Talking to kids about food

These days more than ever, we have to be careful about what we allow our children to eat. This is because of:

  • The amount of processed food on the market (ready to eat or stir through sauce jars, sachets and other ‘stuff’ in packets) and a concern about what effect additives and preservatives could have on our bodies long-term
  • Our time-poor society, which can lead us to reach for these packaged foods for convenience
  • Our concern with diseases such as diabetes, overweight and obesity

Not only do we have to police what our kids eat because it’s a more complicated world, we need to teach them to make healthy food choices in amongst today’s information-overload society. Unfortunately, not everything we read is accurate or appropriate.

We need to be very careful what we say to kids about why we should and shouldn’t eat this or that, as too much talk about carbs, fat, overweight and obesity at a young age could be damaging to their mental health now and in the long term.

Therefore, what we say to children about food choices needs to be completely different from what we would think, or say to an adult. Some examples:

What you think: I shouldn’t let him/her have another sandwich. That’s too many carbs in one day, carbs can be fattening!

What you should say: That’s enough bread for today, how about <insert another food option> instead?

If they ask ‘why’?

What you think: Too many carbs can lead to weight gain. I don’t want my child to get fat, they’ll be unhealthy or be teased!

What you should say: “Too much of anything is not good. You could get a tummy ache. How about a piece of fruit?”

Of course if your child is older, you can give them more information about having a variety of vitamins or other nutrients, but never say ‘carbs are fattening’. Firstly, this is not always true, and secondly, we need to teach children that food choices are first and foremost about achieving optimal health, not a society-driven optimal image. Yes, avoiding overweight and obesity is about avoiding ill-health, but it does not need to be the driver of your communications to your children.

Another example:

“Mum/dad can I have some lollies/chocolate/soft drink?”

You think: They’ve already had some today; or Too much sugar and they’ll get fat, or end up with diabetes!

You should say something more like: “You’ve already had enough today”; or “today is a junk-free day”.

If they want more information (“but whyyyyyyy?”), how about “Too much sugar rots your insides. You’ll end up with no teeth and nothing to chew with!” or “Sugar doesn’t help your body grow strong”, or “you’ll get a bad headache”. All of this is true.

In closing, a lot of parents are returning to whole foods, or ‘clean eating’, which in its most simple form is ‘cooking from scratch’ and avoiding processed foods most of the time. This is fantastic to see, and it provides an opportunity for children to learn about where foods come from, and how they are used in real cooking, rather than seeing someone dump a sachet of sauce over some chicken, and serve it with rice. We just need to be careful not to provide an obsessive food environment for our children by being completely restrictive, or providing a black-and-white view of the food world.

The 80:20 rule can work well for all of us – 80% of the time eating ‘always’ foods because they are good for our insides, and 20% of the time eating sometimes foods for a bit of fun!

If you have any questions, tips or suggestions please add a comment below!

Have a great day.

One thought on “Talking to kids about food

  1. 80:20 is a Good aim:) we ‘try’ hard not to buy too many processed snacks etc as if they are not in the house, then we cant eat them…….(we……well mostly me!!). We also try and talk about foods as ‘anytime’ foods – these make us strong, grow and be healthy and ‘sometimes’ foods – these dont really make us strong like superhero, but a little bit is ok:)


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