If meal time discussions center on weight management, it's time to drop negative talk in favor of something more positive. Focusing on weight often backfires, leading both young children and teens to feelings of guilt, insecurities about their bodies, sneaking food and disordered eating.
Instead, it's more effective to talk about the taste and healthfulness of foods A healthy diet and lifestyle affects mood, energy levels, athletic performance and school performance – and reduces the risk of illness. Build everyday eating habits around foods that contribute to health. And if you do that, an occasional less-nutritious food can fit in without being labeled cheating.
Here are a few ways to help your kids develop body-positive attitudes and healthful behaviors.
Teach What Healthy Eating Is and Isn't
Obsessing about calories, carbs, fats or any nutrient is not healthy eating. It makes meals stressful and unpleasant, the opposite of what every kid and adult deserves. Teaching that a healthful dinner has half of the plate full of fruits and vegetables and is eaten at a dinner table each night sets your children up for a healthy future. Offering a variety of foods at regular meal and snack times is another positive step.
Make Food Fun
Get kids of all ages into the kitchen. From washing apples to slicing veggies and stirring hot pots, there are food preparation and cooking chores suitable for every child. For fun, have nights when your children get to choose a new food. Or have theme nights such as Meatless Mondays or a trip around the globe. Get little kids excited by giving foods fun names, such as green monster juice and ants on a log.
Be a Role Model
If your eating habits are not the ones you want your children to copy, now is a great time to make some improvements. Model a healthy attitude about your body image, too. If you always complain about your weight or call certain foods bad foods, your children will learn to do the same. If you follow fad diets, they'll learn that restrictive eating is more important than balanced, healthful eating.
Put Weight into Perspective
You cannot get the full picture of a child’s health by looking at weight or a single point on a growth chart. Remember that children's bodies change as they grow. Behaviors including regular meals and snacks, drinking plenty of fluids, eating a variety of vegetables and fruits, and getting at least an hour of active play every day are much better markers of health than weight.
Take Your Concerns to a Professional
If you're concerned about your child' weight, diet or body image, talk with your child's healthcare provider. Also schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian nutritionist who will assess your family's diet and help you make appropriate changes that will meet the needs of all family members.