Parents often ask me if it’s okay to talk to children about nutrition and health benefits? This one tends to feel really important because parents want to support growth, development and learning; and importantly avoid lifestyle diseases!
As a society we figure that if we get health messages in early, then hopefully children will grow into adults that can make food choices for health benefits.
Is this actually helpful?
The problem is that increasing pressure to eat for health tends to fuel parental WORRY… and the whole thing starts to feel desperately important!
Pressure on parents leads to pressure on kids! And we know that pressure on kids leads to resistance which gets parents more worried and into counterproductive feeding practices.
Back to the original question, I find it depends on the INTENTION behind the health messages…
It’s possible to talk to children about food, nutrition and our amazing body. That’s it.
Talking about food and nutrition in relation to health benefits with the INTENTION to motivate or demotivate food choice is generally not helpful to children.
From a developmental point of view, children can’t conceptualise abstract thinking about food nutrition in the same way we adults can.
It can be difficult to understand, feel confusing and induce unnecessary worry and concern about food. Children tend to think that if they eat a ‘good’ food, then they are good and if they eat ‘bad’ food, then they are bad. What happens if they really like the ‘bad’ food? How might they end up feeling about food and themselves?
…Instead, children learn best about food by SAFE and curious EXPLORATION of food.
Children are not motivated to eat food because it’s healthy. And if they are, it may be because they have been told repeatedly or they are trying to please by being ‘good’.
Children eat food because it’s yummy, crunchy, soft, sweet, savoury, cold, warm, looks good, feels good or it takes their hunger away.
This doesn’t mean we forget about nutrition. Parents are in charge of WHAT to offer so that children can learn to eat a range of foods for nutrients, while developing a positive relationship with food.
Children don’t need to concern themselves with nutrition information. Children can focus on learning to listen to internal appetite cues rather than external diet rules.
How does our food talk influence what our children are learning about food and the way THEY talk and FEEL about food?
…Is it helpful?
Accredited Practising Dietitian