How to talk to your kid about food

We know teaching your kid about food and healthy eating is important, and we’ve talked about how beneficial nutrition education can be for kids to develop healthy eating habits. But one really important piece of teaching and talking to kids about food is HOW we deliver that message. Whether or not they act like it, kids are paying very close attention to the way mom talks and to her body language. This is why the way we speak to kids about food and healthy eating is just as important as what we say. In this post, we’re going to give you the tools to teach your kids about healthy eating in a manner that is effective, meaningful, and in such a way that makes kids more likely to listen!

Use encouraging, positive language.

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When talking to kids about food, it is important to remain positive and encouraging- even if your child is refusing to eat! Your child may not comply right away, but over time, encouraging words lead to more success than demanding. For example, your child may not want to try a new vegetable that you served. You might say something like, “I know you don’t want to eat it, but why don’t you and I both give it a taste. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it, but we should at least give it a try to make a decision on what you think!” Encourage the whole family to participate as well. This normalizes trying new foods and helps encourage your kid to do the same!

Give positive feedback.

An encouraging approach is useful when you want your kid to eat or try a certain food. Positive feedback is useful once they’ve done something good, and you want to reinforce that good behavior. For example, you might praise a child for trying new food, even if they didn’t like it. It helps them to learn that they can improve at something through attempting and practicing. It is also important to praise a child’s actions, rather than praising them as people. For example, instead of saying, “You’re such a good girl for eating all your vegetables,” say, “So what did you think? I know you didn’t want to at first, but I’m really happy you were willing to give it a shot- it takes bravery to try something new!” By praising the action instead of the person, you help your child understand that the behavior is a positive one, rather than suggesting that they are good or bad based on what they eat. Reinforcing actions helps kids develop a healthy sense of self along with healthy habits!

Try to give them a reason behind what you’re asking them to do.

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No matter how calmly and kindly you are speaking, there are going to be times when your kid is just not having it. And that’s okay! In these moments, try to return to the idea of having a conversation, rather than being forceful. If your child is refusing to eat their vegetables, ask them why they don’t want to eat them, or what they don’t like about them. When they answer, explain that you understand, and give them a reason why they might want to eat it anyway- for example, “Broccoli might not be your favorite, but it’s good for you and will help you grow big and strong,” or acknowledge that the food might look yucky but it tastes really good, or perhaps remind your child that a sibling they admire loves it. When you give the child a reason behind the ask and treat the moment like a conversation, you are supporting your child’s autonomy, even if they don’t agree with you!

Talking about food can be tricky, but just remember, a gentle and thoughtful approach that is tailored to what your child needs is going to be best. Encouraging good behavior, praising positive actions, and giving a reason when they ask questions helps to teach lifelong healthy food choices and behavior. Have you tried any of the tactics in this post? What are some effective techniques you use when talking to your kids about food?