When you were a kid, your nutritional education was probably fairly straightforward. Eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, drink enough water, and don’t eat candy with every meal.
But as you grew up, you, like me, found that nutrition is rarely so simple.
And, as we grew up, the food industry changed. Sugar started creeping into foods that it wouldn’t normally be in.
Fruits and vegetables grew more expensive. And there are now so many “water enhancement” products on the market that it seems like even our water has to be sugar-coated.
All of this makes talking about nutrition a little trickier. But it also makes it much more important, especially if you have kids.
And though it’s not as simple as it used to be, there are a few ways you can make it easier when you talk to your children about nutrition. Here are a few simple tips to get you started on explaining nutrition to your kids.
Keep the Conversation Focused
One of the biggest pitfalls you’ll face when you talk to your kids about nutrition is that the topic is so vast. Nutrition touches so many parts of our lives, from our health to our appearance and beyond.
So, when you talk to your kids about it, you’ll need to keep the conversation focused.
The best focus is on the way nutrition will impact their health. Focusing the conversation on weight or appearance sends a message that the way your children look is more important than whether or not they are healthy. And that is not a message that anyone —especially a child—needs to hear.
Instead, focus the conversation on the way certain foods will give them lots of energy to play or do the things they like to do.
This is a really good way to highlight the differences between healthy food and high-sugar food. You can explain that healthy foods—those with fiber, protein, healthy fat, vitamins, and other important nutrients—will give them more energy than junk food.
You can also demonstrate to them through your words and your actions that healthy food can be just as delicious as unhealthy food. This can help you introduce ways to eat less sugar, which shows your kids that a yummy treat doesn’t have to be a sugary, unhealthy treat.
For instance, try serving your kids a delicious and light fruit salad for dessert instead of a pan of sugar-filled brownies.
And instead of giving them cookies or processed snack bars in their lunchboxes, give them whole fruit or healthy granola bars (the kind where you recognize and can pronounce all of the ingredients on the ingredient list!).
Your children may ask about other topics pertaining to nutrition, like whether certain foods will make them gain weight.
This will usually happen if other people have already talked to your children about nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight, or if they see something on TV about weight gain or loss.
If this happens, you can gently guide the conversation back to health. Simply saying something like, “Yes, some foods can make you gain weight, but we’re more worried about keeping our bodies healthy,” can get the focus back on health.
Focus on the Fun
In addition to staying focused on health over body image, try to focus your conversation on the fun side of nutrition. This can include interesting recipes that your kids can help you make, or it can focus on all of the fun outdoor activities that nutritious foods will let them try.
You can also use nutrition as a treat if your child already has certain nutritional habits you want to work on.
If you go out to do something the child likes, bring a nutritious snack along with you. Instead of stopping for ice cream or some other kind of sweet, make a big deal about having a nutritious picnic before the day’s activities are over.
There are even ways to get your kids involved at the grocery store so they find fun throughout the whole healthy-eating process!
Let them pick out a new fruit or vegetable they aren’t familiar with, and find ways to work it into your daily menu. Or, let them pick a recipe and pull the ingredients from the shelves so they feel even more connected to the healthy meal they chose.
Admit That You Don’t Know Everything
As adults, we want to have all of the answers for the kids in our lives. After all, didn’t the adults have all of the answers when we were kids?
Unfortunately, that’s just not possible. And it turns out, admitting that you’re wrong—or that you don’t know something—is actually a good thing.
When it comes to nutrition, admitting you don’t have all of the answers opens up a lot of ways for you and your child to learn together. You can research the information and come back to your child with the answers, showing them that you remembered their concerns.
Or you can do the research together, so you can help them understand the information as they find it. In addition to learning new information on nutrition, you’ll teach your child that you’re there for them if they don’t understand something.
These are great ways to build life-long communication between you and your child that goes well beyond nutrition.
Nutrition is complicated, but talking to your kids about it doesn’t have to be.
The important thing to remember is that this conversation—like any other Big Topics you and your child discuss—not only gives them information but also sets the tone for how they will communicate with you.
Keep the conversation focused and put a pin in anything else they bring up so you can come back to it later. Don’t guess at your answers, but instead admit that you don’t know. Then come back to them with answers or, better yet, search them out together.
Your child’s nutrition is important to you. And, depending on their age, they might not even know how important it should be to them.
As long as you keep the conversation focused, fun, and open, they’ll soon see the importance of eating healthy foods. And, with a little luck, they’ll learn that their parents are always there when they want to talk.