Kids need to know how and why we eat what we do, and why they can’t eat all the treats they want all of the time. But telling them that food is ‘bad’ or ‘good’ can create unhealthy habits and expectations around food that can last for years. A kid that thinks the food he loves is ‘bad’ will sneak, hide, or overeat while no one is watching. On the other hand, some kids can become almost hyper-focused on eating only ‘good’ foods. When I teach kids about nutrition we talk about Always foods and Sometimes foods. My food philosophy is that there is no bad food, only too much of any one food. So teaching my kids that there are foods we eat always, foods we eat sometimes, and how to determine each of those will set them up for healthy eating habits throughout their lives.A kid that thinks the food he loves is 'bad' will sneak, hide, or overeat while no one is watching. Click To Tweet
These foods are the foods that they can eat whenever they like or are ones that I always offer as a snack. To me, these foods have to be mostly or completely unprocessed, not be flavoured, coloured, or sweetened artificially, and have a good mix of nutrients. Always foods are going to be different for everyone but ours include:
- Fruit – apples, pears, oranges, grapes, watermelon, pineapple
- Veggies – cucumber, carrot sticks, celery sticks, green beans
- Cheese* – my kids love cheese sticks, or cubes of cheese, usually with some fruit or pretzels
- Snacks** – pretzels, air-popped popcorn, roasted flavoured chickpeas
*Cheese isn’t quite an always food, but I’d rather they snack on that than on a bag of chips
** again, these aren’t things I’ll let them have all day every day, but I’ll almost always say yes if they ask for it.
Sometimes foods are treats. They are for special occasions like holidays, parties, and birthdays. These aren’t even for desserts every day or after-school snacks. For our family, this covers the typical ‘junk foods’ of cake, cookies, candy, and chips, as well as things like cereal or bread and butter. My 5-year old could eat bread with butter as an after-school snack every day if I let her. But it doesn’t fill her up! She’s hungry again in 30 minutes and then begging for food until dinner time. Same with a bowl of cereal for breakfast. I *know* she’s starving by the time she gets to school. So these are sometimes foods for us too.
More Tips To Teach Kids About Nutrition:
Be Kind To Yourself
Don’t use self-hate or body bashing speak. Firstly, it’s not good for you. Don’t do that to yourself. Be kind and generous with yourself and know that you’re trying your best. Secondly, your kids can hear you. If they hear mom or dad talking about how fat they are, or how they hate their belly, the kids are going to pick up and model that behaviour. Even something as simple as saying “I need to lose weight” reinforces to your kids that you’re unhappy with yourself. They think you’re perfect and beautiful just the way you are, and it can warp their sense of ‘normal’ body image to hear you say otherwise. It’s smart to talk to kids about how we build healthy strong bodies with the food we eat, but it’s healthier for everyone to avoid talking about your weight in a negative sense. One more thing: Don’t let them hear you talking about celebrities or family members either! It’s the same thing, and if you get caught talking about how big Auntie Susie’s bum is, I guarantee you that will get repeated around the dinner table next time you see Auntie Susie.
Lead By Example
Model the eating habits you want your kids to have. If you want them to eat carrot sticks and hummus, you eat carrot sticks and hummus too. If you want them to eat the broccoli you made, give yourself a good portion. It may take time but by being their primary example of healthy eating you will make an impact. And talk about it with them too. I explain to my kids why we need to have veggies and carbs and protein and fat, and why we need to eat all of them, not just the noodles. My 5-year old and I will talk about what foods make us feel good when we eat them, and which ones make our tummies hurt, or make us feel tired. Have the discussions, they’re important.Talk to your kids about the food they eat. How does it make them feel? What is their energy like after eating it? Click To Tweet
Let Them Help!
Get kids into the kitchen! Have them help you prep for dinner, or bake healthy muffins, or put away the groceries. This furthers the discussion about food and why we eat what we do. It also gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride in making something healthy for their family.
I have some great resources for parents and teachers to teach kids about nutrition on my Kids Nutrition Pinterest board. I know kids can make a mess, and dinner times can be fraught with tension around eating. Unless there’s a medical reason they MUST have xyz for dinner tonight, try and let go a bit. Don’t make a separate meal for them, offer them everything you’re eating. You might be surprised at what they choose to eat.