Originally published: June 12th/2018; Updated: Apr 23rd/2019
Raising happy eaters and encouraging kids to develop a healthy relationship to food
It’s dinner time. Yay or nay?
Raising kids can be challenging, and raising kids who love to eat (aka happy eaters) can be even more challenging.
Do any of these points describe you?
Worrying your child eats too much or not enough?
Cooking your toddler a different meal every night?
Struggling with your kids not eating anything despite you insisting?
Wishing your kid grow learning how to love their body?
Here are 5 ideas to raise healthy happy eaters:
You’ll notice our emphasis on body image and it’s impact on a healthy relationship with food. As parents we have a lot over how our children perceive their body image, and their developing relationship with food.
These ideas will encourage you to reflect on your own feelings about body image and the role of food.
1. Serve the balanced plate as often as possible
The balanced plate is a tool you can use to guide your family towards healthy eating. A huge benefit is that it helps sets a great foundation for your kids.
The balanced plate will help provide opportunities to introduce a variety of foods at each meal.
Over time, the effect of exposure will help you raise happy eaters. This requires patience, but day-by-day you’ll help your child develop a healthy relationship with food.
The balanced plate has 3 components and 2 sides:
- Protein: 1/3 of the plate = tofu, legumes, fish, nuts, meat, tempeh, cheese, hummus, nut butter
- Veggies: 1/3 of the plate = you know them, aim for all colours
- Whole grains: 1/3 of the plate = bread, pasta, rice, barley, quinoa, bulgur, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, spelled (or potatoes)
- Side 1 = Fruits : great as a snack or dessert, aim for all colours
- Side 2 = Glass of water (or milk)
Serve a balanced plate, most meals and on most days.
We hear you: “What about that food I looooove that doesn’t fit on the balanced plate?”
Life is life, and it is more than okay to enjoy all the food you love!
Healthy eating is about what your family eats as a whole. The balanced plate provides a foundation. You can integrate pleasure foods to round-off your meal.
That means it is normal to eat pleasure foods as part of a healthy diet. So go ahead and celebrate with friends and family, indulge without guilt!
2. Don’t comment on people’s weight. Ever.
Please avoid commenting on people’s weight. This includes you, your kids, the neighbor, etc.
Commenting on people’s weight is always wrong. We don’t often take such a strong stand on something, but this is an exception.
Why? It pressures people to try to control something they cannot completely control.
It also perpetuates a social norm of beauty that is unrealistic. This attitude supports an industry (and society) that feeds and grows on people’s insecurities. Especially women. Even when it might seems like a positive comment.
Lead by example and refrain from commenting on people’s weight
3. Let kids decide at the dinner table
Share responsibilities between the parents and the children when it’s meal time. We call it the golden rule. But really it’s the golden ticket to raising happy eaters.
- What: a healthy meal based on the balanced plate. The same meal for everyone.
- When: sticking to the family meal schedule.
- How: sharing prep tasks and good times in a light atmosphere!
- Where: at the dinner table, without distraction, while sharing pleasant discussions.
- If: if they want to eat, if they eat this or/and that. Never pressure them to eat anything.
- How much: nothing, a little bit, or a lot.
- If they want dessert: No matter their decision about the 2 first points.
Sharing responsibilities will not only rally everybody around the dinner table, but it will also give you a break!
You provide the occasion for them to eat a healthy and pleasant meal. The offer is theirs to take…or not.
4. Happy eaters don’t make associations between food and body weight
Because it is not as simple as that!
Encouraging your kids to eat well shifts focus from controlling body weight. Instead, it teaches them that eating helps nourish and take care of our bodies.
The former point emerges from self inadequacy, while the latter from self love. Controlling our food intake to control our weight will suck the fun out of eating.
The link between food intake and weight is far from simple or direct.
Controlling body weight through food intake encourages risky and health compromising eating behaviors.
Instead, show your kids that food has a lot to offer! Not to mention the social aspects of enjoying a good time.
Make it a goal to share meals and cook with your kids. Challenge them to discover new foods, recipes, or international cuisines.
All this can happen regardless of our body weight and body size. That’s the beauty of it!
Making an association between food and body weight will not have positive results.
5. Show them that our bodies can accomplish great things
Praise your kids efforts to accomplish their goals, whether it be in school, in sports or in arts.
Help them name their good qualities: funny, loyal, smart, creative, strong, open-minded, etc… and notice all the good they spread around them.
Make them challenge their five senses: tasting chocolate, smelling flowers, touching a cat, cuddling her mom, seeing a snowflake, laughing with friends, rocking a baby, holding the hand of someone who needs it, listening to her friends’ secrets, etc.
These actions and discussions will make them appreciate all their bodies can accomplish!
It doesn’t matter how much they weigh, the size or shape they have and what they look like. It doesn’t matter how you, as parent, weigh or look either.
Our weight doesn’t define us, nor the things we can accomplish.
Thanks for reading! Let us know how it goes with your child, and what strategies are helping you raise happy eaters.