How to Teach Kids About Food

Me at nine years old.
With child obesity becoming such a growing problem, it is no wonder that there is a current push to teach children about food.  I think teaching kids how to eat healthier is all well and good.  However, I have also heard well-intentioned parents make the association between food and "fatness" to their children.  My personal belief is that that is harmful and unnecessary.

I was the "fat" kid growing up.  I still remember that someone had nicknamed me Miss Piggy.  I had very little self-esteem and it took many years for me to develop self-worth.  I loved food and the worst I felt about myself, the more I ate.  Eventually, I got myself together and lost all the weight. However, to this day, I still struggle to accept myself for who I am physically.  Even though I am at a very healthy weight, I still worry about being "fat."

I do not want that for my daughters.  And that is why I work very hard as a parent to NOT associate food with fatness. As crazy as I am about my daughters eating healthy, it has little to do with my concern about them being "fat."  My husband and I have gone as far to teach our six-year-old that you only use the word "fat" to refer to animals and never to people.  In our house, "fat" is a bad word.

So how do I teach my six-year-old about eating healthy and exercise?  I tell her the truth. Eating the right foods and exercise keeps you healthy.  And when I say healthy, that is NOT my code word for thin.  There are many thin people who are unhealthy just as there are some "chubby" people that are very healthy.  Healthy means that you are getting the appropriate nutrients through food and liquids so that your body functions optimally and fights off illness and disease.

Here are some things that I might tell my daughter:

 "Eat your blueberries because they make you smart." (Studies have shown that blueberries have certain properties that help improve your memory)
"Your immune system are the super heroes in your body that fight off the bad guys such as colds, coughs, fevers.  Sugar makes your super heroes weak."
"Too much sugar can ruin your teeth and then you might get cavities and the dentist may need to give you a shot to fix them."
"Eat your salad.  The veggies in them keeps your super heroes strong."
"Drink your milk, it keeps your bones strong."
"Go outside and play.  All that running around will keep your heart and lungs working great."

My daughter today.
Because we eat so many fresh fruits and vegetables and not too much of the bad stuff, it is no surprise that we are all at a healthy weight (weight for our bodies to function optimally, not some unrealistic idea of skinny).  And if the grandparents decide to give my six-year-old two pieces of chocolate cake, I don't sweat it.  If we as a family focus on eating the right types of foods on a daily basis for the purpose of fighting off illness and disease, the secondary effect is that we will stay at a healthy weight as well.  That is the reason I believe it is unnecessary to tell kids that if you do not eat right, it will make you fat.  Because then the focus becomes on their appearance instead of the things that really matter such as their love for God, their intelligence, their kindness, their strength, and their health.  They will have enough bombardment from television, school, and their peers about their appearance that they do not need that message from home as well.

Although my daughter does notice that some people are "jolly" and others are "small" as she says it, she does not yet associate food as being the reason why they are that way.  I am sure that through school and her friends eventually she will realize that, but we hope that by that point she has developed good enough eating habits and a love for a great varieties of foods that her primary concern will be about how food affects her ability to function.  We want her to think, "I can't have a donut because I feel a cold coming on and I want my immune system working great," instead of "I can't have a donut because it is going to make me fat."

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