Plate-Wise •  9/8/2020

Rethinking how we talk with kids about food

Written By Jeanne Tuttle 
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Multiple plates with a piece of cake on each plate. The cake has a blue layer, yellow layer, orange layer and pink layer.

Good food, bad food, junk food, healthy food, nutritious food, diet food. These are terms we are flooded with daily and have been since we were kids. What do they all mean? And are we all using the correct terms for what we’re talking about? Most important are these terms giving us and our kids an unhealthy view of food?

I’m sure there is enough content here for an entire book, so for the sake of this post I’d like to just focus on the term bad food.

Let’s first understand the definition of food: any nutritious substance that people eat or drink in order to maintain life and growth.

So, if any food we eat can help us maintain life and growth, can any food be inherently bad? Or, are we just referencing what we consider unhealthy food when we deem a food bad?

What are we telling our kids?

When researching for this blog, I spoke to and read blogs from two audiences: moms and registered dietitians (RD).

Overwhelmingly, I heard two things from moms: Our kids hear a lot about food, and moms are extremely cognizant of not giving their children a negative view on food, especially when talking with young girls.

When talking with kids, how do we identify bad food? If it provides nourishment to our bodies, mental comfort with “comfort foods” or socializing at a birthday party, can we really say it is bad?

I have found many RDs who agree that all food can be good, if we consider its purpose.

Changing our vocabulary

I’m a big believer that if we truly understand something, we need to be able to explain it to a 7 year old. Comfort food and birthday party food are exactly those. They aren’t bad, but they are special. They help to nourish our lives and comfort us. In that sense, they help us maintain life and growth. And how we talk about those foods with our kids can help them — and ourselves — have a healthy relationship with food.

We all continue to be inundated with articles, social media posts and more from people sharing their thoughts and opinions on food. That won’t change. What can change is how we interpret those opinions and pass them on to our kids, and how we increase our awareness that our kids are listening.