Less. That’s right. Less. In today’s food-obsessed culture we often do too many well-meaning things to get our children to eat well instead of getting out of their way and letting them learn to eat well and enjoy food in the way their bodies and minds were designed.
• Less Pressuring – Parents often use gentle and not-so gentle techniques to pressure or trick their kids to take more of certain foods. It’s an understandable mistake, but research shows that the more pressure, even loving pressure, we give to our kids to eat certain foods backfires completely. By trying to convince or prod your kids to eat their vegetables, you are actually ensuring that they will eat less of them.
• Less Restricting – The reverse is also true. Making certain foods completely “off-limits,” using strong negative language about foods, or discouraging your child to eat foods that aren’t “healthy choices” leads them to desire those foods even more. And there’s more. When they are adolescents or adults, they will inevitably be placed in situations with those foods and they won’t have the tools to consume them in moderation on their own, because those foods were completely restricted or judged for them.
• Less Talking – We try to do a lot of “teaching” at our kids about foods, food choices, and eating habits. We talk and tell and teach. That makes it hard for children to hear the messages that are being delivered from their best “teacher” – their bodies. We know that children learn more by seeing moderate, consciences food choices and eating habits modeled by their parents than they learn from what they are told. You already know this, but it is worth repeating. Actions Speak Louder Than Words.
• Less Labeling – In today’s diet and health-obsessed climate, well-meaning parents make choices for their families about what foods are “Good” or “Bad” or “Healthy” or “Unhealthy.” Teaching kids that some foods are “good” and some foods are “bad” makes it harder for them listen to what their body needs while also navigating their own preferences. They feel pressure to choose the “right” thing in order to please parents and other adults, when what children should be doing is eating what they need and enjoying foods.
Kids bodies aren’t designed to learn about making healthy food choices by listening to adult labels, words, instructions or judgments. They are already better at listening to their bodies than adults if we could just get out of the way. When you feel like you should do more, do less. Allow them to feel the effects of eating foods free of pressure and model pleasure in eating in a healthful way around them and with them. Do less, enjoy more, you will all benefit!
Jennifer Berry, MS, OT/L