Originally published: November 2023
Food is part of our everyday lives. Everyone has their own way of approaching it. We all develop a unique relationship with food—how we think about it, talk about it, and enjoy it.
As a parent or caregiver, you play an important role in shaping your teen’s relationship with food. Your words and actions influence their growth, social wellbeing, and mental health.
Teens who have a healthy relationship with food eat without fear or guilt. They listen to their body’s signals for hunger and fullness. They enjoy and appreciate eating with others.
Here's how you can help your teen 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.
- Redirect conversations about using food to change weight or body size. Instead, talk about how eating a variety of food fuels our minds and bodies.
Explore and enjoy food
Encourage your teen to enjoy food that suits their preferences, lifestyle, and needs. 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.
- Share food traditions that are part of your family or culture. Teach your teen how to make recipes passed down to you.
- Encourage your teen to try new food and eating experiences. Embrace their curiosity! Help them buy, prepare, or sample food that’s different.
- Learn together about how food connects to the land. Listen to stories about traditional ways to grow, harvest, fish, hunt, and prepare food.
Understand mealtime roles
Talk with your teen about the role each person plays in family mealtimes. Typically:
- Adults decide what food is offered, and when and where it’s eaten.
- Kids and teens decide how much and if they’ll eat the food that’s offered.
As your teen grows, build their skills and confidence to take on adult roles. For example, ask them about their ideas for groceries to buy or meals to make. Put them in charge of packing school lunches or making a family dinner. Have fun with their ideas and try not to judge.
Support positive mealtimes
Make time for family meals. As much as you can, eat together for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack. Try these tips to create a positive eating experience:
- Try not to comment on what your teen is eating (or not eating).
- Trust your teen 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.
Set an example
Be mindful that your teen is influenced by how you handle topics like food, eating, and bodies. Try using the explore your relationship with food worksheet to reflect on your own beliefs and biases.
Here are some other ways you can model a healthy relationship with food:
- Avoid using food as a reward, or to comfort or coax your teen to do something.
- Support healthy family routines, like regular times to eat, be active, and sleep. Help your teen figure out routines that work for their schedule.
- Avoid commenting on body sizes or appearances. Instead, speak up about qualities you admire in your teen and others—like kindness and courage.
If you’re struggling to pay for food or to access enough food for your family, these resources may help: