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How parenting affects the eating behaviors of children – 4 helpful things to improve eating

Healthy Food
4 min read

I am not a parent, nor an expert advisor to parents. I’ve never endured the day-in-day-out of nourishing offspring to the point of adult maturation. In fact, the closest I’ve come would be in watering my kitchen-window microgreens daily.

But it’s safe to say I am an expert in unpacking collected stories of childhood and the (often complex tale) of how we learn to self-nourish, which is what Eat Your Words, my new book, is about. After decades of wrestling with diet and being largely unable to interpret my own hunger cues, I’ve taken (what feels for me) a bold move toward learning to feel physically embodied. And I’ll tell you, it’s not easy to forge mindful eating behaviors this late in the game. So, while I’m not exactly a parent, I have been deep in the diapers of reparenting myself.

While many of us might determine the quality of our child’s eating habits by what they will—or won’t—put on their plate, I’ve learned that embodied eating might have much less to do with what we’re eating than how able we are to relax, receive and connect to sensations like fullness and hunger. While it might be less-than-realistic to get your thirteen-year-old to express heartfelt gratitude for family mealtime or take a deep breath before chowing down, I do believe we can serve as examples for our children.

Without having to nag (or even beg!) a child to expand their palate or practice respectful table manners, you might effectively support fostering a child’s healthy relationship with food by asking yourself the following:

  1. How relaxed are you in your kitchen?

Understandably, we wear lots of hats these days. Getting something on a table for your child can feel like major success some days. But we can still flex certain behaviors to make mealtime peaceful for our children. What are your food-prep habits? Do you take a pause post your high-output work day prior to turning on the heat in the kitchen? Are there practices you can adopt so your child can sense your calm, your own self-compassion?

  1. Is mealtime doubling as the time your kid has to also prove their accountability?

My client who struggled with disordered eating for years shared that, as a child, every night at dinner her father would insist she recount what she’d learned at school that day. The conversation often ended explosively in tears. It is exceedingly important we create a safe, non-invasive environment for our children when they are eating so that they may do the same for themselves as adults.

  1. Is your child learning responsibility at mealtime?

In re-parenting my own eating behaviors, I’ve considered responsibility (respond-plus-ability) as key. Come up with ways for your child to be proactive about their provisions. Teach your kids to cook with you; do dishes together. Show them how to enjoy responsibility by finding ways to enjoy it yourself. Evidently, it takes less time to learn something new when joy is palpable.

  1. Lastly— Sometimes you’ll just have to firmly set the rules dang strait.

Surely your kids are the cutest convincers on planet earth, and while it’s nearly endearing they only want pizza for every meal, be creative and figure out how to get something green in them. We grazed on greens for thousands of mammalian years. It shouldn’t be mission impossible to turn them on to veggies. Blend kale into a smoothie, spiralize zucchini noodles; take on spinach lasagna Sunday together. Remember, the fragrances floating in your kitchen today will be the comfort food of their tomorrow.

Isabel Chiara is an Actualization Life Coach and Author whose just-released book, Eat Your Words, is the punchy story of a first-generation Italian American woman on a quest of self-nourishment. Receive the first chapter free here!

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