Having a healthy relationship with food doesn’t always come naturally. Helping your child develop healthy habits at a young age can promote healthy eating for a lifetime, which can reduce their risk for a variety of disordered eating patterns.

What does healthy eating and a healthy relationship with food even look like? With the multiple messages we receive from society on what is “healthy” it can get confusing.

Healthy eating is eating a variety of foods and eating with balance. This means fruits and vegetables, but also the cookie your child is requesting.  A healthy relationship with food means that food, for the majority of the time, is food.

Of course, there are times where food may serve as part of a celebration (think birthday parties) or comfort (providing food to someone who is ill). But, for the majority of the time – food should be seen for what it is meant to be.

As a parent, there are several steps you can take to help your child have a good relationship with food.

4 Ways to Help Your Child Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food

1. Provide Children with an Opportunity to Try a Variety of Food

Regardless if your child decides to try a food or not, provide them with an opportunity to try. It’s important to provide a variety of foods for your child and make sure meals are balanced to include all food groups.

If your child refuses to try a food, don’t turn it into a battle. It takes some kids more than 10 exposures to a food before they may decide to give it a try or make a decision on if they like the food or not. Patience (not battles) is important with this.

2. Encourage Family Meals

Finding time to eat together as a family, especially as kids get older, can be difficult, but it’s worth the effort. Family meals not only provides a time for reconnecting, but a chance for parents to role model healthy eating habits and present new foods.

Research also demonstrates that family’s who dine together have adolescents who are less likely to use drugs/alcohol, have teens that are more likely to graduate high school, and decreases the likelihood that a child/teen will develop an eating disorder.

If family meals during the week are difficult, one strategy is to designate a weekend meal (it doesn’t have to be dinner) to be eaten together as a family.

3. Discourage Distractions While Eating

Having cereal while watching morning cartoons or eating pizza while watching a movie is a common occurrence in many families. While doing this occasionally is okay, making distractions while eating a habit is problematic.

Most people have experienced eating something while watching a movie or TV and then being surprised when the food they are eating is suddenly gone. This is called mindless eating.

The problem this can cause is that a person loses touch with their hunger and fullness. This can easily lead to overeating. Do your best to limit eating while using screens.

4. Be a Good Role Model

The last tip is actually the most important tip in that your kids are watching how you eat and treat food. It’s important that you too are trying new foods and eating balanced. As a parent, you have the strongest influence on your child.

Click here for more content by Heidi Limbrunner, Psy.D., ABPP!

Heidi Limbrunner, Psy. D., ABPP
In her practice, Dr. Limbrunner provides therapy and assessments for children, adolescents and adults with a variety of concerns. Her areas of specialty include eating disorders, body image, Dialectical Behavior (DBT), self-harm, anxiety, depression, and learning issues. She enjoys working with individuals and families to help them reach their goals and focuses on building upon strengths. In working with children, she heavily involves family members in the therapy process.

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