As parents, there’s nothing we want more than for our children to be both happy and healthy. When it comes to our children’s relationship with food, we acknowledge that there are many powerful place where healthy and happy intersect. But If our child is struggling with food because it leaves them with a tummy ache, or headache, it certainly will impact how happy they are. And If our child is struggling because they don’t feel good in their body due to unwanted weight, it dims their appreciation for their body and harms a healthy body image. If your child is hooked on refined sugars and processed foods, there’s no doubt that their mood will be negatively impacted.
Sometimes it may seem that the very idea of dinner time is a battleground, but here 4 Ways to help your children be happier with their relationship with food.
1. Give choices, not rules
“Eat this, don’t eat that” does not work well with kids. There is an inner rebel that naturally surfaces and wants the forbidden food. But if we approach them with a challenge that offers the responsibility: “Try these two smoothies and tell me what you think of each one” we’re allowing our children to think for themselves about what to eat, how to tune in to their own body, get curious about their food, and avoid getting stuck in food ruts. The words “try” and “choice” open up an inquisitive relationship with food, versus a good/bad relationship with food.
2. Educate, don’t preach
Of course we want our kids to know the difference between high quality food and highly-processed, preservative-loaded foods. We want our kids to know the impact of refined sugar on their body, just as we’d want them to know the impact of whole foods fresh from the farm, on their body. The way to do that is to take them to the farm, or the farmer’s market. Show them a video of how food is processed. Educate your kids and yourself at the same time. Grow food savvy kids! Don’t be the preacher who knows it all. When we become the holder of the “right” information, it is more than likely that our kids will resist us, and the information. But if we can help them to become mindful, then we can become participants in our children’s journey of learning about healthy eating.
3. Expose, don’t limit
Our culture has an idea of what kids like and don’t like. We have children’s menus and food made into “fun” shapes in the hopes that kids will eat them. But food is inherently interesting. Fruits and vegetables come in a rainbow of colors and shapes. Foods from cultures other than our own are captivating, delicious, and sometimes weird. When we expose our children to all the diversity that food has to offer – without an agenda that they MUST like it – we foster a relationship with food that’s based on fun, adventure and curiosity.
4. Be the example, not the lecturer.
Create your own positive, healthy and happy relationship with food and body. We know that kids learn by watching their parents. Your eating habits, and how you feel about your body is a much more powerful nutritional story than what you could ever “teach” your kids about nutrition and positive eating habits. “Be the change you want to see” – as often attributed to Gandhi, is exactly what we want to do when it comes to helping kids have a healthy relationship with food, and all of their life. So, enjoy your food. Deeply nourish and love your body. Your kids will see that and soak in the blueprint for how to have a healthy relationship to their own body.
Supporting our children to have a healthy and positive relationship with their body is worth the time and energy for both our kids and ourselves. When we make our body – essentially our home – a safe haven in this very demanding world of ours, we are creating a foundation of well-being that can be passed down for generations.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2018