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Dietitian shares tips to give kids a healthy relationship with food

She said: "Don't use coercive techniques to encourage the child to eat, even if it's with praise."

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By Amy Reast via SWNS

A dietitian says parents should never congratulate their child for finishing a meal and avoid labeling foods "bad" or "good."

Chantelle Wardini, 35, listed things parents should do to help their children grow up with a good eating routine and to help them develop a healthy relationship with food.

The mom-of-one explained that impacts of parents' "damaging actions" can last with a child their whole lives - and has seen clients in their 70s and 80s who are still affected by how they were treated in childhood.

Chantelle, a dietitian and exercise physiologist, from Sydney, Australia, said: "I see the impact of traditional parenting styles around eating every day - it can have a long-term effect on how people think about and interact with food."

Little kid refusing to eat healthy food
Dietician Chantelle Wardini says it can take up to 20 exposures to new foods before kids try tasting them. (Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

Chantelle believes it is important for parents to make a variety of different meals and says not praising children when they eat, however much they choose to eat, is vital.

She said: "Don't use coercive techniques to encourage the child to eat, even if it's with praise.

"If a child is a fussy eater the temptation is to say well done whenever they eat a vegetable, but that's actually really unhelpful."

She explained that this teaches the child that eating is a "performative activity done to be rewarded, or for someone else's benefit."

But the long-term impact of this can be serious - leading to people losing the body's natural hunger and fullness cues they are born with.

Chantelle said: "I spend a lot of time helping adults to re-learn this skill.

Happy family enjoying a healthy meal together at home in the kitchen
The dietician recommends serving family meals, not cooking separate foods for adults and children. (ESB Professional via Shutterstock)

"When parents do it, they are well-meaning and as a mom it can be tempting, but it should be avoided."

She also claims parents should never use language that attaches a moral value to food - such as calling foods "good" and "bad" when they are healthy or unhealthy.

She explained that children can internalize those messages - and begin to think if they eat "bad" food, they must be a bad person.

She encourages parents to work with their children to divide responsibilities at mealtimes - put simply, "parent provides, and child decides."

This means the parent's role is to decide what, when and where a child eats, and the child's role is to decide whether they want to eat, and how much of it.

Based on a concept by nutritionist Dr. Ellyn Satter, Chantelle explained that splitting the responsibilities at mealtimes allows a child to retain a sense of autonomy.

She said: "It helps the child to consolidate the idea that their body is their own, and they are the ones who decide what goes into it.

"We learn from primary caregivers about boundaries and if they cross those boundaries it could teach the child that others can too."

She added: "Food is also an area for children where they can have a sense of control in their life when they don't have control over much else.

"Being able to say yes or no here is a big thing for them."

Chantelle's advice was watched by thousands of people on social media.

via GIPHY

One said: "So helpful, and the message at the end is so non-judgmental and kind. Thank you so much for this."

Another commented: "I've done this since my son was four months old and he has a wonderful relationship with food.

"Never picky, knows when full and makes good choices at snack times."

A third added: "As someone who struggles with a toxic relationship with food because of the way it was presented to me as a child - thank you."

Chantelle said: "I honestly never expected many people to watch, and I didn't expect as many positive comments.

"Sometimes it feels like there is resistance to these ideas so it's good to see it's hitting the right crowd on TikTok - people who are invested in change."

Her full list:

  • Serve family meals - don't cook separate foods for adults and children
  • Take your kids out to a restaurant with you - it gets easier the more you do it
  • Model that it's okay to enjoy treat foods
  • Use neutral language when commenting on treat foods - or just don't comment at all
  • Serve treat foods with main meals - don't encourage them to see dessert as a prize for eating your main meal
  • Encourage variety and feed them different options to try
  • Let them self-feed - it gives them a sense of control over their own body
  • Let them play with food - it can take up to 20 exposures to food for them to try tasting it
  • Let them choose what they'd like to eat in situations where you have no control - it tells you so much information about their relationship with food
  • Let them cook with you - when they are older they will understand the value and fun of preparing a nutritious meal
  • Learn about division of responsibility - parent provides, and child decides

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