Do you want kids to be healthy eaters? The words you use at the table have a huge impact on you – ABC News | Directory Mayhem

The secret of healthy eating lies in the power of words and the magic of connection. It’s about rethinking the usual sorting of food based on terms like “healthy” and “unhealthy”. It’s a look outside the box at the relationship we have with food.

Eating health education has become rigid with food and diet rules. Healthy plates, food groups and portion sizes dominate. This nutrition-centric dialogue is confusing and complex for children to learn. It totally overestimates their understanding of food.

The “health” of healthy eating is so much more than what we eat. It is our connection and relationship with food. It’s about inclusivity, culture and traditions. They are the words we use to describe food.

Try a new food vocabulary

Language is the essential ingredient for a supportive relationship with food.

In education, food is often referred to as healthy, unhealthy, everyday food, sometimes food or junk food. These words narrow the focus on ideals of health and morals. They encourage judgment and negative nutritional beliefs.

Positive messages about food improve healthy eating habits. These shape our eating experiences.

Adults can start by simply calling foods by their names: an apple is just an apple, not a healthy apple or an everyday food.

Children also thrive when learning is practical and concrete. They are natural body-based learners. We must take advantage of this when eating. Exploring food through your senses is the perfect entry point to learning about food.

How to Pick the Best Fruits and Vegetables, with Analiese Gregory.

The senses are the gateway to a world of language and discovery. Children can explore and describe the shape, texture and taste of food. They can get to know food by touch and smell.

Children not only expand their vocabulary, but also improve their cognitive skills, build literacy skills and understanding. They will develop a positive association with food as they immerse themselves in this active learning.

Design the dining environment through connection

We all want children to eat healthily, and we use all sorts of tactics to make that happen.

Food conversation at the table can be a minefield of describing food, giving directions, asserting control, or giving positive praise. Here, words can either influence or disempower. And less is more.

Yes, fewer words about the food. Less compulsion or encouragement to eat two more bites or finish the plate. Less praise for eating the whole broccoli.

The strength lies in the shared experience: preparing and eating together. Connection via correction wins every time.

Rather than trying to correct kids on what to eat and how much, allow time to connect with others. They will learn through osmosis by observing and eating with adults and their peers.

These real food scenarios are authentic and purposeful. This is where the magic of learning to eat happens. A positive role model function supports healthy eating behavior in the long term.

Learn about the happy chemicals that are released when we eat together with Alice Zaslavsky.

We need to be aware that the pressure to eat can cause stress and anxiety related to food.

Providing a calm environment will prepare children for success at mealtimes. Positive interactions with food through shared experiences at home and at school are key.

Eating is social time, just as it is about nutrition.

Provide food trust

Providing food experiences away from the table inspires and builds children’s confidence.

Children are naturally curious. Teachers and parents can be supportive by being curious themselves. Make food interesting and fun!

Children can describe food like a chef; do kitchen science experiments and cook where they can see how food changes and transforms; or plant mysterious seeds and see what they grow.

Adults can encourage children’s curiosity by asking questions and helping children make food meaningful in their everyday world.

Bananas too green, coffee too bitter, biscuits too hard? Check out these chemistry inspired food tricks!

Learning needs to be expanded beyond the prescribed food group sorting activities.

Children can explore food based on themes such as food systems, environment and sustainability. You can research and ask with community-based projects to build food knowledge and skills.

Positive associations with food boost the eater’s self-confidence. Meaningful food experiences and curious conversations nourish the minds and bodies of the children in our care.

Kelly Fullerton is an experienced elementary school teacher and child nutritionist. She has a passion for positive nutrition education in elementary schools. Kelly currently works as a physical education teacher and education consultant to provide nutrition-conscious education to school communities and the education sector.

Visit ABC Education for curriculum-aligned Food resources and activities.

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