6 Things Never To Say To Children About Food
Start early to help your child build a positive relationship with their body. Here’s how to talk to your children about food and eating healthy.
As a parent, you do your best to gradually build your child’s interest in eating healthy. After all, a positive body image and healthy eating habits are correlated. You may try getting kids to eat their veggies by coaxing or bribing them by promising a dessert at the end of the meal or comparing them with other kids (how someone else eats everything on their plate). Well-intentioned statements often have a lingering effect on children and their relationship with their bodies and the food they eat. The consequences of shaming, bribing or comparing your child’s behaviour can negatively impact their sense of worth and self-esteem. While it is not easy, it is possible to empower your child to have an open approach to the food they choose for nourishing their bodies.
Like so many of us, children too prefer salted, sweet and high-processed foods. After all, these processed and packaged foods are designed to leave you craving for more. A 2021 cross-sectional study of 678 fifth and sixth standard students in the paper Nutrients, reports that 45 per cent of students prefer salted, fast-food, sugar-sweetened beverages and candies over a healthy meal. But, here is the thing, healthy choices are not always about choosing fruits over sweets.
For children, it starts with removing the labels of “good food” and “bad food”. Switch the conversation to what that particular food does for your body. For instance, “Carrots help you see better.” Here are some statements to avoid if you want to help your child eat right from the start.
6 Things Never To Say To Children About Food
1. Cupcakes are bad for you
If your child wishes to have sweets with their breakfast, you may immediately say that cupcakes and sweets are bad for their health. Although, you prepare cakes and cupcakes on special occasions like birthdays, Christmas or anniversaries. Often parents consider veggies or fruits as ‘good food’ and cookies, cupcakes and pizza as ‘bad food’. This creates a false judgement of food in the minds of children. Kids do not understand why they are being denied their favourite food item and they may assume that these confectioneries are really not good for them.
Try this instead: Offer a choice here and ask them to pick from other healthy options that you want them to have. Besides, you can simply say that cupcakes are not on the list today. It would be even better if you talk to them about healthy foods that can make them strong and some ‘fun’ food that they can have in small amounts to balance their diet.
Related story: How To Inculcate Body Positivity In Your Child
2. Look, your (siblings, friends, or cousins) are eating veggies. Learn from them
Kids don’t go for food their tongue doesn't like. According to a 2013 study issued in the paper Science News, children’s food preferences are ruled by the taste of food rather than its benefits. Comparing your child with others, even with their siblings can affect your child mentally into thinking that others are better than them. This will get his/her morale and self-esteem down.
Be patient and remind yourself that your child is still in the learning process and needs time to pick up on good eating habits. You need to try offering them the same food with better flavour or different fresh veggies and fruits several times before they actually try and begin to accept it. Also, saying words like, "You'll get there, sweetheart. It takes time to learn to taste and like new food” can encourage them.
Related story: 6 Ways To Help Your Child Develop Healthy Eating Habits
3. Empty the plate before leaving the table
This is one of the hardest things to do for a child as they are usually intuitive eaters. They follow their hunger cues and know when they are full. However, kids can lose their judgement of fullness when they are unable to eat or leave their designated portion midway. Thus, forcing a child to finish their food will only push them to become more reluctant to try different foods in the future.
You can reframe the sentence to say, “you have to eat enough as the next meal will not be until morning, lunch or dinner”.
Related story: Teaching Children The Art of Mindful Eating
4. No! You cannot have ice cream at all (almost shouting)
It is okay if your child is throwing a tantrum to get an ice cream more than once in a day. Food restriction can damage the child’s relationship with food by creating fear along with unhealthy eating habits like sneaking food from the cupboard and overeating, thinking they may not get it again.
Instead of raising your voice, try explaining to them why it is inappropriate to eat ice cream multiple times in a day, like abdominal pain due to formation of gas. Teaching your child about listening to hunger cues is a good way to self-regulate and to eat ice-cream in small portions and to stop when full. Also, let them know when they can have it again, so that they are not losing hope.
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5. Don’t eat much! You are getting fat
Parents are also role models for their kids. Children listen and believe what their parents say. Any negative comment about their bodies like, “you are becoming fat”, “your tummy looks full, do not eat anymore” can teach children to become conscious of their bodies. Some may even dislike their bodies. This is where body shaming starts and they think being skinny is the best health status.
6. If you eat your peas, carrots or broccoli, then you can have dessert
Bribing or using food as a reward system can tune an incentive mindset in kids which is not good. You may think your job of making them eat healthy is getting done, but this type of behaviour can actually spoil them and may demand more rewards to eat certain food.
Avoid nagging or reward systems to get them to eat veggies, instead make kids delicious vegetable recipes that they would love to eat more.