Parent feeding child salad greens on a fork.

Teaching your child about food can be a difficult task. You want them to know how to nourish their body, but also to enjoy a treat every now and then. There is a fine line between a healthy relationship with food and one that sets them up for food-related issues down the line. Children are impressionable beings. They will pick up on how you treat different food options. Teaching them healthy food habits at a young age can help set them up for a good relationship with what they eat.

Sugar In Moderation

We’ve all heard the sentiment that sugar is the enemy. In reality, this isn’t true. Sugar comes in a lot of different forms. And while some forms are best in moderation, others shouldn’t be taken so seriously. Sugar from fruit is a healthy way to consume something sweet. Aside from the sweetness, you get the added benefit of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Reducing processed sugars can help with various health issues, specifically with oral health. Try swapping sugar with honey or maple syrup. It can help with cutting back on highly processed foods while still enjoying something sweet. This being said, cakes and cookies have their time and place. Enjoying a birthday treat or the occasional pastry is part of living a balanced life.

Snacking Is Okay

Gone are the days that the 3-meal model is the only option. Traditionally we have been told that our days should consist of 3 square meals, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If this schedule of eating works for you, then by all means continue it. However, many people find themselves a little hungry and in need of a snack following this rigid schedule. Planned snacks in the morning and after can help curb hunger. This prevents overeating and feeling sick later on. Some people even prefer 5 or 6 small, snack-like meals as opposed to 3 main ones. Additionally, some studies have shown that snacking throughout the day helps your metabolism stay active. Choosing healthy foods for snacks is important for both your health and your energy throughout the day. Nuts, fruits, and veggies are all good options. Teaching your children that fueling their bodies when they need it is never a bad thing. They shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed for straying away from the 3-meal model.

Slower Is Better

Did you know it takes your brain 20 minutes to realize that the stomach is full? Eating too quickly is a habit that should be avoided when teaching your child about eating. When you eat slowly, your body has enough time to understand if it is full or if it needs more fuel. Accidentally overeating is a common issue for those who speed through their meals. Eating too quickly can lead to fatigue, feeling sick, stomach pains, nausea, and bloating. It is important to teach children that eating a lot is not a bad thing if you are hungry. Some days we are more hungry than others, and that is normal. But eating too much when you are already full just causes pain and discomfort. There are many ways to practice eating slower. Eating mindfully is a great way to slow down your eating pace. Try focusing on the food you're chewing, one bite at a time. Think about how it feels, smells, and tastes. Some people recite the alphabet in their heads before they swallow their bite.

Food Is Not A Reward Or Punishment

The most important thing to instill in children is that food is fuel for their bodies. We need to eat and we should eat to live happy and healthy lives. Treating food like punishment or rewards starts to drift into a dangerous area that can cause issues down the line. Withholding certain foods as a penal method can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. It may lead your child to overeat earlier in the day in fear of not getting food later in the day. It can also interfere with the notion that food is something they need. Using food as a reward may distort how they think about certain foods. It makes certain foods seem more important and valuable than others. Letting them eat dessert only after having finished their greens makes it seem like dessert is better than greens. There should be no “good” foods and “bad” foods. Some foods are more nourishing and nutrient-dense than others, but no food should be considered off-limits.

Bottom Line

Children are very impressionable when they are young. They watch their parents, relatives, and other adults navigate life and pick up on things. If you treat food poorly in front of your children, it may teach them unhealthy habits. Ultimately it is important for children to feel comfortable when confronted with food. Understanding that food is much more than just calories and sugar content, but a way to nourish and fuel the body is crucial. It is important that they learn that we need food and it is not meant to be something just for “special” times. These are just a few habits to help form a life-long healthy relationship with food.

Molly Edwards is a devoted mom, passionate writer, and budding solopreneur. As a mother of two boys, she hopes to inspire parents to stress less and enjoy the big, beautiful world of parenting a little more.

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