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How to Promote Healthy Eating Without Food Shaming

Updated: May 18, 2022

Mom, dad, son, and daughter are cooking in the kitchen. Happy family concept. Man, woman and little girl observe little boy chop fruits and vegetables to prep for cooking. Healthy lifestyle.

It’s safe to say most parents want the best for their children and hope they grow up to be healthy and free of health problems, especially the ones that can be prevented at home in the kitchen. It is a delicate balance of wanting to show and tell children about healthy eating, and instilling an unhealthy relationship with food. So how can we help teach those healthy eating habits without the risks?

Model Healthy Eating Habits as Best You Can

How does any kid grow up liking or disliking the foods they eat? A big factor is how they model what their parents eat. According to Registered Dietitian Whitney Linsenmeyer, when parents have an unhealthy relationship with food, it tends to affect their children’s eating habits. If a parent’s relationship with food involves worrying about weight or focusing on fad diets, it will be challenging overall to be that role model for healthy eating habits in children.

What to Say Instead of “Just Try It”

As much as parents mean well when they try to introduce different kinds of food to their kids, sometimes their methods are not helpful. According to Psychology Today, the most common phrase parents say when attempting to have their kids try a new food is “just try it and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.” This can create a habit of rejection.

The “No Thank You” bite is another strategy where kids have to try one bite before saying “no thank you.” Parents commonly try this strategy believing that their kids may like the taste of a new food after trying, or at least will learn to practice good manners if they do not.

According to Dina Rose, Ph.D., as parents try to teach their kids about healthy eating and give them encouragement to try new things, this expectation that they need try the food takes away from the child’s willingness to explore and try new foods. In this sense, children can be misguided to only enjoy foods they are used to and comfortable eating like McDonald's happy meals or pizza. Which of course, these foods are not wrong to enjoy as that is also part of the purpose of not food shaming, but as you can see it can take away from enjoying and discovering other healthier foods we’ve grown to appreciate. The key to new food acceptance comes from the way the question asked.

Here are some ideas of what to ask your kids:

  • Taste this and tell me what you think. Is it crunchy?

  • Which of these three spices smell lemony?

  • Is this a little sweet, kind of sweet, or very sweet?

  • Does this need more salt? More garlic?

For more ideas, check out this article from Psychology Today.

Eat Together as a Family as Much as Possible

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the families who eat together at mealtimes have higher-quality diets. Although having the same meal served on everyone’s plate can be helpful, we can’t always expect a child will want to eat what we’re eating. But that’s okay, as these things take time and several attempts sometimes.

Avoid Talking About Weight and Appearance

Again, many parents may mean well, but it’s important to lighten up on how weight-talks are brought up in a conversation, if they’re even brought up. We may not realize it, but conversations around weight can manifest as low-esteem, disordered eating, or unhealthy body image later in life as explained by Jerica Berge, Ph.D. when interviewed by the New York Times.

Don’t Stress Too Much About How Your Kids Eat

We hope for the best, and we want the best for them. As adults, we are learning about our kids just as they are learning about life. It’s important that children eat enough to support their growth and development, however, it is also important to focus on having a happy child that has a healthy mindset and relationship with food. Help them grow confident in their eating habits, remove the pressure of having to eat a specific way, and finally, encourage their sensory exploration beyond taste (which should include food appearance, temperature, texture, aroma, and sound).

Learn more about Wellness Workdays and our wellness program offerings, by downloading our brochure.

Written by: Steven Maldonado, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern



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