Encouraging a Healthy Attitude Towards Food
In today’s media-driven world, children are exposed to all sorts of messages and images that affect their attitudes towards eating and food. On one hand they are bombarded with adverts for high-fat, high-sugar snack foods and fizzy drinks. On the other, super-slim models are presented as the ideal body shape.
It can be difficult to steer a clear path through all this, but there are strategies parents can use to promote a sensible approach to food.
Start with Healthy EatingA balanced diet is essential for growth and good health. Make sure that children understand how their bodies work and why it’s so important to have a good mix of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Cut down on junk and convenience food, sit down to eat as a family and stock the larder with plenty of healthy snacks (like fruit, raw vegetables, whole grain bread, crackers and cereals).
Don’t impose a complete ban on sweet or fatty foods though. Being too restrictive will probably backfire and the occasional treat won’t do any harm.
Keep Mealtimes Light-HeartedEnjoy eating together as a family and keep the focus on fun and conversation.
- Don’t insist that children eat everything on their plates
- Serve food that the family will enjoy, but don’t offer alternatives if they don’t want it
- Let children help plan the week’s menus and get involved in shopping and cooking
- Older children might enjoy taking responsibility for a complete meal every now and then
Dieting and Body ImageChildren may come under pressure at school to diet or be thin. Talk about how they feel and stress that the supermodel ‘size zero’ ideal is unrealistic and unhealthy. Emphasise that everyone is an individual, free to make up their own minds and that it shows strength of character to follow one’s own judgement.
Adults can provide good role models by eating healthily and showing that they’re happy with the way they are. If their parents are constantly on a diet or voicing discontent with their body shape, it may give children a distorted view of food. It’s also best to avoid using terms like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods.
Overweight ChildrenMany children go through a stage of being a bit chubby and will slim down when they have a growth spurt. But with so many children becoming obese, it’s important to check they’re not eating unhealthy snacks between meals and that they’re getting enough exercise. A ‘whole family’ approach with healthy eating and an active lifestyle at its heart should sort things out, but do get help if the problem persists. In particular, watch out for binge and comfort eating, which could be the signs of a developing eating disorder.
Keep Talking with Your ChildrenAs older children and teenagers become more independent, it can be hard for parents to feel they’re still in touch. But if the lines of communication are kept open, children are more likely to open up about worries or problems.
Letting children know that they’re loved for who they are will boost their self-esteem and help them to confide if they do hit a difficult patch.