Your three-year-old refuses to eat broccoli because he doesn’t want to eat the little tree where the little squirrels live. Your six-year-old won’t eat anything green because, this week, she hates the color green. Your thirteen-year-old hates breakfast because his stomach isn’t hungry at 6 AM. Your seventeen-year-old won’t eat more than 1,000 calories a day because she has a swimsuit that she has to fit into.
So when do we start talking to our kids about nutrition? The answer is now.
It doesn’t matter when ‘now’ is; it starts today. As an expert on eating disorders, I can tell you that parents are a child’s biggest influence regarding everything, especially eating habits. There are two extremely important ideas that every parent should follow through on: 1) talk openly from day one, and 2) set the example.
My two-year-old is a picky eater. She doesn’t understand much about nutrition or the importance of partaking of all the food groups. But I do tell her on a regular basis that food is what makes her grow. As she gets older, I’ll steadily explain to her, age appropriately of course, that food is fuel for the body; it’s what keeps us going.
In fact, our brains cannot function properly without a full breakfast. That’s why teachers always say to eat a big breakfast before a major test. I also want her to be able to come to me as she gets older. When she starts having fat and muscle redistributed throughout her body or she gains weight after starting puberty, I pray that she knows she can talk to me.
I try daily to set a good dietary example. If she sees Mommy and Daddy eating all of their food, ideally she will grow up seeing that as normal. I hope that she knows what normal eating is, that some people don’t know what it is, and what to do if she meets someone who has disordered eating.
This is going to happen over years, with several conversations. I can’t shove all of this info into her head at once. But it is extremely important – and it starts today.