about the time spent with your child, and less about the nutrients of what’s on their plate. When you put a child in a low-stress environment and model healthy eating behaviors, they will tend to follow suit.
- DO have fun with food. Invite your child to participate in the preparation of meals. Let them assist you with simple tasks in the kitchen. Mixing a bowl of ingredients or skewering veggie kabobs is fun for children. For even more fun, you can try arranging foods in fun, colorful, shapes on your child’s plate.
- DO expose your child to a variety of foods. Early exposure to healthy foods can have a positive influence on food preferences. Repetition can your best friend – up to 10 exposures to a new food are needed to promote acceptance of a new food (2). Try introducing one new food at a time so as not to overwhelm your child.
- DO focus on creating positive self-care habits and celebrating body diversity. Remember that understanding hunger and fullness cues is just as crucial as providing healthy food choices. Don’t treat “fat” as a bad word (3). Remind yourself and your family that we love each other regardless of what our bodies look like.
- DON’T speak about your appearance in a negative way. It can be hard to refrain from speaking about your appearance. However hard this may be, children are like sponges, taking in a lot of what you say.
- DON’T associate food choices with body size. Instead of saying, “I am not going to eat these chips; they will go straight to my hips.” Try saying, “No, thank you, I am not in the mood for chips right now.”
- DON’T coerce, pressure, or bribe your child to eat. Stay away from the “2 more bites” approach (3) Children should not be forced to “clean their plate.” Calorie intake will vary at each meal.
- DON’T put food into “bad” and “good” categories. Using this language can make “bad” or “junk” foods more appealing. In addition, if a child is eating what they have been told is “bad” food, they could begin to develop shame around eating certain foods (3). All foods are nourishment to our bodies.
Nutrition is important for your child’s development. By using gentle guidance, you can teach your children how to make and maintain positive eating habits. Be good to yourself and your bodies.
Author: Hannah Whitley
Hannah is the Community Health Intern for the Community Outreach department of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System. Hannah is a recent graduate (May 2022) of Appalachian State University where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Public Health Studies.
1. Gavin, M. L. (Ed.). (2018, January). MyPlate Food Guide (for parents) – nemours kidshealth. KidsHealth. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/myplate.html
2. Zaidel, M. (2021). Strategies for toddler nutrition [PowerPoint slides]. Nutrition, Public Health Nutrition, Appalachian State University. https://www.canva.com/design/DAEXcvCkWh0/CPamBpAiXXm5ppXn_Ez4Uw/view?utm_content=DAEXcvCkWh0&utm_campaign=designshare&utm_medium=link&utm_source=publishsharelink
3. Kids don’t need to diet. ever. MSU Health4U. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://health4u.msu.edu/articles/2019-kids-dont-need-to-diet-ever
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