Be aware of word adoption:
Have you ever heard the phrase “children are like sponges”? They are truly listening to everything we are saying. You will often hear them mimic you or start to use specific catchphrases you and other family members might use. This is called word adoption. Word adoption is often used around food, specifically around identifying food as good/bad or healthy/unhealthy.
An example of this would be “Ugh – I can’t keep cookies in the house. They’re so unhealthy and I have no control around them”. Stating these are “unhealthy” can unintentionally send the message to a child that “unhealthy” food tastes good and “healthy” foods taste bad. As a result, children and adults tend to crave the cookies even more.
Another example of this can be related to the way we speak about our bodies or others bodies. Such as “Uncle Joe really put on a lot of weight since we last saw him.” Or “Lucy looks thin, I want to go on whatever diet she is on!”. Commenting on other’s bodies is not only harmful but can change the way your child thinks about their own body. It is natural during adolescence for your child’s body to fluctuate and commenting on Uncle Joe’s weight can make your child think their own weight change is negative and not expected. Instead, avoid making judgments on others bodies and try to focus on health vs. weight. Just because someone is thin, does not necessarily mean they are healthy and just because someone is in a larger body does not mean that they are unhealthy.
Reduce food rules in your house:
Try to avoid having too many rules around food like cookies and desserts. When food rules in the house are too strict, it can create anxiety and a stronger desire for certain foods. This can put children (and adults) at risk of secret eating, feeling ashamed or guilty for eating, and/or feeling a loss of control around certain forbidden foods.
Our suggestion: Try to let go of food judgments you’ve held onto and think about making food more neutral. Keep cookies/treats in the house and serve them on occasion as part of the meal or snack, rather than as a reward/special treat. Aim for balance in the home with eating and trust that your child can respond to their natural hunger and appetite.
Keep your own food judgements to yourself:
We all have foods we don’t like, but your child hasn’t yet had the opportunity to create their own food preferences. Encourage your family to avoid commenting on certain foods or making faces when serving certain foods. For example, if your spouse hates Brussels sprouts and is always making faces or commenting “ew I don’t like Brussels sprouts”, your child is likely to pick up on that and attach a negative feeling to the vegetable.
Our suggestion: Allow your child to trust their natural judgment around food and learn their own food preferences free of other people’s opinions. If exposed to a variety of foods, children will desire a variety of foods. Instead of saying things like “see, wasn’t that good?”, have your child determine how they feel about the food by saying “did you like that?”.
Avoid Using Food as a Reward or as a Source of Comfort:
Using food as a reward can be another way of putting certain foods on pedestals and making them more appealing. For example, “If you eat all of your broccoli, you can have dessert” or “if you don’t eat all of your broccoli, you can’t have dessert”.
Using food as a comfort measure can teach your child to always use food as a way to comfort them, which can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food down the road.
Our Suggestion: Instead of rewarding children with food, keeping in mind that your child is able to form their own opinions about food, try saying something like – “We can try these vegetables another time. Next time would you like to try them raw instead of cooked?”. Dessert remains out of the conversation, while keeping the dialogue focused on the vegetable component. Instead of offering a bowl of ice cream after a hard day try saying something like, “I am sorry you are sad. Come here and let me give you a big hug.”
*Every patient will have unique nutrition recommendations based on their specific situation. Be sure to speak with your dietitian if you have any questions. Our dietitian Alexa is a great resource if you have any questions. She can be contacted at email@example.com