From the moment you wean them onto purees, feeding your child becomes a daily challenge. They’ll love a food one day and hate it the very next. It gets thrown on the floor, at the walls and frequently stuffed down the side of the couch, and the worse thing is you just have to let it happen. Children get to grips with the concept of food by getting messy with it, and it can be hard to relinquish that control when it means lovingly home-cooked meals go to waste and an hour is spent cleaning stains off the lino. But relinquish that control you must! If children begin to feel a loss of control when it comes to what they’re eating, their health can very quickly become affected. 

Image credit: Unsplash

Image credit: Unsplash

Here are several things you must avoid if you want your children to maintain a healthy outlook on eating.

1. Forcing them to eat certain foods

Nearly everyone on the planet has a certain food they don’t like or won’t even try. For children, the list is usually, admittedly, longer, but that doesn’t mean you should use threats or punishment - or even bribery - to make them eat. This can lead to a need to control their eating as they get older, which often results in anorexia or even a rare condition called ARFID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder) where sufferers are unable to eat anything apart from a very short list of foods. If they are refusing to eat fruit or vegetables, for example, try offering them the offending food under new circumstances. Make it a game, or introduce it at snack time. Sometimes children are much more likely to try new foods when they are in play mode. Taking them to a greengrocers or even just the supermarket can also be an opportunity for them to pick out interesting looking foods - foods which they are more likely to eat if they have chosen them.

2. Forcing them to finish meals

You don’t know how hungry your child is, nor do you really know what is the right size portion for them. You can only guess. So if your child is refusing to eat anymore, they may well be full. Nobody likes eating when they are stuffed, so forcing them to eat more than they’re able is just going to make them associate eating with feeling sick. Perhaps they are refusing to finish a meal because they don’t like what’s on their plate, or are otherwise behaving rebelliously. In this case, all you can do is remove the food from them and try again later. Or even at a later date. Your child isn’t going to starve as long as they aren’t refusing food throughout the day.

3. Restricting food as a punishment

Never restrict your children’s food unless they are a) gaining weight with unhealthy rapidity or b) eating a lot of sugary and/or salty foods. Sending your child to bed without supper or refusing them a snack because of bad behaviour leads to a habit of secret eating which they are likely to take into adulthood. Good behaviour is hard to sustain as a child, because of the height of their curiosity, their need for creative expression and their need for exercising gross motor skills among other things. Not to mention the fact that children have low empathy and little willpower. There are other ways of teaching discipline to your child without resorting to taking away their basic human needs. 

4. Using food as appeasement

Using food as a way of pacifying an upset child is a surefire way of teaching them emotional eating. It’s ok to give your child treats every now and then, but it’s best that children associate those treats with an occasion rather than as an aspect of their behaviour. If your child starts associating pain, sadness or frustration with eating, any issues that they may have mental or physical health wise in the future will be exacerbated by their need to snack as an emotional crutch.

5. Talking about body fat and weight in front of them

It is never too early to start watching your language in front of children, and we’re not just talking obscenities. Avoid complaining about your body and using words like “fat” and “skinny” in a negative context in front of them. One reason why this is important is that saying things like “big boy/girl”, “Look at his/her chubby little legs”, “Oh, you are getting heavy” among other things are commonplace as positive comments when a child is young. When you start to use that language to describe yourself and attribute negative emotions, your child will start to think that their baby fat is a bad thing that needs to go. Yes, your child may have body issues when they get to adolescence, but you can reduce the likelihood of this by maintaining a positive self-image when you’re around them (even if you have to fake it).

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6. Teaching them that certain foods are bad

We all want our children to be healthy, but labelling foods as good and bad is the worst way of teaching healthy eating to your child. The tried and tested food pyramid is one of the best methods of showing your child what their diet should look like. With fruit and veg providing the biggest portions and sweet treats as the lowest. All foods are healthy in the right portions.

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