If You Want Your Child to Eat Better, Get Your Whole Family On Board (And Here's Why)

A family is what you are when you take care of yourself. Whether your family numbers one or ten, meals are as essential for nurturing as they are for nutrition.
— Ellyn Satter

Are you concerned about a feeding issue with your child but feeling stuck with finding a way to help them?

Are you wanting to try some new feeding strategies to help your kids develop a healthy relationship with food but feel unsure about how to start?

Take heart mama, there are simple ways you can begin moving forward.

Every mom desires her child to have a healthy relationship with food and their body, to feel confident about how they eat and to grow in a way that is right for them.

In many situations, child feeding issues get singled out or pinpointed on the child alone.

In my practice, I have worked with many families who initially came to me because there was something their child appeared to be struggling with when it came to food and their bodies, such as picky eating, uncertainty with weight and/or growth, feeding issues, eating disorders or poor body image.

The reality of the situation is that a child’s feeding issue are often reflective of a family’s feeding issue, as all members impact each other as a whole.

To implement positive changes for a child, it is important that the entire family is on the same page and learning how to collectively support each other.

But people and relationships are a complex thing, and this is often easier said than done.

Examining the Family’s Eating Behaviors and Attitudes

If you desire to help your child nurture a positive relationship with food and their bodies, it is important to understand that this will not be a quick change or something that happens overnight. Helping your child often means starting with yourself and understanding how you can approach constructive changes as a family: spouses/partners, caregivers, and siblings included.

In some situations, you may find that it is more difficult for your spouse/partner (or any loved one living at home) to be open to trying something new in benefit of your children and family as a whole. It’s harder to see how our own behaviors impact those around us, especially when it comes to food and eating, so it’s not uncommon to encounter some kind of resistance from your partner (or other family members), when you are trying something new.

So what can you do?

Let’s look at a specific example

One common strategy I encourage families to implement at home in support of raising a healthy eater is to keep language neutral around food. This means, not describing food as “good” or “bad”, but having a neutral stance towards all foods. There are numerous benefits to this, such as:

  • Empowering your child to eat food according to what their body needs
  • Allowing them to self-regulate their intake
  • Maintain a low-pressure environment for meal time.

Kids are more likely to enjoy a variety of foods, feel more confident in their bodies, and feel better about eating when they don’t view foods through a good or bad lens. Developing neutral language about food will also prevent children from feeling guilty about eating certain things and a chaotic relationship with food from developing.

Where I find most parents struggle is changing their own view, perspective, and language around foods. If you have grown up to believe that certain foods are good and others are bad, this will manifest in how you speak to your children about food. If you inherently believe that cake is a “bad” food, you will find yourself distrusting your child’s ability to eat cake or may unintentionally shame your child for eating this food (or even wanting this food).

Again, this is an important area that parents need to be on the same page about, in terms of being able to successfully implement this with your children.

If your child hears one thing from one parent (or caregiver) though gets another message from the other parent, this can null any efforts for changing things for the better.

So how can you work together to effectively create these positive changes, not only for your child but for the benefit of the entire family? Because it is not only your child that will reap the benefits of these strategies but everyone in the family unit.

Here are some ideas for getting the whole family on board when working to create positive changes when it comes to food and eating:

Get your spouse/partner involved

If you have resolved to make changes in your home for the betterment of your children’s relationship with food and their bodies, it is important to get your spouse/partner involved (or any other adults that are involved in feeding your children). Helping your partner feel more involved in the process is demonstrating that you care about their participation and are encouraging their contributions to the family as a whole.

Keep the Common Goals in Mind

If you have the courage of your convictions, you can have the confidence to do what you believe is right for your family, even though other people may not agree or approve. But this requires you to be clear on your why and to be able to share these common goals with your loved ones.

Why do you feel like it is important to make changes at home, with respect to feeding and parenting? Maybe it’s because you ultimately want your child to have a healthy relationship with food or you want to transform your dinner table from a place of chaos to a peaceful gathering? Share your common goals and focus on the big picture, especially when you’re feeling stuck.

Agree on a course of action

Trying to change too much at once can become overwhelming for the entire family and make it less likely to be something that feels doable for your loved ones involved. There may be many things you would like to see changed, but talk with your partner about what steps feel realistic for all involved.

Family meals are usually a good place to start for laying a solid foundation for healthy eating practices. Whatever the course of action or next step you want to work on, get on the same page with your partner as your work to implement something new.

Have support and accountability

Changing your approach to child feeding takes consistency and diligence. You may wonder if you’re doing the right thing or even feel confused along the way. Having professional guidance or working with someone with whom you can check in regularly can keep you focused and supported along the way.

If you find that it’s too difficult to get everyone in your family on the same page, you may consider bringing in outside support to unify everyone toward a common goal and actionable steps. In some cases, parents may need to address their own issues related to food first before being able to implement changes for their child and family as a whole.

Supporting your child toward better eating habits is important for building lifelong habits. Getting the whole family behind this common cause will create a momentum forward for positive change.