Nutrition for kids: 5 tips
Nutrition-related information can often sound like a bunch of gobble-di-gook. From kilojoules to energy to nutrients and beyond – it can be tough to grasp. Nutrition for kids needs to be approached carefully, so you don’t talk beyond a child’s cognitive ability. Child development research shows that kids don’t start to understand abstract concepts (such as a lot of nutrition information) until they are age 11 or 12. We’ve compiled five tips on how to talk to kids about nutrition:
Nutrition for kids: 5 tips
1) Stick to concrete ideas
Avoid abstract concepts. Children only start to understand abstract concepts once they reach about 11 or 12 years old. For example, some concrete ideas are:
- Eat lots of different foods every day
- Eat fruit and vegetables of all colours of the rainbow every day
- Talking about whole food items
- Classifying foods by where they come from
- “Sometimes” and “everyday” foods
- Note: the classification of foods into everyday or sometimes is an abstract concept, but how often foods are recommended to be eaten is a concrete idea.
Some abstract concepts are:
- Vitamins and minerals
- Other nutrients that can’t be seen (e.g. protein, calcium, saturated fat)
- Classification of foods by nutrients
- Recommended serve size; daily recommended serves
- Chronic disease risk
- Processes by which food affects health
2) Avoid complicated phrases
Kids can often recite facts and phrases without really understanding them. For example, younger children probably don’t understand what ‘variety’ means and many kids might only know the word ‘diet’ to be a special way of eating (for example to lose weight or for diabetes) rather than a person’s everyday food consumption. Other terms kids might not understand are a healthy weight, low-fat or low-sugar. When talking with your child, keep checking in with them and ask them to explain back to you what they know – that way you’ll get an idea for how much they’ve grasped.
3) Use props!
When referring to a particular food, use the real food item or a picture of the food so your child knows what you’re talking about. Chat about the food you’re preparing and eating for dinner. Ask them how the food grows or where you can find it; discuss seasonal produce and the kinds of environments foods need to grow.
4) Be meaningful
Kids live in the present, so focus on the immediate benefits rather than long-term ones. Being strong, growing well and having enough energy to climb the monkey bars are important concepts to kids. They’re less concerned about their long-term disease risk or heart health!
5) Be a role model
Research shows what you as a parent or carer eat and do influences children’s habits more than what you say. Studies also show that an authoritative parenting style is also associated with positive dietary results in children. Authoritative parenting doesn’t necessarily need to be overly restrictive nor lax, but it sets some boundaries around the consumption of “sometimes” foods. Families that eat meals together are also associated with children who eat more fruit and vegetables.
— June 2014