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How do you talk to your kids about food, health, exercise and weight?

Published in Pediatrics, For the Health of It Author: Jennifer Harris, RDN LD CEDRD

Well, prior to late adolescence it isn’t really about talking at all — it’s about doing. The job description for parenting includes many, many things including parenting around food. Parenting around food demands commitment, consistency and trust. Stick with it and your children will grow up to have the body they were meant to have, have a more stable adult body weight, eat a more varied diet and experience improved health. The fruition of proper childhood feeding results in all of those things and it even has a name: eating competence. How can you support eating competence in your child? Proper feeding along with exposure to movement in a manner that is enjoyable and pleasant.

Keep these tips in mind when parenting around food:

  • Maintain a division of responsibility with feeding. As far as meals and snacks are concerned, Parents are responsible for: what, when and where.
  • Children are responsible for how much and whether.
  • Maintain structure and routine with meals and snacks. Set times and places to eat — even on weekends. It means planning ahead, but it’s worth it. It means no food or beverages between meal and snack times (except water). Children are more curious and willing to try new foods when they come to the table hungry. Children do better regulating their intake when they know they will be fed and are allowed to get enough to eat.
  • Keep food neutral and avoid restraint. Children who do not get enough to eat, who do not get to eat the foods they like or who are encouraged to follow food rules, tend to overeat if given the opportunity, and may have higher body weight as a result. Restraint can look like: not having enough food, never offering desserts or high fat foods or encouraging “eat this, before that” strategies. Balance the offerings with foods they accept, foods that are new, and yes, include “forbidden foods.” Children do better with taking care of themselves through eating that way.

Keep these tips in mind when parenting around activity

  • Maintain a division of responsibility with activity. As far as activity is concerned: Parents are responsible for structure, safety and opportunities for movement. Children are responsible for how much and whether.
  • Set limits on screen time but not reading, writing or other sedentary activities.
  • Tolerate a normal level of commotion in the home.

Do this: provide, don’t deprive and trust your child to grow and develop into the body they are meant to have. They will be healthy. Learn more about eating competence and the feeding dynamic approach to childhood feeding.