5 Things Parents Can Do To Improve Your Language Around Food

Creating healthy behaviours around food is not just about the food we serve our little ones.

The language we use as parents around food is just as important. Framing the way we speak about food may make all of the difference to their relationship with food, not only as children, but as adults as well.

Here are five ways to reframe some common food related phrases:

Phrase 1: Instead of “I don’t like broccoli”, try “broccoli is not my favourite vegetable, I would prefer to have some zucchini instead”.

If you or your child does not enjoy a particular food, it can be helpful to talk about why this may be, for example, you may not enjoy the texture, the taste, the flavour, the smell.

Phrase 2: Instead of “make sure you finish everything on your plate”, try “it is good to stop eating when
your tummy is feeling full”.

This is an important one for grandparents to read, as they always like to see an empty plate! Forcing children to eat beyond their point of fullness can lead them to disengage with their hunger fullness cues and create a habit of overeating, particularly into adulthood.

Phrase 3: Instead of “I have never liked bananas”, try “I didn’t enjoy bananas when I was little but I
keep trying them.”

It is important to encourage children to try foods again and again, as their taste buds can change over time. It can also be helpful to try a particular food in different ways e.g. banana bread, banana smoothie.

Phrase 4: Instead of “If you have three more bites of dinner (or “if you finish all of your dinner”), you can
have dessert”, serve a healthy dessert option such as fruit and yoghurt with the evening meal or avoid
having any bribe at all (as above, allow them to eat until they are full and if they are hungry later on,
offer another serve of dinner or a healthy snack such as fruit).

It is important not to bribe children with sweets for eating their food as they may learn over time that they can only enjoy treat based foods as a reward for good behaviour or encourage overeating.

Phrase 5: Instead of “you must have at least one bite of the chicken”, instead, allow them to explore a
new food for themselves

If they do not eat it at that mealtime, that is ok. Pressuring children to eat something they may not feel comfortable trying, can create a negative food experience and may create food fears. It is also important that if this happens, it may not be that your child doesn’t like it, they may
not feel like it on that particular day, or they may need to be exposed a few times more before they feel comfortable trying it.

Remember, even as adults, we don’t always feel like a particular food on particular days!

As parents and caregivers, we are the most important role models for our children when it comes to learning positive food behaviours. If children see us eat a variety of foods, they will likely follow our lead. If children hear us speaking about food in an enjoyable way, they will be more likely to explore new foods.

Similarly, if we allow children to explore foods in a comfortable environment, without pressure, they will also be more likely to try new foods.
Written by Madelin Jeffs APD
Paediatric Dietitian for Way of Life Nutrition