Kids eat food for different reasons than adults do.
Kids eat food for very immediate reasons:
- because they are hungry
- because the food looks, smells and or tastes good to them
- because the food is familiar or favourite
- because it is easy to eat
As much as we’d like them to, most kids DON’T eat food because it’s healthy. Talking to young children about the health benefits of food probably won’t help much at all with accepting new foods. As much as children can be told and repeat that this food or that is a healthy food, this alone rarely provides enough reason for them to eat it.
My 3 top tips to support children to learn to accept a wide variety of foods, or to help your fussy kid to not flip out at the sight of a piece of lettuce are:
Never describe food as GOOD or BAD
Describing food in this way attaches judgements and feelings to food which can lead to emotional eating. The worst thing is for a child to feel “bad” about eating food, any food! Use words such as EVERYDAY or PLEASURE foods, and SOMETIMES foods or GROW, GLOW and GO foods instead.
GROW foods – protein-rich foods that help you to grow strong e.g. meat, milk, yoghurt, legumes
GLOW foods – vitamins and mineral rich foods that make you glow e.g. fruits and veggies
GO foods – carbohydrate rich foods that give us energy to play e.g. whole grains, breads and cereals.
EXPLORE food with kids using the 5 senses to guide you
Discover how food FEELS, SOUNDS, SMELLS, LOOKS and TASTES. Model this and explain it as you go along. Children may want to get involved or just watch you do it. For example: “This passionfruit is purple, let’s cut it open and see what’s inside. There are lots of seeds in here! Gee it smells sweet and it feels wet too. Let me taste it. Do you think it will taste sweet?” and so on…
Explore food away from the table
The dinner table can be high pressure if your food agenda is to “get kids to eat”. Instead, OFFER a wide variety, including at least one or two foods that are familiar to your children, but don’t be drawn into battles about whether or how much food gets eaten.
Keep the pressure off and instead take opportunities to explore food away from the family dinner table – at the supermarket, fresh produce market, at a restaurant or café, with friends.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the next generation of kids free of food hang-ups? Kids who truly have a healthy relationship with food. It’s a big dream, but one that I’m determined to hold onto.