Sarah Almond Bushell, a leading Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist on the Zoono Family Panel, an initiative that supports the wellbeing of families, offers her advice on ‘positive food parenting’ – encouraging children to enjoy their food and eat healthily.
What is food parenting?
Food parenting is essentially what you teach your children about food and nutrition. Sometimes without even realising, we will share knowledge, beliefs and behaviours around food with our children. This can have both a positive and negative affect on how our children respond to different food at mealtimes.
Why is food parenting important?
With the support of clever food parenting techniques, we can encourage children to try a variety of foods, appreciate when to stop eating and enjoy the overall experience. The following ideas will help to develop your positive food parenting style and avoid things like fussy eating, overeating and unhealthy mealtime habits.
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TIPS FOR PARENTING AROUND FOOD
- Eat Together
Children learn by watching their parents and mealtimes are no exception. Mealtimes together are a time when you can bond and build relationships but eating together also has several health benefits. Several studies have shown that eating as a family reduces the risk of unhealthy weight gain. In fact, one interesting survey found that children aged 9 to 14 who ate dinner with their families had more fruits and vegetables – and less soda and fried foods – in their diets.
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You’ll also be able to see what your child is eating (and they won’t be able to feed their vegetables to the dog under the table under your watchful eye!).
- Lead by Example
If you don’t like a certain food, it’s likely that your child will develop the same dislike for that food as they’ll have watched you avoid it during mealtimes. If you don’t eat certain vegetables, how can you expect your child to do the same?
Avoid negatively talking about certain foods that you don’t like. For example, “I hate eating green bean”’, or “I’m not a big fan of tomatoes”. Children will quickly pick up on this and develop a negative association with these foods.
- Serve Food ‘Family Style’
This is a style of serving where you place all the components of a meal separately in the middle of the table and encourage everyone in the family to help themselves. Children are given a sense of autonomy over what food choices they make. If they decide they don’t want to eat something, that’s OK. Simply having it on the table will start their sensory acceptance of that food. By seeing it and smelling it, they will start to recognise the food and make progress towards wanting to try it in the future. Family style serving teaches children to make appropriate portion size choices according to their appetite.
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- Get Creative in the Kitchen
For so many children, the appeal of food is extremely visual. If a meal doesn’t look nice, it’s unlikely that they’re willing to give it a try. Have fun with how food is presented – Take advantage of all the different colours that a variety of fruit and vegetables present, make food fun by creating faces or animals on the plate – fun helps young children learn about food.
Something as simple as switching boring white plates and bowls to vibrant, colourful serving platters, can also do the trick.
- Have a Routine
If children are coming to the table already full from their last snack, they’re unlikely to want to engage in food at their core mealtimes. Children should have three larger meals a day, plus two snacks in between, leaving about two-and-a-half to three hour gap in between.
If your child is eating more regularly than this, they may not start to learn important appetite cues and know when they’re hungry or full up.
Finally, enjoy the experience. If your child can see how much you love food, they’re more inclined to do the same. By seeing your positive response to food, they will follow your lead, which will make mealtimes a fun and happy experience for the whole family.
About Sarah Almond Bushell, MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA
Sarah Almond Bushell is a Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist with over 20 years of NHS and private practice experience of working with families. She is also currently the nutritional expert on the Zoono Family Panel, an initiative that supports the wellbeing of families through advice from a leading panel of experts.
Sarah has a master’s degree in feeding, a post graduate diploma and an Undergraduate Degree in Nutrition & Dietetics and is also an SOS trained feeding therapist. This means she can put both ‘what you eat’ and ‘how you feed’ your children together in her advice.
Weaning babies, managing fussy eaters, improving diets with healthy eating advice, food allergies, constipation, weight issues and diabetes are among the areas of eating where Sarah offers her support. She also teaches ‘food parenting’, which is how you act around food and your children to ensure they grow up to have a positive relationship with food.
A mum of two herself, Sarah is also an NHS Consultant and a member of the British Dietetic Association.