Talking to children about healthy eating

Language shapes lifelong attitudes including eating behaviour. Caregivers play a major role in helping children develop healthy habits.

Positive messages about food and eating will help children to develop healthy habits. Here are some examples of phrases that help develop healthy eating habits, as well as phrases to avoid.

  1. Encourage new and unfamiliar foods. Say this: This is a kiwi fruit, it’s sweet like a strawberry. These peppers are very crunchy! Phrases like this help to highlight the sensory qualities of food and encourage children to try new foods. Avoid: Eat that for me; If you do not eat one more bite I will be sad. Phrases like this teach children to eat for approval or love. This can lead children to unhealthy behaviours, attitudes, and beliefs around food and themselves.

  2. Curb overeating Say this: Is your tummy telling you that you are full? Has your tummy had enough? Phrases like this will teach children to recognise the signals that they are full. Avoid: You’re such a big girl, you’ve eaten all your peas. Look at your sister, she’s eating all her carrots. You have to take 2 more bites before you can leave the table. Phrases like this teach children to ignore their fullness and eat for other goals. It is better for children to stop eating when full or satisfied than stop with a clean plate. 

  3. Empower the child Say this: Do you like that? Which one is your favourite? Everyone likes different foods don’t they. Phrases like this make children feel they are making the right choices. It focuses children to the taste of the food rather than who was right. Avoid: See that didn’t taste so bad did it? This implies the child was wrong to refuse the food leading to unhealthy attitudes to food or themselves. 

  4. Reward with attention / affection Say this: We can try these vegetables together another time. I am sorry you are sad. Would you like a hug? Reward children with attention and kind words. Show love by spending time together and having fun together. Avoid: No pudding until you eat your vegetables. Stop crying and I will give you a biscuit. Offering sweet treats to finish other food can make them seem better foods. Getting a food treat when upset teaches them that food makes them feel better which can lead to over eating.

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