Be a Positive Role Model Around Food and Eating

Be a Positive Role Model Around Food and Eating

Think about what it means to be a positive role model

We know many things influence what and how we eat and the way we feel about our body and that of others. A lot of this comes from our own childhood experiences. You may want to do things differently from the way you were raised. Firstly, you may need to take a step back and look at your own values, beliefs and behaviours around food and eating. Some things you do may come more naturally (like enjoying a variety of foods) but others (like how you talk about your body) may need a little work.

Be clear about the roles in the feeding relationship

Your role as a parent or caregiver is to provide the food, set meal times and decide where the meals are served. Your child’s role is to choose whether to eat the food and how much. Read more about how to feed children

Children are born knowing when they are hungry and when they are full. Recognising this helps build your confidence to trust your child’s own natural feeding cues. When you become worried or anxious about your child, you can tend to become more controlling. Wanting your child to eat certain foods or be a particular body shape can put pressure on your child around what and how they eat. It is better to focus on what your role is and what you can do to support your child with their eating.

It can also be helpful to role model listening to your own body’s cues. For example you can say “Mmm that was a nice meal, that will help me have the energy to run after you this afternoon when we go to the park.”

Set up a regular routine for meals and snacks

Learning to eat and to enjoy a wide range of foods is like any other developmental skill - it takes time and guidance. Try to be patient and provide that guidance. Offer a variety of foods and set up a regular meal and snack time routine. Provide opportunities to eat together as a family. When you join your child at the table, they are able to learn how to eat by watching you. This also includes the way you talk about food and eating. Eating together is a good time to set up how you expect your child to behave at the table. An active toddler will have more trouble sitting still for the whole meal compared to an older child. You can set the expectation that ‘we sit when we’re eating.’ Allow your child to leave the table when they are satisfied and getting wriggly.

Show that you enjoy food

Talk about food in a neutral way; try not to use words like ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to describe foods. Talk about how food tastes or looks, about food variety and where different food comes from. Show how you enjoy eating the range of foods you offer. There is no need to cater for your child’s preferences. Offer your child the same foods as the rest of the family, but always include something they will eat for example bread, pasta or fruit. This way your child will be able to eat something at the meal time and feel satisfied.

It is not always easy

Remember, we all have moments where we’re not role modelling the behaviour we wish to see in our children. No one’s perfect. Be kind to yourself. Use these opportunities to think about what you may do next time. For example, if you make a habit of eating on the run, think about making time to stop and sit down to eat. If you do not like a particular food yourself, try not to make a show of it. You can even model trying it yourself.

Think long term

We want children to grow up and be confident with their eating and with their body. Read more about how to shape your child's body image

Feeding children is an imperfect journey. It is okay to reach out for some help to do this. The Butterfly Foundation has more information on how to work through your own relationship with food and eating.