Encouraging diet-free, healthy eating behaviours for children
Tips for parents
- Avoid classifying foods as either 'good' or 'bad' - try 'everyday' foods or 'sometimes' foods instead. Forbidding particular foods or labelling them in a negative way may set up cravings and feelings of guilt when these foods are eaten.
- Model eating all foods slowly (especially 'sometimes' foods such as chocolate, lollies etc), with appreciation and in a relaxed, guilt free manner, rather than eating quickly, secretively or all at once.
- Be aware of not using food as a punishment or over-using food as a reward.
- Avoid giving your child instructions to lose weight, even if you are concerned that your child is becoming over his/her most healthy weight. Instead, encourage the whole family to adopt healthy eating patterns and regular enjoyable physical activity. If you need further support, seek professional advice from someone who specialises in childhood eating behaviour and weight issues.
- Avoid conveying an attitude to your child that says, I will love you more if you lose weight or eat less. Reassure them that your love for them is not conditional on how they look, what they eat, or how much they weigh.
- Avoid using extreme weight loss practices yourself, as children are great imitators. A non-dieting approach to a healthy lifestyle is the best way to manage your weight while also modelling healthy behaviours for your children.
- Do your best to make family meal times enjoyable and stress free. Refrain from making an issue out of eating habits or discussing family conflicts at the table. Find another time to sort out these problems.
- Make sure there is an abundance of nutritious foods in the house.
- Encourage your children to listen to signals from their body about when they are hungry and when they've had enough. Ask your child to use these as cues to tell them when to eat and when to stop eating.
- Try serving food in the centre of the table and allow everyone to dish out their own size of meals according to their appetite. Encourage your child to listen to their hunger and fullness signals when they do this so they can learn, for example, that second helpings usually need to be smaller than their first helping.
- Don't insist that your child eats everything on the plate. Do encourage them to at least taste some of the food.
Acknowledgement to Body Image and Health Inc.