As adults we commonly think of foods as “good” or “bad”, generally in relation to how healthy they are. As a result of this we often also think of our eating behaviour as good or bad as well, depending on how often we have these foods. The truth is, and this is from a dietitian, food is neither good nor bad, it is just food. Of course some foods are healthier than others, in that they provide more fibre or vitamins and minerals, but eating is more than just nutrition. Non nutritious foods can be a part of a balanced diet, in moderation, once we label foods good or bad then there is the tendency to put the “bad” or denied foods on a pedestal and reward ourselves with them when we have been “good”.
Kids don’t have these strange adult ideas about foods, unless they learn them from the adults around them. No-one needs to think of food as good or bad, it is unhelpful, it leads to judgement of yourself and feelings of failure related to food. It is much more helpful and positive to think of foods as sometimes or every day foods. In general kids have an amazing ability to quite closely eat to their energy requirements. There is room in the life of a busy kid for the occasional non-nutritious food.
Everyday foods are foods like breads and cereals, pasta rice, grains, lean meat, chicken or fish, dairy, vegetables and fruits. These foods provide essential nutrients for us to grow and develop well. Sometimes foods are foods like cakes, biscuits, chips, lollies, chocolate, high fat takeaway foods, salty snacks, fizzy and sweetened drinks. These foods are not essential for health but in moderation do no harm.
As a guide if your kids have sometimes foods at parties and a few times a week with the family then they will be getting enough of these foods. If you want to reduce these foods in your families diet you need to know why they are there in the first place. Is it lack of planning leading to last minute choices? Is it lack of time leading to compensating with sweets? Whatever the case as the adult it is your job to provide the role modelling behaviour, start talking about how delicious everyday foods are and when you do have sometimes foods make sure you refer to them as sometimes foods not bad foods.
Refusing requests for sometimes foods can be difficult. Prepare yourself. Plan meals and snacks so there is a everyday alternative, and have a plan for when the sometimes foods are included. Tell your kids “no, we only have that sometimes, not every day”. As with any behaviour change, it will take time but if you’re consistent and confident your kids will be just fine.