Creating a Supportive Feeding Environment
- We can’t make our children eat anything but we can support them in developing healthy habits.
- The way we feed our children is as important as what we feed them
- Use language that helps support healthy eating behaviours.
The family feeding environment that surrounds a child has an enormous influence on establishing and promoting eating behaviours that will persist throughout life. A feeding environment that supports children to recognise and respond to their hunger and fullness cues will equip them with valuable skills to help them look after their bodies. Family routines and availability of healthy food is an important foundation for developing healthy eating habits. See ‘Is my child a healthy weight?’ for further information about healthy family routines.
Say what? Using language to support children in responding to their hunger and fullness
What we say about food and eating influences what and how much our children eat. Think about the words that could help a child take more notice of their hunger and fullness.
|Phrases that hinder||Phrases that help|
|Eat your vegetables and you can have dessert.||You can crunch the carrots.|
|Eat that for me or I will be mad.||You can see what’s inside the snow peas.|
|If you sit quietly, I’ll give you a lolly.||You can mash the potato with your fork.|
|You won’t like that.||You can hear the capsicum snap.|
|Phrases like these teach children to eat for reasons other than hunger (for approval or to get preferred foods)||Phrases like these teach children to explore the sensory aspects of food without feeling pressure to eat.|
But…. they won’t eat it!
You may think that offering food that your child doesn’t usually eat is wasteful and will result in a battle. However, simply the process of offering foods previously rejected sends some important messages - including that you believe they will eat it one day and that there is no ‘special’ meal for them. Offer small amounts and don’t pressure them to try it. You might be surprised. Plus, they definitely won’t learn to eat it if it’s not on their plate.
Language to help establish healthy eating behaviours
What we say about food and eating has a big influence on the way children eat, including how willing they are to try new, or less-preferred foods. Some of the things we say may not be teaching our children what we want them to learn. Think about the words you could use to help your child/children be more curious and adventurous with new foods.
For more information and tips for establishing healthy eating behaviours, see ‘Is my child a healthy weight?’
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If you are concerned about your child’s food intake, eating behaviours, growth or nutrition-related health, contact a GP, paediatrician or Accredited Practising Dietitian who can provide a comprehensive assessment that considers your child’s medical history, eating patterns including mealtime experiences, physical activity and genetic factors.
Find an Accredited Practising Dietitian with experience in infant and child growth - https://dietitiansaustralia.org.au/find-an-apd/