Talking to kids about nutrition can be a tricky thing. My policy has always been to let the kids take the lead in this endeavor. I’ve shied away from making every conversation in the kitchen about food and nutrition–for obvious reasons.
But lately, the girls have had some good questions, self-made connections and some good experiences, and I thought I’d share some of these with you.
Talking with Kids about Nutrition & Feeling Fit
“I feel really fit,” my 15 year-old G said when I picked her up after a 3-hour volleyball practice (yes, that’s right, three hours). “Why do you think that is?” I said. “I guess this exercise keeps me in shape–I like how I feel.”
That prompted an impromptu discussion about exercise as a great way to keep your body healthy, which extended into how she often wants to study after she exercises, stating “My brain feels ready to study.”
And she hasn’t even read Spark (a great book on exercise and brain function)! G is at the age of connections, but she’s also at the age of rebellion, knowing everything under the sun, and wanting to make her own decisions.
I think it’s helpful for teens to make their own connections between eating, fitness and strength. Rather than tell teens everything we know or command them to eat right and exercise, we just need to help them connect the dots.
Coming off as the authority is off-putting. After all, I want G to be the authority on her own body and make the choice to do the healthy thing–not because I said so (or am the expert).
Talking with Kids About Nutrition and Cooking
I was being particularly lazy one recent Friday evening. Father of the Year had just returned from a long week in Asia, and I plopped myself in front of the fireplace with a glass of you-know-what. No dinner plans. No motivation to cook. And really nobody at home to eat, except my Little Man.
Until 8 pm.
M returned from swimming and G came in from the movies–and they were both hungry. “How about some pasta?” I said. M got very excited and asked “Can I make dinner, Mom?”
After a failed cupcake baking incident earlier in the week (M’s poor class!– that’s another story), I was a bit concerned. But, I thought it would be a good experience for her, and G was there if she needed some help.
Thirty minutes later M showed up with her creation: sauteed mushrooms with pasta, topped with chopped avocado and lots of parmesan cheese.
A surprising combination, but more than that, the look on her face was priceless. Pride, joy and excitement, and no less. It was delicious according to G, and they both enjoyed the food, but I am sure M enjoyed the accomplishment even more.
Kids are creative with food if given the opportunity to create. And they are more capable than we think. M is at the perfect age to try taking on a healthy meal.
A simple piece of advice: “Make it healthy” can be the only guidance your child needs. And the pride and confidence that comes from making a delicious meal (and having your big sister like it too) is priceless. C’mon, you know the feeling.
Talking with Kids about Exercise and Body Image
Her: “Do you think my belly is big?”
Me: “I think your belly is normal and I think it’s getting ready to help you grow.”
Her: “But should I exercise more?”
Me: “How much are you exercising now?”
Her: “Well I’m not really…I am not on a team right now.”
Me: “I think it’s important to move your body everyday, even if you’re not on a team. I try to and it makes me feel good. What do you think about doing that?”
Her: “I could jump on the trampoline, walk the dog, or use the Wii when it’s cold!”
It’s normal for middle-school kids to question if they are normal or not and this extends to their body size, what they eat, and what they wear. ‘Am I normal?’ is code for ‘Am I love-able?’
Go ahead and assure your child they are normal, as the beauty of “normal” is that it is different for everyone. Give your kids the opportunity to come up with lots of good ideas. When kids create solutions for themselves, they have more ‘buy in’ and tend to act on their ideas.
That’s the story at my house this holiday season. I am not sure why there is so much nutrition discussion, other than I can only surmise that they are all at developmental milestones that prompt these conversations.
If you’re having these conversations too, congratulations! Communicating about nutrition is important for kids.
I’m wondering what My Little Man will come up with next…
What conversations are you having in your house about nutrition?
The Fearless Feeding Movement:
Last week I announced the Fearless Feeding Movement on Facebook–I hope you have entered the giveaway or simply just gave us the “thumbs up.” If you haven’t had time to do so, please take a moment to join the community–we’d love to have you! Plus, we’ve got loads of goodies to giveaway!
Next year is a big one for me and full of excitement! Let me know what you want to hear, what’s helpful and how I can help you.
Many wishes for a happy, healthy holiday season!
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: December 21, 2011
Updated on: October 17, 2019