• Food, especially unhealthful food, shouldn't be used as a reward. The common incentive used by parents "Eat your vegetables, so you can have dessert" clearly communicates to children that vegetables are to be avoided and desserts are to be desired.
• Food should not be used as a punishment either. Taking away dessert as discipline teaches kids that dessert is the prize.
• Labeling a food as "bad" can cause children to feel guilty or bad themselves when they eat it. Instead label unhealthful foods "sometimes foods," as they really are the foods we should eat only sometimes.
• Unhealthful foods shouldn't be labeled "treats" either. Wouldn't it be great if our kids perceived a delicious ripe peach or a slice of summer watermelon as a treat?
• A child forced to eat may not learn what it feels like to be hungry or full, or how to listen to his body. Sometimes kids are not hungry. That's okay. Don't then force them to eat five more bites.
• Teaching children that a holiday or celebration is about spending time with friends, participating in a fun activity or being active together, instead of simply consuming a lot of food and drink, is an important message. When our kids are teenagers and win a sports championship, or when they are adults and receive a promotion, we hope they will understand that celebrating does not need to be focused on excessive consumption of food and drink.
It is best not to deny unhealthy foods, but rather keep them to a minimum. Kids can learn that some foods are better for nourishment and make you feel good. School gardens and kitchens where kids participate in cooking their food have come a long way to help in this regard; start doing these activities at home as well. When we learn our healthy eating habits at a young age, it is much easier to continue them as adults. Teaching kids healthy eating patterns lay the foundation for a healthier society!
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