Parents teach their children what to eat and how to eat, but a healthy diet includes more than food. It’s also about our attitudes toward eating. Many parents complain of picky eaters or children that just won’t eat. Some are crushed when daughters as young six or seven proclaim they’re fat and need to diet. These attitudes toward eating and food can lead to unhealthy habits like yo-yo dieting, overeating, or unnecessarily restricting food choices. How can parents nurture healthy eating attitudes in their children? Here are five tips to help you develop healthy eating attitudes in your children.
- Avoid labeling food as “good” or “bad.” Food isn’t inherently bad or good. It might be a not-so-healthy or healthier choice, but one food is not any better or worse than another food. Labeling a food as “bad” can create fear of that food, often leading to guilt when we do eat it. On the other hand, when we label a food as “good” we might eat it more out of a sense duty vs. something we want to eat and enjoy.
- Resist using food as a reward or punishment. This places value on the food. Rewarding a child with candy or some other rare treat makes the food more desirable for the child. They get the message that this is a food that is desirable to eat. Withholding foods as a punishment gives the same message. Children may then see healthier food as less desirable.
- Let your child determine how much he eats at a meal or snack. Don’t become part of the “clean plate” club. Forcing a child to finish everything on their plate teaches them to ignore their body’s signals of fullness, which can lead to overeating.
- Focus on health rather than the scale. Encourage your children to eat in order to curb hunger, be healthy, and to enjoy the food God has given them – instead of eating, or not eating, to control their weight.
- Be careful of your words. Kids pick up on our negative comments about our weight or body image and tend to imitate us by criticizing their own bodies. This dissatisfaction can lead to unhealthy eating behaviors in order to control or change their bodies. Instead, encourage a realistic and healthy body image. Healthy Ideas Place has suggestions on how to foster a healthy body image. I find it interesting that at least one study found that Amish children don’t show the same dissatisfaction with their bodies that many children in the United States do. Perhaps their parents don’t verbalize the same dissatisfaction that many Western parents do.
There’s more to healthy eating than the food we eat. Attitudes toward eating and food can influence our children’s health positively or negatively. How have you nurtured a healthy attitude toward eating in your children? Please share with us in the comments below.