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How to Talk to Young Children About Healthy Eating

How to Talk to Young Children About Healthy Eating

In this guide, I explore a range of ideas for talking to children about healthy eating, food and exercise without planting the seeds for eating disordered thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

You can access downloadable versions of this and my other guides via my patreon page which supports my work: http://www.patreon.com/pookyh

In this guide, I explore a range of ideas for talking to children about healthy eating, food and exercise without planting the seeds for eating disordered thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

You can access downloadable versions of this and my other guides via my patreon page which supports my work: http://www.patreon.com/pookyh

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How to Talk to Young Children About Healthy Eating

  1. 1. How to Talk to Children About Healthy Eating Helping you to help your child Simple, actionable ideas for parents, carers and other supporting adults
  2. 2. I get asked quite regularly for advice about how to talk to children about healthy eating in such a way that you don’t set them up for a lifetime of eating disorders. It’s a difficult balance to strike as it’s important to educate our children about food and healthy lifestyles, but at the same time we don’t want them to develop unhealthy habits as a result of our good intentions. These ideas are my suggestions based on what I would be happy to say to or do with my own children. Each child is different and what works with one might not work with another so you might pick one of two of these ideas and ignore the rest. Introduction Each child is different, pick the ideas that work for you and your child pookyknightsmith.com | @pookyh Pooky x
  3. 3. We can often be guilty of over-simplifying things for our children when they are very able to understand quite complex processes if we explain them in simple terms. Instead of just branding foods as good or bad, we can think about the different types of food and what they’re for. Exactly how you explain this to your child is likely to depend on your child’s age but very, very simply I talk to my children about foods which are: pookyknightsmith.com | @pookyh Discuss nutrition -1- (like eggs, fish, nuts and meat) - these are needed to help us grow. These are our building blocks or ‘lego’ foods. These foods also keep our tummies full and happy for a long time Protein Based (anything high in calcium including milk, cheese and yoghurt). In our house we talk about how we need these foods to grow strong bones and teeth Dairy
  4. 4. pookyknightsmith.com | @pookyh We've always had an ‘eat as many as you like’ policy in our house and the kids can help themselves. We tell the children that fruit and vegetables have vitamins and minerals which are important to keep us healthy and that fruit and vegetables help digestion (this always ends in talk of poo which most children delight in!) Fruit and Vegetables (cakes, sweets – anything traditionally considered 'unhealthy') – my kids know that these foods give us a quick burst of energy but that eating too many sweet foods will make the dentist unhappy as they can be bad for your teeth. Fatty and Sugary foods Taking time to talk about what’s in food and why we need a range of foods in varying amounts helped my children to approach food with a good attitude.
  5. 5. The alternative to talking about different food types is generally to talk about ‘good vs bad’ food or ‘healthy vs unhealthy’ food. I think that these labels are unhelpful, in part because they are simply wrong; there are very few ‘bad’ foods which cannot be eaten in moderation as part of a healthy diet, and also because constantly labelling foods in this way can cause children to worry unnecessarily about what they’re eating. These labels can also return to haunt us later on and can fuel eating disordered behaviours with children completely avoiding 'bad foods' pookyknightsmith.com | @pookyh Avoid Black & White Categories -2-
  6. 6. One thing that children can find difficult to moderate is how much to eat – and we’re not great at it as adults either. Ideally, meals should be a mixture of foods, and we should eat enough to make us feel full, but not more. We can help our children to recognise feelings of hunger and satiety and to use these as cues for eating. We can also talk about how we might need to eat a bit more if we’ve been very busy or we’re expecting to go for a long walk – or if we’re going through a growth spurt. You shouldn’t expect your child to finish what’s on their plate, nor reward them for doing so. Nor should you always prevent them asking for seconds if they still feel hungry. The important thing is not how much is on the plate, but how full your child is feeling and whether their nutritional needs have been met. pookyknightsmith.com | @pookyh Talk About Feeling Full -3-
  7. 7. Many people use sweets and puddings as rewards and I’m sure some of you will question me on this. However, I feel it’s important that we talk about food in entirely unemotional terms. Once we start turning food into a reward or a punishment then we give a child a tool they might use to reward or punish themselves later on. Many people who binge eat start off by doing so because they feel a temporary reward from eating foods such as sweets and cakes and chocolate bars. Equally, some people with anorexia will punish themselves by depriving themselves of all but the most bland foods. Telling children that McDonalds is a treat or that pudding can be eaten only if they’ve finished their dinner sends confusing messages – especially if they have learned that these foods are bad! pookyknightsmith.com | @pookyh Be Careful About Foods as Rewards -4-
  8. 8. I think we should be prepared to try new foods with our children and not stop them from eating unusual combinations if they want to explore their food. Eating a wide variety of foods in front of our children and letting them help with preparation (or even growing) is a great way to get them interested in what they’re eating and willing to try new things. When they were little, being willing to try some of the slightly bizarre concoctions my daughters come up with seemed to make them a little more willing to try my new vegetable of the week, so I’d recommend being willing to try a teensy spoonful of cabbage and cream, or whatever the latest concoction is, once in a while! pookyknightsmith.com | @pookyh Try New Things -5-
  9. 9. You might need to have a certain number of rules in place to ensure your child eats enough of the right range of foods at the right times, but the less rules you can have and the more sense these make to your child, the less likely they are to be misinterpreted and used to fuel eating difficulties later on. For example, if you feel that your child should eat their sandwich before their orange don’t just tell them to do so but explain why (because if they eat the orange first, their tummy will feel full and they won’t manage their sandwich, but they’ll soon feel hungry again). Kids are generally more willing to accept rules that make sense and are explained in the context of things that matter to them, so knowing that they need to eat a certain amount of breakfast so they’ll have enough energy to play at school is likely to be more successful than ‘because I said so’. pookyknightsmith.com | @pookyh Use Rules Sparingly -6-
  10. 10. Where possible, it’s great to lead by example – If you’re eating a balanced diet with a good mixture of foods yourself, then there is no reason your child shouldn’t eat the same. They’ll often be more willing to eat what you’re eating and it can be a good way to introduce a variety of foods to their diet. If you eat together you can talk about what you’re eating and why, to help them understand. You can also have great fun exploring new foods and combinations together. pookyknightsmith.com | @pookyh Eat What Your Child Eats -7-
  11. 11. Mealtimes as a family can become a real pleasure, but only if you make enough time. If mealtimes are constantly shoehorned into an already too busy day then it leaves little time to discuss the types of food we’re eating and why, and it can make mealtimes become a less pleasurable experience for everyone. It can also lead to us having to bark orders for kids to finish meals and end up relying on rules that don’t make sense or aren’t fully explained. Having more leisurely meals can end up being a genuinely pleasurable experience for the whole family and a great forum for discussion for a huge range of things beyond the dietary value of protein. pookyknightsmith.com | @pookyh Don't Rush Mealtimes -8-
  12. 12. It’s important that children understand the value of keeping active. That doesn’t mean they need to hit the gym three times a week, but do try and get outside and running around with them regularly. Help them to realise that as well as eating a range of foods, we need to give our bodies exercise too – but that if we’re going to do lots of running around, we’ll need to eat a bit more to keep us going. Talking to your children about how you keep active and which activities you enjoy and how they make you feel physically and mentally is great role modelling; they might even like to join in. pookyknightsmith.com | @pookyh Discuss Exercise -9-
  13. 13. pookyknightsmith.com | @pookyh Things to Avoid Discussing with a Younger Child Exercise for weight loss Dieting for weight loss Getting fat from eating too many sweet or fatty foods Your body image or weight concerns Being too fat or too thin Weight or height other than as an objective measure Purging (e.g. vomiting after eating) You may need to proactively tackle these issues if they come up, but I wouldn’t intentionally introduce conversations on the following topics to younger children: Whilst it's important that we develop a culture of open and honest conversations and tackling the hard stuff, some of these concepts can take root and be misinterpreted by children early on and may fuel eating disordered thoughts or behaviours later.
  14. 14. I've been able to produce this, thanks to the community who support my work on Patreon. If you already support me on patreon, THANK YOU. If you don't, please consider supporting me at patreon.com/pookyh - you'll get instant access to a wide range of guides and videos to help you to help your child and you'll help to fund my future work for you and others like you. Helping you to help your child - Thank You! - Pooky x

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