Feelgood Health

How you can help your child develop a healthy relationship with food: Our Psychologist advises

Does your child have food issues? Picky eater? Underweight? Overweight? As parents, we try to instil good values such as honesty, compassion and respect in our children but very often we forget to teach them the importance of a healthy relationship with food. Michele Carelse, our Clinical Psychologist advises how you can help your child develop a healthy relationship with food and prevent eating problems and disorders later on in life.

“Do you want KFC, Steers or shall we go to the Spur for dinner?” We can all relate to the offer a quick, easy and convenient (and unhealthy) meal! Nowadays, our lives are so busy and hectic and when it comes to teaching our children about something as simple as healthy eating habits, we tend to fail miserably!

Research shows that children base their relationship with food on the way their parents eat – how you treat food and talk about food in front of your children establishes their future attitude towards food and eating. By setting a healthy example towards food – teaching our children to appreciate, love and respect food will help them develop a positive body image by making the right food choices. Here are our Clinical Psychologist’s top tips to teach your children healthy eating habits and prevent eating disorders later in life.

  1. Teach your child to make healthy eating choices

Encourage your child to enjoy different types of foods, especially healthy foods. Include fresh fruit and veggies, protein, carbs and healthy fats into your daily diet. Younger children can be fussy eaters and quickly turn up the noses when they have to eat veggies. Allow them to taste first and show them also how excited you are about enjoying eating butternut or potato. When a child sees how much you are enjoying food that they are afraid to try, they will be more eager to give it a chance. Research shows that a child may need to try a new food as many as ten times before they actually like it. Sounds like hard work? Persevere and don’t give up – your hard work will pay off!

Offer lots of variety to young children and do not force them to eat anything! Research also shows that, given the options, children will eat a balanced diet over time, provided that they are not offered too much junk food! 
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  1. Be a good role model

Children model their eating behaviour from their parents – this is a fact! If you are always on a diet, then your child is most likely to become a dieter too and will worry about becoming fat, often developing guilt around their food. Many young girls watch their mothers obsessing about their weight, always jumping on the scale and trying the Weight Watcher’s, Atkin’s, or Banting diets. These fad diets don’t always work and the fall out is - disappointment, self-hatred and a rotten self-body image. Avoid bad mouthing your body in front of your children as they will carry these types of thoughts throughout their life, some with serious body issues! 
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  1. Watch for foods that pack on calories

Children love chocolate milk, fizzy drinks, hot dogs, chicken nuggets and hot chips – all foods that are either processed, contain artificial sweeteners (or too much sugar!) and unhealthy fats. Fizzy drinks are especially associated with unwanted weight gain. Cut out these types of foods gradually from your child’s diet and encourage them to drink more water, eat fresh fruit and veggies and replace junk food with homemade pizza, chicken wraps, nuts or raisins.

Is your child overweight from a poor diet and too little exercise? In our Feelgood Health range, we have natural remedies for children and teens to safely encourage weight loss. For children, our herbal JuniorSlim helps to support weight loss and encourage healthy digestive functioning. 
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  1. Sit down to regular mealtimes with your children

Make family meal times a rule! Lots of families eat on the go or you’ll often find the kids eating and watching TV, or on their tablets and cellphones while eating.  Meal times should be spent where everyone sits down together, enjoys their meal and shares thoughts and anecdotes about their day. By doing this, you are also encouraging mindful eating and giving your food an opportunity to digest properly.
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  1. Practice portion control

The reason why we have a problem with obesity worldwide is because our food portion sizes are so huge. If you are serving a 6 year old the same size plate as an adult and expecting him or her to finish it, then you are encouraging your child to overeat. Dieticians recommend that you use small bowls, plates and cutlery for toddlers and younger children to eat with. As they get older, put foods like veggies, salad or rice in small bowls and allow them to take a serving.  This will teach your child to understand portion control and take one serving at a time. Best of all, it will also help them to feel independent and “grown up”. 
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  1. Involve the kids

A good way to help kids to develop a healthy relationship with food is to involve them in shopping, preparation and cooking. Educate your children about food sources, what to look for on labels as well as what foods are good to eat for certain parts of the body (teeth, eyes, bones, etc). Grow a veggie or herb garden so that your children can be involved in the planting and picking process. According to research, children who help to grow their own fruit and veggies are more likely to eat them as well as enjoy them right into adulthood.

Let them be the “chef’s assistant” while you are preparing a meal – make the experience fun by kitting your little one out in an apron and chef’s hat and allow them to mix batter or stir a sauce (not hot, please!) . Here you will be teaching them about cooking and eating a healthy, home-cooked meal which they have helped to make from scratch. This fun activity will build self-esteem and a sense of pride – who knows, you may have the next Masterchef on your hands! 
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  1. Don’t use food as rewards

How often do you hear people who are watching their weight saying, “I’ve been good the whole week, so this weekend I’m treating myself to a pizza/slice of chocolate cake/ice-cream”. Food is often used as a reward. As parents, we do this with our children too. “If you stop crying, you can have Macdonald’s”. 
When we offer food as reward to young children, their concept of food and eating often becomes very confused – even, more so as they get older. Your child needs to understand that it is perfectly fine to have treats or sweet things but always in moderation. Of course, practice what you teach, you have to also not reward yourself for good eating behaviour! 
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  1. Don’t force children to eat or to finish everything on their plates 

It is important to allow them to choose when they have had enough to eat so that they regulate their own food intake according to their needs. Also forcing children to eat often sets up power struggles around food that can turn into eating disorders later in adolescence – where children use food as a means of gaining attention and controlling family dynamics. If your child indicates she has had enough or begins to play with food – simply ask if they have finished and then remove the plate! Do not force or bribe them to eat when they are not hungry – and make sure that you do not substitute with junk food!

It may seem difficult but provided you make sure that there are healthy choices in the house and you ‘practice what you preach’ in front of your children, children will usually enjoy a healthy diet. If you have any questions, you are welcome to email them and we will do our best to advise you! 
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