With over ten years working with parents and children, Maxine Hallett, Fegans’ Parent Support Worker, shares with us her knowledge of how to help children foster a healthy relationship with food, as part of our Eating Disorder Awareness Week series.
Tips on how to encourage your children to have a good relationship with food.
Providing your children with good healthy food, and a meal-time routine in which food is to be enjoyed and celebrated is a great step in positive parenting. Here are some tips for parents with younger children to help encourage a positive health attitude to food:
I often use the scenario with parents that if they fuss over their children’s eating from an early age, by saying for example, “please eat this, come on try this, one more bite…” they are giving the child lots of attention for being difficult at the dinner table, and therefore encouraging the child not to eat.
One action that can be used with young children is called proximal praise – instead of concentrating on the child that is refusing to eat his/her dinner you praise the other child or adult for eating. By taking the attention away from the child it normally encourages them to eat.
Always eat breakfast, it is the most important meal of the day, and by taking time to sit and eat breakfast with your children it helps them establish this as an important meal to carry them through until lunch time.
Eat healthy fats
Eat healthy fats such as avocados, nuts and full fat dairy. It is important to show children not all fats are ‘bad’, and that a well rounded healthy diet will contain this food group.
Avoid the word ‘diet’
We all know as adults we need to keep an eye on our weight sometimes, however bringing the terminology of ‘dieting’ or getting ‘fat’ creates the idea for the next generation that a persons’ weight is of great significance to their identity. Try to steer more towards healthy eating terminology, and try not to talk down about your body, so this doesn’t become a pre-occupation with children.
Lead by Example
Monkey sees, monkey does. If you have a good healthy relationship with food your children are more likely to follow your lead. Being a busy parent can sometimes cut out the ability to eat properly all the time, but aim to look after yourself as well as your children.
Talk and be present
Eat your meals around a table, put your phones down, shut the computer and don’t have the television on. Use this time to talk to your children, and engage in family time.
Let the children serve themselves
Let children put on their plate what they feel they can eat, this can be a one pot meal but it is really good to let them serve what they want, they can always have seconds, but if they get into the habit of eating what is on their plate this is a really positive habit.
Make sure the potion size is relevant to the child’s age and size. It is easy to forget they are much smaller and may not need to eat a large amount. Give children food on a smaller plate, and regulate potion control.
Try to give fussy eaters an option, such as fish fingers or pasta. Also encourage them to suggest meals, make a list and plan what you ae going to eat for the week. By involving the children in this you will be surprised about how much more they will eat.