Originally published: November 2023
As a parent or caregiver, you’ve likely spent time thinking about the relationships your child has with other people (like their friends, teachers, and family members). But have you considered their relationship with food?
Food is something kids interact with everyday. When a child has a healthy relationship with food, they eat without fear or guilt. They listen to their body’s signals for hunger and fullness. They enjoy eating with others.
You play an important role in shaping your child’s experiences with food and eating. The things you say and do influence their physical growth, social well-being, and mental health.
Here’s how you can help your child build a healthy relationship with food.
Use neutral language
As a family, use neutral words and phrases when you talk about food. For example:
- Try not to label food as good or bad, or use terms like clean eating or junk food. Instead, call food by its name. A cookie is a cookie, a banana is a banana.
- Describe food with sensory words (like smell, flavour, texture, colour, or shape). For example, a vegetable stir fry is fresh, spicy, or crunchy.
- Avoid subtle comments about using food to change weight or body size. Instead, talk about how eating a variety of food fuels our minds and bodies.
Celebrate and enjoy food
Encourage your child to enjoy food that suits their tastes, needs, and culture. These tips can help:
- Welcome all types of food into your home. Unless there are allergies or cultural food restrictions, all food can be enjoyed.
- Offer hands-on experiences to learn about food. For example, visit local farms, gardens, and markets.
- Share food traditions that are part of your family or culture. Make recipes that have been passed down to you.
- Learn together about how food connects to the land. Listen to stories about traditional ways to grow, harvest, fish, hunt, and prepare food.
Support positive mealtimes
Make time for family meals. As much as you can, eat together for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack. Take the stress out of mealtimes by sticking with these roles:
- Adults decide what food is offered, and when and where it’s eaten.
- Kids decide how much and if they’ll eat the food that’s offered.
Here are some other ways to support a positive eating experience:
- Respect your child’s choices about whether to eat and how much.
- Let them eat their food in any order.
- Trust your child when they say or signal that they’re hungry or full.
- Use mealtimes to connect and relax together. Turn off TVs and set aside phones so you can have conversations.
Explore food together
Find ways for your child to try new food and eating experiences. Keep in mind that they may need to see, smell, or explore new food 15 times or more before they accept or like it. These tips can help them feel more comfortable:
- Offer new food along with familiar food, dips, or sauces.
- Make sure there’s at least one food at every meal that your child accepts.
- Don’t pressure your child to eat new food. Give them time to explore.
Set an example
Be mindful that your child is influenced by your words and actions. Try these ideas to role model a healthy relationship with food:
- Avoid using food as a reward, or to comfort or coax your child to do something.
- Support healthy routines, like regular times to eat, get active, and sleep.
- Show respect and appreciation for all types of bodies.
If you’re struggling to pay for food or to access enough food for your family, these resources may help: