Tips for Talking About Food to Children
Focus on teaching:
- Where our food comes from and how it looks before it gets to the grocery store, in our home, or on our plate! (e.g. peas are grown in pods, grapes grow on a vine, etc.)
- That it is good to eat a variety of foods (e.g. a variety of colourful vegetables and fruit)
- That it is good to keep trying different vegetables and fruit since it can take many tries before we like the taste
- Food skills (see the Cook It Up badge) to increase children’s ability and confidence in preparing a variety of vegetables and fruit
Keep the focus away from body weight:
- Children’s growth patterns vary greatly which makes the assessment of a ‘healthy body weight’ tricky, and appropriate only for health care professionals. As such, measuring or monitoring of body weights by school staff is not appropriate. It is also not wise to instruct students to measure their own body weight (or calculating their Body Mass Index – BMI) as this tool requires specialized knowledge and expertise to apply and interpret (especially with children).
- Children learn by example. If adults make positive comments about their own and others’ personality traits, skills, abilities and accomplishments (rather than body weight/shape), children are likely to focus on the positive aspects of others as well.
- Teach students that healthy people come in a variety of shapes and sizes
- Avoid teaching information about eating disorders, and facts about the dangers of dieting and ideal body types, which may unintentionally glamourize disordered eating. Introduce students to diverse images of beauty and focus on health for all.
Remember that children may have limited control over what gets packed in their lunch:
- It is important not to comment (positively or negatively) on what a student has in their lunch, especially without knowing the context of why certain food items have been included. Assessing a child’s dietary intake is outside the scope of educators.
- Drawing negative attention to a child’s lunch can isolate children from their peers and damage their self-esteem, causing them to feel shame. It can also cause them to question the competence of their parent/caregiver to feed them properly.
- Positive attention for children having ‘healthier’ items in their lunch can have unintended consequences as children may learn to eat certain foods in order to receive praise. Other children, not receiving positive attention for their lunch may feel shame if they have limited access (e.g. related to food insecurity) to ‘healthier’ choices.
- It is important not to comment on how much a child is eating (or not eating) from their lunch. Children (and adults) should follow their internal signals of hunger and fullness and not eat more or less as a result of external pressures.
- Using the tips above under Focus on teaching will help foster a healthy relationship with food which is crucial to developing eating competence and lifelong healthy eating habits