Well it’s not easy
Kids are wonderful little creatures. They trip through life with boundless energy and creativity, unencumbered by grown-up worries. Little marvels of nature. Let’s keep them that way.
There is a lot of nutrition information circulating your world. It could come from the media, your friends, books and even school. After you take it all in, you still have to figure out if it’s fact of fiction. Hello, stress. It can be overwhelming and frustrating. We don’t want to put that burden on kids. However, providing them with an understanding about nutrition may help them navigate that minefeild later in life.
When talking to younger kids about food, these are a few guidelines I like to follow:
- Avoid labeling food “good” or “bad”
- Be honest
- Remain positive
- Stay connected
- Keep an open mind – life at home, you don’t know everything
Avoid labeling foods “good” or “bad”
That should be the standard for a lot of nutrition education. I think we can agree: kids aren’t very good at nuance. They like things to be one or the other, all or nothing. Superheros and villians. It’s easier to understand. Becuase of this, they might not remember anything you say after labeling a food good or bad.
You might say, ” Cake is bad when you eat it all the time.” or “Vegetables are good but you should eat other foods too.” They are going to stop listening after they hear that definitive GOOD or BAD.
So try not to make foods into superheros or villians. You don’t want kids (or adults) thinking that it’s healthy to only eat vegetables and turn down birthday desserts.
” Why are oranges orange? Are the eggs we eat baby chickens? What happens to milk after it comes out of the cow? Why is candy bad for me? Why is spinach good for me?” Many kids like asking questions. And they definitely aren’t monitoring their queries to what they need to know.
When questions about food come up, and you know the answer, say it! Explain it to the best of your ability. Even if it’s confusing at first. I promise you that the kid will be a lot more confused if you stretch the truth, give a partial answer or make something up. Additionally, if you don’t know the answer, say that! There’s no shame in not knowing. Then you can both look it up and gain some sweet nutrition knowledge together.
The world is a scary place. We don’t want to add fear of food into the mix. When explaining nutrition and why it’s important to eat healthy food, try to avoid catastrophizing.
“We don’t eat candy all day becuase it has sugar. Sugar doesn’t give us a lot of energy and it doesn’t keep our bodies strong like other foods do. That’s why we can’t only eat candy.”
That sounds a lot less scary than:
“If you eat too much candy, you will get sick and all your teeth will fall out.”
It also helps to lump yourself into the mix. Use plural first person pronouns like ‘we’ to make it less of a threat and more of a group activity. And this is a good time to Be Honest with what you know and what you need to figure out. One last thing: there’s no such thing as a perfect diet. There’s no pass/fail when it comes to nutrition. We are all doing our best to eat in ways that help our body. That’s the goal: to do our best.
Humans like patterns. We fall into the same conversations everyday. We have an automatic answer for almost every concievable question. It’s convenient, but in order to cultivate understanding in a child, it’s important to stay present. Fortunately, we can use another very human, very powerful tool: empathy.
Connecting with a kid about what they like and how they feel can really improve your explanation game. It can also forge a connection between an individual and nutrition. They like to play soccer and dance? Eating a variety of foods can give you energy and strength to do these activities. They’re really into cars and trucks? Those machines require fuel to get things done, just like your body needs food to power up. Using a kid’s interests to explain healthy eating will keep them engaged and may improve their comprehension.
Keep an open mind.
Young lives are just as unique as old ones. We can’t know what children are feeling or thinking. We might not know what happens at home or the food offered in schools. Accepting that we don’t know everything is an important part of adulthood. All we can do is remain kind and open.
Thank you for reading these guidelines.
I hope that it helps you to convery the importance of healthy eating to any curious creature in your life, young or old.