Talking to Your Kids About Food and Their Bodies
Talking to Your Kids About Food and Their Bodies
Raise your hand if you and your body haven’t always been the best of friends. Me too.
Most women have a sordid history with food, their bodies, or both; and now many of us are raising the next generation, hoping and praying history doesn’t repeat itself. How can we teach our kids to enjoy good foods, appreciate their bodies, and love their Maker when we sometimes fail to do these things ourselves?
Whether or not eating, body weight, and self-image are areas of personal struggle for you, we all share a desire for our children to rise above the whelming tide of a surrounding culture - one that promotes excesses of all types, worships physical perfection, and exploits sexuality at every opportunity.
Growing up, I was always a little on the chubby side and was very self-conscious about it. I can still remember the piercing words uttered by a fellow second grader that confirmed my insecurities. Sadly, the thoughtless comment made by that little girl was the first of many that would fuel my years-long struggle with body dissatisfaction.
Fast-forward twenty years. When my first baby was born, I spent hours concocting purees that amounted to nutritional perfection. I loved making foods I felt would give my daughter a healthy start in life; and appreciated that my eager eater enjoyed (almost) all of them.
However, it would be dishonest to say I never second-guessed myself when pediatrician visits repeatedly measured her weight in the 90th percentile. Despite assurances from the doctor and from my own formal nutrition education, I couldn’t help but wonder,
“Am I propelling my daughter toward a battle from which I desperately long to protect her?”
My early fears that my daughter’s size as a baby would lock her into a lifelong struggle with weight were apparently unfounded. She is now a vibrant preschooler with a healthy attitude toward food and her body.
Raising healthy kids in a toxic culture
In addition to any baggage we may bring to the parenting table, we are also faced with unprecedented challenges from the culture in which we live.
Consider these recent statistics underlining the threat today’s world poses to the physical and spiritual health of our kids:
- Obesity rates among children and teens have tripled in just one generation.1
- Over 50% of teenage girls and 33% of teenage boys are using restrictive measures to lose weight at any given time.2
- 46% of 9-11 year-olds are sometimes or very often on diets, and 82% of their families are sometimes or very often on diets.3
- In a study of preschoolers ages 3-5, an overwhelming majority selected Candyland or Chutes and Ladders game pieces that were thin versus average or overweight. Many expressed their strong distaste for “fat” pieces.4
- Stress levels of young people have steadily risen over the past two decades; all the while, children feel they lack support from family, friends and role models, and most of them do not feel that they have intrinsic value.5
- Barna research shows only 9% of Americans hold a Biblical worldview.6
Worshipping Through Eating and Health
Amid all the pressure from within and without, what’s a mom to do? Here are a few ideas for modeling and instilling true biblical health in our children:
Thank God for giving us our bodies, for sustaining them each day, and for providing everything we need, including food and drink.
Appreciate how our bodies are able to move and enjoy work and play, by God’s design. Admire the beauty of creation as you work and play together outdoors.
Our bodies are really the Lord’s and not our own; but we have the responsibility of caring for them so they will be strong and healthy, ready to serve Him and enjoy the life He gives us!
Learn About Foods Together
Talk about the foods that God made – learn together about the many health properties of nutritious fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, grains, fish, and meats. Involve children in meal planning, shopping, preparing and serving food.
Value the Spiritual more than the Physical
We live in a physical world. We make countless choices every day that have physical results. As you discuss these realities with your children, be sure they know that their value and purpose in life is defined by God himself, not by outward appearance.
Answering the Hard Questions
“Am I fat?”
“Why am I not pretty?”
“How much will I have to exercise if I eat that?”
Hard questions like these will come to all of us, if they haven’t come already. When they do, our best answers are found in the Word of God. Our assurances will bring comfort for a time, but His will bring life forever.
My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings.
Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart.
For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.
Proverbs 4:20-22, ESV
As is the case with anything we teach our children, our own beliefs about and desires for our bodies will shape how we communicate to our kids on this very important topic. Through word and action, we are constantly showing them what we truly believe is good or bad, right or wrong, healthy or unhealthy, lovely or distasteful.
Ask that God would reveal any areas of your own eating and health that need to be brought into line with his truth. Pray your interactions with your children would inspire them to true physical and spiritual health, assured of their worth in their earthly parents’ eyes as well as their Heavenly Father’s.
For more ideas about raising healthy kids within the context of Biblical truth, visit the “Kids” page of our web site.
2. Neumark Sztainer, D. (2005). I’m, Like, SO Fat! New York: The Guilford Press. pp. 5.
3. Gustafson-Larson, A.M., & Terry, R.D. (1992). Weight-related behaviors and concerns of fourth-grade children. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 818-822.
Dena Norton is a registered dietitian who practiced clinically for six years before coming home in 2009 to start a family with her husband, Rick. They currently have two precious children. Recently, Dena published an e-book – Nutrition By The Book - and started Back To The Book Nutrition, an online business that aims to spread the message of enjoying and worshipping God through nutrition and health. Subscribe to her blog or join her on Facebook and Twitter.