Creating a healthy relationship with food for your child

Published by



What does a “healthy relationship with food” mean to you?

Have you ever sat and thought about your relationship with food? Do you ever feel guilty for eating something or for taking a second or third helping? Do you ever reward yourself with food? 

​Things many of us were taught as children: 
” You have to eat everything on your plate”
“Just a few more bites”
“If you try _____ you can have ______”
“No dessert until you eat everything on your plate”

I can remember countless nights sitting at the table in front of a cold plate of food that I either didn’t like or was too full to eat. In our home, my parents’ rule was you weren’t allowed to leave the table until you’ve finished everything on your plate. There were more than a few long long nights where I sat at the table trying to finish the food in front of me. By no means was I a picky eater, but there were certain foods that I just didn’t like. I am the second eldest of 4 children, so I’m sure money was tight and in the minds of my parents, food was not to be wasted. Studies now show that by forcing children to “clean” their plates meaning, eat everything on their plate, it enforces overeating. Over time, you stop listening to those fullness cues and your new “full” starts to become what “stuffed” should be. This causes you to no longer know what comfortably full is. In this way, finishing or cleaning your plate becomes ingrained which can lead to over eating, weight issues, a poor relationship with food, as well as other health challenges over time. 


Distractions at meal times 
Now a days, there are several distractions and we live in ever increasing fast paced lifestyle. Distractions that may come into play during meal times include cell phones, tablets, ipads, television, books, laptops, to name a few. How many of us eat at the kitchen table away from all these distractions? I’ll admit, in our household we are often guilty of eating in front of the tv. What happens when you have distractions during meal times? Well, studies have shown that portions tend to be larger and fullness cues when distractions are present, may be muted which can lead to over eating. When our fullness cue is ignored, we begin to build the habit of over eating. When eating in front of a tv, several participants in the study couldn’t even remember what they ate. This disconnection with hunger and fullness over time becomes a problem and can lead to obesity as well as other weight related challenges. 

“If you eat all your broccoli you can have dessert”. Food based reward systems, whether it’s bribery or using food like desserts as a reward, can unintentionally build an unhealthy emotional connection with food. How many of you remember getting a lollipop after getting an immunization at the doctors office, or if you scraped your knee you were comforted with a bandaid, a hug and a popsicle or ice cream? In doing this, you unknowingly created a “learned behaviour”, meaning, food has becomes tied to these emotions of sadness or pain. Another example is after a good grade on a report card or a test being rewarded by getting to go out for ice cream. Or, scoring the winning goal in a sport your rewarded with a slurpee or dinner out. These emotions of pride or accomplishment are now tied to food as well. It’s amazing how ingrained they can become. By choosing non-food rewards you can help your children have a healthier relationship with food. And by modelling this behaviour ourselves, we may re-learn how to have a healthy relationship with food. If you find you’re bribing your child to eat their meals it might be beneficial to work with a dietitian to help work through this challenge in a healthy way. If your are interested in learning how to remove bribery from meals click here to book an appointment with one of our registered dietitians. 

Examples of non-food rewards:

  • going to the movies 
  • going on a bike ride 
  • going to the park 
  • having a bubble bath
  • buying a new candle or bouquet of flowers 
  • picking out a new toy or stickers 
  • doing an activity you enjoy like bowling, mini golf, laser tag ​

Meal times SHOULD be:

  • relaxed 
  • free from pressure
  • free of bribery 
  • free of yelling or arguing 
  • enjoyable 
  • fun 
  • no longer than 30 minutes 
  • eaten at the kitchen table 
  • conversation based
  • a safe, comfortable space 
  • distraction free
  • ​a time to connect with your loved ones

If you find meal times a challenge and aren’t sure where to start when it comes to building a healthier relationship with food for your family, click here to book an appointment with one of our registered dietitians.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: