First things first: Listen up! Even though your child didn’t say anything, they might be feeling a bit icky after that last trip to McDonalds. You yourself can hear what they feel through their stomach growls and their breaths. Sometimes, it isn’t as simple to decode, which is why we need to teach children how to listen to their own bodies.

In most circumstances, children are direct byproduct of their diet and activities. In the United States, the eating habits of children are considered unhealthy. For example, the Bogalusa Heart Study in the US showed that the majority of 10 year olds exceeded the American Heart Association dietary recommendations for total fat, saturated fat and dietary cholesterol (Nicklas, 1995).

As children grow, their bodies are more durable to their environments. This can be good and bad, as their cues for hunger and fullness seem to blend together. The confusion of what they feel makes it difficult to feel what damage is being done to their bodies. For example, serving large portions of grains and sugar can numb these senses and cause overeating. This especially applies to children, as their bodies are more adaptable to what they are eating.

You can tell if your child has had too much to eat if they are sluggish and bloated half an hour after their meal. Isn’t this relatable? When a child is over-active and non-compliant, we tend to think this is how the child is naturally. However, these behaviors are impacted by their diet. A child might not know why they are throwing a tantrum or feeling extra sleepy. Knowing how we feel isn’t a built-in skill that we are born with. Kids need to be taught what their feelings are and what they mean.

For instance, they need to learn the differentiation between hunger and thirst. Children tend to listen more when you speak to them in a language they understand. Be involved in testing their learning abilities audibly, visually, and kinesthetically to see which works best for them. You can then find activities to teach them about their bodies accordingly. This can be through songs, puzzles, crafts, etc. This site is a great source for such activities.

Avoid using sugary treats as incentives for your kids, as this can get them into a habit of eating when they are not hungry. Punishing them by taking away treats can be damaging as well as it creates more value for less healthy foods. This can also confuse them of when they should and should not be eating. You can prevent your child from overeating or eating out of boredom by serving small portions at a time, taking water breaks in between. The standard for a healthy diet is having three well-proportioned meals per day.

Keeping snacks designed for children at a distance is always a safe bet. If it is packaged, it doesn’t matter if its dyed and processed or it looks like the real thing. It’s guaranteed to be less healthy than making something fresh for your child. There are a lot less variables for curbing or expanding your child’s appetite since you don’t put chemicals and preservatives in your own cooking, (at least we hope not)!

Simple tips on how to teach your child about good eating habits:

  • Look for simple recipes to make with your child. Let them decide what they want to make once in a while so it doesn’t feel like a chore.
  • Use colorful measuring cups to teach your kids about portion control and encourage them to serve themselves. Let them serve some more if they are still hungry. The cups help you learn what your child’s general intake is as well.
  • Get your child in the habit of drinking a cup of water before each meal and setting their utensils down between each bite.
  • Ask your child how they feel before and after their meal. If they are tired, sluggish, or cranky, this is an indication of an imbalance in their diet.
  • Avoid incentives or punishments regarding what they eat. This can lead them to thinking dessert is of higher quality than healthier options. Instead, reward them with quality time and attention.
  • Learn how to talk to your child in a way they understand. Most children respond better to love rather than fear.
  • Finally, set a good example by listening to your own body and take care of yourself. You were a child once, and you are your child’s greatest influence; you have the potential to be their own personal superhero.