I often wander through the aisles of the grocery store (because I live there) and stumble upon products I remember eating growing up as a kid. One food item that I came across recently had me in my feels. Like that moment in space that takes you right back to your childhood. Almost as if your senses have kept the memory, and you could taste and smell it exactly how it was.
As I roam the aisles and mentally go down my checklist of items for school lunches and snacks, I come across Dunkaroos cookie snacks. Mmmm…I could just taste the frosting. And I almost instantly get an image of a 10-year-old me dunking the hell out of a cookie to get the most frosting I could get. Good times?
That nostalgic feeling is always instantly lost when I pick up a food item to read the ingredient list, as I often do with everything, asking myself the question, “How did I eat these processed things?”
Truth is, food companies did, and still do a great job of marketing highly processed foods to kids. I won’t go into the psychology of it all in this post but I could empathize with how hard it could have been for our parents to keep Mcdonald’s away from us growing up. Fun size packages, affordable pricing, toy prizes, and kid-friendly menu items became a winning marketing plan for parents and children, except it was missing one thing: Nutrition.
How does the old saying go? When you know better, you do better.
I was having a conversation with my husband recently about the gift that we have today that our parents didn’t have 30 years ago. Easy access to food and nutrition information. Truth is, food information just wasn’t readily available to us back then as it is now. We now have access to nutrition information in if not most, every restaurant and food establishment. If you want to avoid an ingredient, you can easily look it up on your phone, and on the contrary, if we want to know more about how an ingredient benefits our health this is all so readily available through so many online platforms. This means we have more information now to help teach our children how we can connect with food in a healthy way to benefit our lives and bodies.
Growing up, all I heard the adults around me say was to “eat all my food and veggies so I can grow strong”. I’m sorry but at 10, growing strong just wasn’t enough of a reason for me to eat the veggies I didn’t want to eat. In my home growing up, nutrition and food weren’t really talked about. Meals were cooked, you ate and kept it moving. My parents rarely gave me interesting food tidbits on how the foods on my plate benefited me, and what it took to prepare them.
I didn’t cultivate a healthy relationship with food until my mid to late twenties when I started to cook a lot more and become more interested in the ingredients I was using. With all of the access we have to food and nutrition information now, my goal as a parent is to help foster that healthy mindset in my children at an early age, to take them into adulthood.
As parents, we want our children to have a healthy relationship with food. We want them to enjoy a variety of nutritious foods and learn to eat in a way that nourishes their bodies and minds. However, this can be a challenge, especially when kids are bombarded with unhealthy food options and confusing messages about diet and nutrition.
Here are some tips for helping kids cultivate a healthy relationship with food:
- Set a positive example: Children learn by example, so it’s important to model healthy eating habits. Eat a variety of healthy foods yourself, and avoid negative comments about your own body or food choices. As children grow and understand the world around them, they look to you, their parents and their teacher to set examples of what’s acceptable. Here is an area where you can show them what it looks like to care of the body with food.
- Involve children in meal planning and preparation: Involve your children in planning and preparing meals. Let them choose healthy foods they enjoy and teach them about the benefits of each food group. Cooking a meal together can provide children with the opportunity to learn about different foods using their senses. Supervise them as they help slice and stir ingredients, and allow them to taste different foods as you prepare the meal together.
- Make meals a positive experience: Meals should be a time for family togetherness and enjoyment. Avoid using food as a reward or punishment, and focus on creating a positive atmosphere at the table. Encourage children to try new foods on their plates without judgment. If they don’t like it, fine. It’s okay to revisit that food again, maybe prepared or served in a different way.
- Encourage intuitive and mindful eating: Encourage your child to listen to their body’s hunger and fullness signals, and to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Avoid forcing them to finish their plate or using food as a bribe or punishment. Mindful eating involves using our senses to really digest a meal. Eating slowly without distraction ensures that children are engaging their senses by noticing colours, smells, sounds, textures, and flavours.
- Offer a variety of healthy options: Offer a variety of healthy foods at meals and snacks, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Let your child choose what they want to eat from these options. Have your child help you find nutritious recipes you can make together with the healthy ingredients they love.
- Teach moderation: Teach your child that all foods can fit into a healthy diet, but that some foods should be eaten in moderation. Encourage them to enjoy treats in small portions, and to balance them with nutrient-rich foods. Remember that there are no “good” or “bad” foods, only foods that are beneficial to our bodies and which are not.
- Avoid diet talk: Avoid discussing diets, weight loss, or body image in front of your child. Instead, focus on the health benefits of nutritious foods and the importance of a balanced diet. Children are already bombarded with negative images and confusing diet information on social media, television, and social settings. At home, it’s important to focus on how food is supposed to make us feel, not how it can make us look.
As parents, it’s important to give ourselves grace when we are trying to install good habits in our children. Some of us are still unlearning our old ways and are still embarking on this nutrition journey. There’s a lot to learn, so start with simple habits.
By following these tips, you can help your child develop a healthy relationship with food that will benefit them throughout their lives. Remember to be patient and consistent, and to make healthy eating a positive experience for the whole family.