As parents, we all say things to encourage our kids to eat healthier. Yet, in our modern, food-centric environment, even well-intentioned comments can be translated into negatives that hinder eating.
So, here are 10 common "food statements" parents often say to kids, how kids are likely to translate them and more effective things to say and do.
1. "See, your (sister, brother, cousin, friend) is eating it, why don't you?"
Translation: "He/she is a better eater than me."
A better thing to say: "I know you'll get there, sweetie. It takes time -- and many tastes -- to learn to like a new food."
Rationale: Instead of feelings of inferiority, you want to instill confidence that the child can and will like the food in their own time.
2. "You used to like blueberries -- you are so picky!"
Translation: "Maybe I won't grow out of this picky-eating thing?"
A better thing to do: Don't call attention to picky eating. Instead, make eating an enjoyable experience.
Rationale: Avoid labeling children as "picky" as this is a normal stage of development and the label tends to stick.
3. "For the last time, no, you cannot have ice cream!"
Translation: "I'm never getting ice cream again!"
A better thing to say: "We are not having ice cream now because lunch is a half hour away. We'll have some one day this week for dessert."
Rationale: Children accept "no" much better when they know why they can't have something and when they will have it again.
4. "You didn't eat enough. Take a few more bites and then you can leave the table."
Translation: "Mom/dad/empty plate (external signals) are a better judge of when I'm done eating than what I'm feeling inside."
A better thing to say: "Make sure you got enough to eat because the next meal won't be until (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack time)."
Rationale: When children are in charge of how much to eat, they learn how to effectively manage hunger (hint: sometimes, mistakes have to be made).
5. "If you eat some of your veggies, you can have dessert."
Translation: "I can't wait until the day I don't have to eat my veggies -- and can go straight to dessert!"
A better thing to do: Instead of nagging and food rewarding, offer tasty vegetables often and model healthy eating.
Rationale: Research shows that children learn to prefer the reward food over the "have to eat" food.
6. "Good job!" (after eating more than usual)
Translation: "Mommy and daddy are proud of me when I eat more food or finish my plate."
A better thing to say: "You always do a good job eating when you listen to your tummy."
Rationale: Praising children for eating more food teaches them quantity is preferable to following one's appetite, which varies from meal to meal.
7. "Eat this, it's good for you."
Translation: "It tastes bad."
A better thing to say: "This tastes really good and is similar to X that you like."
Rationale: Studies show taste rules children's food preferences and they benefit from getting more information about a new item.
8. "If you are good in the store, you can have a cookie," or "If you don't stop doing that, you won't be getting ice cream tonight."
Translation: "Every time I'm good, I should get a treat!"
A better thing to do: Let them know ahead of time the consequence that will happen if they misbehave -- and leave food out of it.
Rationale: Think about the long-term effects of constantly rewarding with food. For example, in a 2003 study published in Eating Behaviors, adults who remembered food being used to reward and punish were more likely to binge eat and diet.
9. "We don't eat cake often because it is bad for you."
Translation: "I like everything that is bad for me (Bad = pleasure)."
A better thing to say: "Cake is not a food we eat all the time. We'll have some cake this weekend at Jake's birthday party."
Rationale: Labeling food as "good" and "bad" creates judgment around eating. Instead, teach children how all foods fit into a balanced diet based on frequency of eating.
10. "You don't like dinner? Want me to make you something else?"
Translation: "I never have to venture out with food because mom/dad will always make my favorites!"
A better thing to say: "We all get the same meal for dinner; sometimes you get your favorite, and other nights someone else does."
Rationale: Eating meals together teaches children eating is a family affair and it encourages them to accept a wider variety of food over time.
Never underestimate the power your words have when it comes to children and food. If you are looking for positive and effective ways to feed your child at any stage of development, check out my book, Fearless Feeding, to get the support you need.
Any of these statements ring true with you?
This post originally appeared on Maryann's blog, Raise Healthy Eaters.
Tomie dePaola's 1975 book about an elderly woman's magical pasta pot won him the Caldecott Honor in the next year.
Eric Carle wrote and illustrated this book about a caterpillar who eats its way through chocolate cake, ice-cream, a pickle, Swiss cheese, salami, a lollipop, cherry pie, a sausage, a cupcake, a slice of watermelon and more before emerging as a butterfly. Published in 1969, it was declared by The New Yorks one of the "Ten Best Picture Books of the Year."
Roald Dahl's 1964 story about Charlie Bucket and legendary chocolatier Willy Wonka has inspired two film versions and won numerous awards.
This 1985 book by Laura Numeroff chronicles what happens when you give a mouse of cookie. Spoiler: He's going to want some milk to go with it.
The book that inspired the popular animated film in 2009 is based on this 1978 book by Judi Barrett. It tells the story of the town of Chewandswallow, where the weather comes three times a day, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the form of raining food.
This 1970 book by beloved children's author Maurice Sendak -- who also wrote "Where the Wild Things Are" -- is about a young boy who dreams a journey through a surreal baker's kitchen. Despite many awards, it lit a firestorm of controversy stemming from depictions of nudity.
Depictions of food in Roald Dahl's books aren't limited to "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." They litter his other works, including 1961's "James and the Giant Peach" about a boy who goes on a journey inside the large eponymous fruit.
This classic folktale got a retelling in 1968 by Ann McGovern. In it, a young man tricks an old woman into believing a soup can be made with a stone; he encourages to add more and more ingredients until she creates a delicious meal for them both.
Dr. Seuss's famous ode to picky eaters was written in 1960 and continues to be one of the best-selling children's books of all time.
This book by Mitchell Sharmat tells the story of a goat who swaps normal goat foods like shoes and tin cans for fruits, vegetables, eggs and orange juice.
This postmodern children's book from 1992 features slightly-demented versions of classic stories and fairytales. And, of course, a stinky cheese man.
This 1984 book follows the story of a mouse who does all he can to save his strawberry from being eaten by a big, hungry bear.
This book, published in 1948, won the Caldecott Honor the next year. In the story, Sal and her mother go to the country and pick blueberries for winter.
Marcia Leonard's 1989 playful book asks the reader to decide whether or not Frog should eat his rainboots.
Follow Maryann Jacobsen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@mtjacobsen