Weighing in….

Jo NicholasSo, does Katie Hopkins have a point? Should you tell your child they’re fat?

Her latest sofa spat was manna from heaven for the This Morning team, with thousands of views on YouTube, a huge reaction on Twitter and coverage in many of the national papers.

Whatever your views on her debating style (and substance), there’s actually a bigger, more complicated point fighting to be heard here: why aren’t we focusing on the things that really make a difference for what children learn about eating and food from us, as parents? Simply telling children anything – let alone that they’re overweight – is rarely enough to change their behaviour for good. They learn so much simply from watching how we behave – particularly when they’re very young, and particularly when it comes to food. We need to be their role models, not their remonstrators on this: right from when they’re taking their first spoonfuls of solids, they’re starting out on a massive learning curve. And what they see – and copy – from us has a huge impact on how they’ll eat for life:

  • Show them what it means to eat well. Get them eating the same foods as you: give the whole family the same dish and adjust the portion sizes
  • Enjoy your fruit and veg: if kids see you pushing your vegetables around your plate, they’ll copy you
  • Try new foods together. Be open-minded and positive about tasting something different; they’ll watch how you react and take their cue from you
  • Be consistent about eating healthily. You might need to talk to other people who help you with childcare, like grandparents, and explain what you want them to do for meals and snacks
  • Try not to have unhealthy snacks in the house – but have plenty of healthier options on hand. There’s nothing wrong with occasional treats, but it’s about showing them what occasional means
  • Try to sit down together to eat whenever you can, and turn off the TV so you can chat
  • Give children plates and cutlery which are the right size for them; it all helps them to eat independently
  • Encourage your kids to choose what they’re going to eat for themselves – get them involved with planning meals and making a shopping list
  • Don’t expect them to finish everything on their plate. Let them have seconds if they’re still hungry after their main course, and dessert’s ok even if they haven’t finished their main meal
  • Don’t use food as a reward – or as a punishment
  • Get them helping to set up and clear away after mealtimes
  • Get ‘em cooking. Yes, it will be more messy than when you cook. Yes, it will take longer. But it’s far and away one of the most effective ways to get kids excited about food and trying new tastes.

Do we need to tell kids they’re fat? We’d be better just showing them good habits from the very start.

Jo is one of our nutritionists and runs our research evaluation programme. Email Jo.

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