Parents have the genuine desire to help their children get the nutrients they need through the food they eat. We know that kids need a variety of nutrients in order to learn, grow, and play. Because of this, it can be easy to get in the habit of encouraging our children to eat “healthy” foods before they leave the table or before dessert. Though well intended, this focus on eating “healthy” foods can have unintentional consequences on our children’s relationship with food and their bodies.
Child feeding expert Ellyn Satter, RD reminds us that, “positive pressure is still pressure”. Saying certain foods are “good for you” might actually make our kids like it less. At the same time, equating some foods as superior naturally means that other foods are inferior. This type of talk undermines our child’s job of learning to like new foods and can make mealtimes more stressful for everyone.
Keeping food talk neutral is essential when helping children develop a healthy relationship with food. Instead of referring to certain foods as “healthy” vs “unhealthy”, it can be helpful to discuss the benefits of all foods by educating children on what specific foods do in our bodies. For example, instead of saying, “salad is good for you,” we could tell our children, “green foods help fight germs in our body.” As children get older, we can explain more in-depth by saying, “green vegetables like spinach have antioxidants which search for bad things in your body that damage your cells.”
Listed below are the benefits of the different food groups, with fruits and vegetables broken down into a rainbow of colors.
Five Food Groups
- Grains give us energy (bread, pasta, bagels, tortillas,)
- Protein makes our muscles strong (eggs, poultry, chicken, legumes)
- Dairy keeps our bones strong (milk products, cheese, yogurt)
- Fat helps us feel full (oils, butter, avocado, nuts)
- Fruits and vegetables –
- Red foods make your heart strong (apples, tomatoes, watermelon, raspberries)
- Orange foods help us see in the dark (carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin)
- Yellow food heals cuts and bruises (cantaloupe, mango, corn, pineapple, pears)
- Green food fights germs (lettuce, kiwi, cucumber, broccoli, green beans)
- Purple and blue foods protect your brain (blueberries, blackberries, grapes, plums, raisins)
- White foods keep our muscles and bones powerful (bananas, cauliflower, potatoes, onions)