Helping Children Develop a Positive Relationship With Food

Guiding Your Family Towards a Healthy & Happy Lifestyle

When my daughter was still very young I was (and obviously still am) openly passionate about ensuring she ate foods that were as nourishing and wholesome as possible. I recall someone asking me, perhaps with a touch of cynicism, how I would cope when she grew up and chose to eat McDonalds or other ‘junk’ foods.

An interesting question to which I wanted to answer in a few (some less socially acceptable) ways, but my response was the following:

“What she decides to eat when she is older will be her choice. All I can do is provide her with as much goodness as possible while she is growing and developing. By offering her wholesome foods I hope to set a ‘norm’ in place for her that is based around seeing food as nourishment and fuel for her precious body. I will  help her understand why our family chooses to eat the foods we do and my aim is to help her grow up with an awareness and a positive and happy relationship to food. What she does with this when the time comes will be up to her, as is the case with all aspects of growing up and of parenting.”

I stand behind that answer as passionately today as I did back then, if not more! One of the most valuable gifts we can bestow on our children is a a happy and healthy relationship to food – and equally – a full tank of self-love, so they remain firm in the belief that they are worthy of self care and a beautiful life filled with health & happiness. Seeing food as a form of nourishment and fuel for our precious and miraculous bodies is key!

One of the most valuable  gifts we can bestow on our children is a a happy and healthy relationship to food.

Whilst it is important for our children to grow up with an awareness around the implications of a diet heavy in processed and health diminishing foods, it is crucial that we don’t push too far the other way. We certainly don’t want to demonize certain foods and potentially lead our children to feel fearful of everything going past their lips. From this point it is often a slippery slope to harsh and restrictive regimes.

There are so many adults who endure a turbulent relationship with food. They go on harsh and unsustainable diets to loose weight, all the while feeling like they are being deprived.  Eventually a trigger occurs and leads to a lapse of control or desire to rebel and overindulge.  From here they become consumed with guilt, shame, self disgust and the desire to punish themselves once more. Once again they turn to the restrictive diets that make them feel in control yet deprived.  And on and on this goes. Good health isn’t only about the nutrients we do or don’t put into our bodies, it is equally about the mindset and belief system underlying our food choices. A strong sense of love and compassion for ourselves is so important. Let us teach our children the following;

Eat like you love yourself. Move like you love yourself. Speak like you love yourself. Act like you love yourself – Tara Stiles.

The bottom line is we want ‘LOVE’: self love, awe, excitement, joy, health, energy and self awareness to be the guiding factor in our family’s food choices rather than ‘FEAR’: guilt, shame, anger, sadness, lack of awareness, need for comfort, self sabotage or need for strict control. If we are lovingly taught to view food in this manner, it can be seen as a way of showing your body and ‘self’ how much you love and respect it by taking the best care of it.
 


 

HOW TO FOSTER A HAPPY AND POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD FOR YOUR FAMILY

  • Create a sense of adventure that surrounds food within your family.
  • Find new and unusual vegetables or ingredients and figure out together how you will prepare them.
  • Try to make dishes from different countries and cultures and use this time as cultural education. (And what better reason to travel the world?)
  • Experiment with new herbs and spices.
  • Try new recipes or make up some of your own.
  • Just have fun together and explore food in all it’s delicious ways!

 

Plan, Prepare & Eat Meals Together As a Family

And use this opportunity as a chance to chat, bond and create family traditions that will remain sacred even after everyone has grown up and left home. This is so incredibly important to me. I plan to have ‘weekend family meals’ forever and ever where we gather, catch up, relax, bond, connect and enjoy beautiful and nourishing food in each other’s company. 

Use meals as an opportunity to chat, bond and create family traditions that will remain sacred even after everyone has grown up and left home.

 

Rethink The Rule About Them Having To Eat Everything On Their Plate

This step might involve a few other key components in place to be successful and perhaps some boundaries at first for very young ones. It is very important that we allow children to remain intuitive to their body’s signals and this includes the feeling of being full. When we insist on a daily basis that they must finish everything on their plate, it can lead them to switching off their inner awareness of what their body needs. Down the track this can potentially lead to issues arising in relation to eating habits.

A few tips for success with this approach:

  • Not offering a sweet sugary dessert after dinner every night can really help with ensuring that children know that once they leave the table, they won’t be filling up on other stuff all evening. It also takes the ‘race to dessert’ out of the equation and hence the temptation for us parents to use the dessert as bribery. Occasional after dinner treats are not the issue: it’s the daily habits that count most.
  • When offering after dinner sweets, ensure they are nourishing and wholesome. Some of our favorites are bliss balls, fruit crumble (free of added sugars), fresh fruit jelly, a frozen banana blended into a creamy chilled treat or homemade nourishing frozen popsicles. Follow along on my Instagram or Facebook for more inspiration.
  • Let them self-serve, perhaps with a few consistent guidelines around trying a bit of everything. When the whole meal is deliciously varied & nourishing and there isn’t a sweet sugary dessert waiting, they will be likely to fill up and also take responsibility for their portion sizes and plates. This may take time for everyone to get used but when the culture is created over time it works amazingly well! Be patient with the process.
  •  


     

    HOW TO RAISE SELF-AWARENESS AND PROVIDE FOOD EDUCATION

    • Help them make the connection between eating too many processed foods and how their body feels afterwards.
    • Explain how salty fried foods will make them feel dehydrated and thirsty.
    • Help them discover the relationship between an overload of sweets or sugars and them to feel out of control, angry, exhausted and causes headaches and tummy aches.

    Equally you can educate kids in a relaxed and fun way about how fresh veggies, fruit and whole foods make their body feel. Children are born with an acute intuition and natural connection to their body, keep that alive by helping them make connections and showing them how to listen to their own bodies. It is a wonderful way for instilling a sense of responsibility over their food choices. We have a big collection of picture books about this very topic, which inform and educate in a beautiful and fun way.
     

    Have Fun With Food By Making Nourishing Foods Exciting And Enticing

    Encourage children to explore with all of their senses. A big bowl of plain steamed vegetables may not do the trick. A plate with the veggies placed out in an interesting way with a healthy dipping sauce may make all the difference. Explore the vibrant colors of real foods and the shapes, textures, sound they make when being crunched. Who’s carrot has the loudest crunch?  Is a carrot crunch louder than a celery crunch? Or have a most-colorful-smoothie-competition! We often have ‘food arranging’ sessions. The kids arrange the food and serve it up in ways that make them feel happy and excited about eating it. Food faces never fail to make them smile!

    Encourage children to explore with all of their senses.

     

    Learn About Where Foods Come From

    How are they grown? Which countries are they grown in  and how do they get to our dinner plate? Visit a farmers market and explore!  Experiment with growing some of your own, even just a pot of mint on the windowsill or some sprouts. Aim to broaden our children’s awareness and knowledge of food.
     

    Look At What Foods Are Stocked In Your Home

    If the unhealthy and processed foods are not there, the battles about wanting them won’t be either. The less they see these, the less temptation there is. And this works wonders for us adults too! We can’t control what they are exposed to outside our home but we can absolutely control what is in our own cupboards. 
     

    Be a Positive Role Model

    Set the best example you possibly can, this includes the language you use to describe food and to describe your own body and self. If you are constantly on ‘diets’ and your children see you use food as an emotional filler or a way to restrict or punish yourself, they are more likely to normalize this. Know that if you currently have a somewhat turbulent relationship with food, now is the perfect time to make a start on healing that and making friends with your body and food again!
     

    Try Moving Away From Offering Sweet Foods As Rewards, Treats, Encouragement Or Cheer Ups

    The aim is for children to see food as a source of nourishing goodness and fuel for their bodies rather than to fulfill an emotional requirement. Enjoying a beautiful family dinner filled with conversation and connection as a way to celebrate something, is a very different story. Keep the focus on enjoying the gift of good food together with loved ones.

    It is important to see the big picture here. As I mentioned before, it’s not the one-offs here and there,  it’s the regular, daily habits that put in place deeply embedded long term habits. Unless you and your children live in a bubble, you will always have moments where it all goes pear shaped and life happens. My whole reason for writing this is to encourage an overall happy and relaxed attitude towards food that comes from a place of love rather than fear or guilt, for both ourselves and our precious families.

    I would love to hear from you about how your family encourages a healthy relationship with food. Please share your story in the comment section below. Connecting with you makes my day!
     
     

    Photo Credit © Shutterstock

    3 Comments

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.