Below are some tips and examples of language swaps we can make to create a positive and pressure-free dining experience. Strategies such as these aim to support children in developing their relationship with food and creating healthy eating habits.
What we say can have a significant impact on the way children approach food and respond to mealtimes. Although we may say something with the best intentions, some comments can lead to unwanted outcomes. For instance:
“Can you taste it?” – may create undue pressure and stress for your child. They may now be less inclined to try the meal you’ve spent hours preparing.
“Have three more mouthfuls and then you can leave the table” – may override your child’s innate satiety cues. This can result in children losing touch of their appetite and potentially overeating in future.
“Finish your vegetables and you can have dessert.”- sends the message that dessert foods are better than vegetables and can increase your child’s desire for sweets.
1. Focus on topics other than food
If your child gets quite nervous around mealtimes, especially as they are learning to like new foods, it can be helpful to turn the focus away from the plate in front of them. Bringing up different topics of conversation creates a calm vibe for the meal and reduces the risk of a food fight! It also allows parents to disengage from counting the number of mouthfuls children have eaten or identifying which foods they have and haven’t touched.
Non-food related questions or topics that the family could discuss:
The possibilities are endless. Try to base conversation around topics that your children are interested in.
2. Work through your senses
When children are investigating unfamiliar foods, it is important to establish an environment where they feel safe, secure and supported. It’s best to take things slow and not create any undue pressure, as this could cause children to become fearful of the new food and/or mealtimes in general. As previously discussed in our Top 10 Mealtime Tips Blog, one method of creating a positive environment is to serve small amounts of a new food with safe foods (i.e. foods your child regularly consumes).
Working through the senses is also a great way to empower children to explore the new food and build up to eventually tasting it. This can be done by asking questions such as:
When encouraging children to try new foods, it is important to remember that it takes time to learn and that learning is a spectrum. Children might ignore the new food at first and only eat preferred foods, OR they may touch/lick the food only, and that is ok! Another way to reduce the pressure of exploring new foods is to give children permission to get a little bit messy and not have perfect table manners 100% of the time. For instance, encourage your children to touch and play with the new food to explore the feel and smell. Or if they have worked up to the taste and texture of food, let them know that they “can take a bite and spit it out”.
Negative food talk can influence children into forming a preconceived idea about a particular food without giving themselves a chance to explore it for themselves. If you hear phrases such as “Ew, gross” or “I hate that” from your food explorer or other people at the table (e.g. other siblings), encouraging that person to reframe is a great way to support your child in becoming a more comfortable eater. Reframing can involve creating a sense of neutrality or presenting a sense of future positivity.
When you hear negative food talk again, try reframing with phrases such as:
Another option is to ask them “Why?”. This simple question can encourage descriptive reflection and thereby help you identify any sensory areas that your child might be struggling with. For example, if your child didn’t like carrot raw due to the texture, maybe next time you could try it cooked.
Tips and Reminders for Positive Food Talk
The language we use about food can significantly influence children’s experience at mealtimes and their overall food tolerance. Language can backfire if we accidentally cause pressure. However, when used well, positive food talk can be used to empower children to explore new foods and increase their nutritional variety. Check out the following guide to help identify not-so-helpful comments surrounding food, read some positive food swaps here
Positive Food Talk is an important factor when it comes to supporting your child along their food journey. If you feel you have tried every strategy under the sun and continue to struggle to expand your child’s diet, give us a call at Gen Physio. We have a friendly team of professionals that are dedicated to changing the lives of our clients. All of our clinicians are mobile and come to your own home to conduct an examination. Give us a call on 1300 122 884 to book a consultation today.
Written By Madi Chee
Madi graduated from the Queensland University of Technology with a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics (First Class Honours) in 2018. Throughout placement and work opportunities, Madi has gained experience in a range of areas including weight management, gastrointestinal disorders, chronic health management, enteral nutrition, elderly nutrition and oncology