10 ways to talk to children about food, healthy eating
Language shapes lifelong attitudes, eating behavior
Caregivers play a major role in helping children develop healthy eating habits. “Caregivers” includes parents/guardians, grandparents, child care providers, teachers, and others who interact regularly with children at meal time.
What we say about food and eating significantly impacts kids’ eating habits. Positive messages about food and eating will help children develop healthy habits.
Here we present examples of phrases that help develop healthy eating habits, as well as the phrases to avoid. Replace the negative statements in each example with the positive ones.
Encourage new/unfamiliar foods
This is kiwi fruit; it’s sweet like a strawberry.
These radishes are very crunchy!
Phrases like these help to point out the sensory qualities of food. They encourage children to try new foods.
Eat that for me.
If you do not eat one more bite, I will be mad.
Phrases like this teach children to eat for approval and love. This can lead children to unhealthy behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs about food and about themselves.
Is your stomach telling you that you’re full?
Is your stomach still making its hungry growling noise?
Has your tummy had enough?
Phrases like these help your child recognize the signals that he or she is full.
You’re such a big girl; you finished all your peas.
Jenny, look at your sister. She ate all of her bananas.
You have to take one more bite before you leave the table.
Phrases like these teach your child to ignore fullness and eat for other goals. It is better for kids to stop eating when full or satisfied than stop when all of the food is gone.
Empower the child
Do you like that?
Which one is your favorite?
Everybody likes different foods, don’t they?
Phrases like these make children feel that they are making the choices. It also shifts the focus to the taste of the food rather than who was right.
See, that didn’t taste so bad, did it?
This implies that a child was wrong to refuse the food, leading to unhealthy attitudes about food or self. It also amplifies the power struggle.
Reward with attention/affection
We can try these vegetables again another time. Next time would you like to try them raw instead of cooked?
I am sorry you are sad. Come here and let me give you a big hug.
Reward children with attention and kind words. Comfort them with hugs and talks. Show love by spending time and having fun together.
No dessert until you eat your vegetables.
Stop crying, and I will give you a cookie.
Offering some foods, like dessert, in reward for finishing others, like vegetables, makes some foods seem “better” or more desirable than others. Getting a food treat when upset teaches your child to eat to feel better. This can lead to overeating.
Adapted from USDA’s Phrases that HELP and HINDER
Healthy Kids Achieve More
Establishing and maintaining healthy eating habits has far-reaching benefits. School-aged children who eat healthy meals perform better on tests, have fewer attendance and behavior problems, and achieve more in school. Find out how your school can help students eat healthy and boost academic success in our guide, Healthy Students Achieve More.
Topics: Healthy Eating
Subscribe for more
Want more ideas for healthy schools, workplaces, child care providers, and families? Subscribe to our blog for weekly tips delivered right to your inbox!
Pike Township Schools' focus on student wellness earns prestigious national award NEXT »
Be active all summer: physical activity ideas for kids