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How to Teach Kids about Nutrition without Causing an Eating Disorder

I once heard a picky eating specialist say you shouldn’t teach kids about “healthy food” because it will cause disordered eating. An interesting statement that made me pause. It also made me both sad and angry because I know many parents believed it.

As someone that struggled with disordered eating for twenty years and never had anyone teach me about nutrition, I found this opinion rather odd.

Whether it’s disordered eating or a diagnosed eating disorder, these types of behaviors are coping mechanisms related to trauma and the body getting stuck in overwhelm. They help an individual cope with strong feelings. Disordered eating is not really about food. It’s about control and avoiding emotions.

So how can knowledge about nourishing your body turn into an eating disorder? The answer is simple. It can’t.

kids eating at picnic table

How Important Is Teaching Nutrition to Kids?

All it takes is a quick glance around a playground, a school, a movie theater – pretty much anywhere you go – and it’s evident that most kids know nothing about nutrition.

There are more and more obese children and children with serious medical conditions like autoimmune disease, diabetes, and ADHD.

We have a culture of “kid food” that isn’t really food. The aisles are filled with hydrogenated oils, artificial colors, and lots and lots of sugar.

But we can’t blame the kids! They know what they observe and what they are taught. If all of their friends eat processed foods, it’s normal and OK for them. If their parents keep a stash of chocolate for hard days and talk about their own food and themselves as unhealthy, that’s what kids will learn.

RELATED: “Kid’s food” is ruining our health!

The only way to break out of this cycle is to be counter-cultural and teach your kids about different nutrients and how the body works. This isn’t just a nice idea. It’s literally a matter of life and death. If you don’t teach your kids now, they will suffer the consequences later.

For me, teaching kids about nutrition is one of the most important things a parent can do. And as a Christian, being a good steward of our Holy Temples is something I want to teach my kids.

girl holding apple

Teaching Nutrition to Kids by Eating Real Food

One of the best ways to teach kids anything is by example. As Mrs. Kimball says, “Demonstrate first.” And it’s true.

An easy first step to teaching kids about nourishing food is by serving nourishing food at home. Packaged foods are treats when you’re not at home. Eating at a restaurant happens once in a while. At home, real food makes up the majority of your diet.

Work with your kids to plan meals, make grocery lists, and go grocery shopping. Teach them how and why to read food labels.

It’s also important to talk about food. Why you eat the way you do. Why someone else might make different choices. Encourage your kids to be curious and ask questions. You can ask them questions too! The goal is not to teach your kids good versus bad, but building up versus taking away.

man and girl cooking

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Teaching Nutrition to Kids by Teaching Kids to Cook

Getting kids involved in the kitchen and teaching them to cook is another great way to teach kids about nutrition. The earlier you start, the better!

My four-year-old is in the phase of wanting to help with everything in the kitchen. As much as I don’t like to be slowed down, I try to let him help whenever I can.

Having your kids in the kitchen provides you with time to connect with them and be open for more quesitons.

The kitchen is where I have taught my kids a lot about nourishing food, like the difference between protein, carbohydrates, and fats and why we need all three of these food groups. Some days I wonder if they know too much. My four-year-old wanted a snack right before dinner the other day. Before I could say no he added, “It’s OK because it’s protein!” He knows snacks need some protein for blood sugar balance. So even though I try not to do snacks close to dinner, this time I just grinned and let him have a few pistachios.

nutrition, mindset and nervous system

How to Teach Nutrition to Kids

If you’ve been a Kitchen Stewardship® reader for a while, chances are you serve a lot of real food. You may have even taught your kids to cook! But there is definitely more to nutrition eduction for kids. It’s not just about fruits and veggies. It’s not even just about healthy eating.

True health includes mental, emotional, and physcial aspects. And they are all important! So why not teach your kids about all three?

Kids are smart. They can understand how the digestive system works, how to stay hydrated, what vitamins and minerals they need, how the nervous system works, and so much more!

Which is why I created my Nutritonal Navigation course for kids!

This is a self-paced, 15-module online course for ages 5-18. It includes short videos, text, and activities for different ages.

Nutritional Navigation will help your children:

  • choose healthy snacks,
  • say no to junk food,
  • eat in a way that supports their growth and development,
  • understand how to regulate blood sugar,
  • eat in a relaxed state to support digestion,
  • reduce anxiety and overwhelm,
  • and even educate their friends!
Sample from Nutritional Navigation course

Are you ready to give your child the knowledge he or she needs to feel his or her best and thrive? Any age is a good age to start, even with older kids! And now is the time.

What Nutrition Education for Kids Is and Is NOT

It’s important to understand what nutrition education is and is not and what you can expect to find in the Nutritional Navigation course.

Nutrition education is not:

  • Talking about a person’s weight, size, or appearance
  • Using words such as healthy and unhealthy, good and bad
  • Decreasing your child’s capacity to feel emotions and be curiuos

Nutrition education is:

  • Talking about what food can help you do – think clearly, run fast, have energy, achieve goals
  • Using words such as build up, support, growth, feed, repair, noursih
  • Increasing your child’s capacity to feel emotions and understand how to self-regulate

Is this the mindset around food you’d like your child to have?

boy eating dinner

How to Teach Nutrition to Kids Without Creating an Eating Disorder

You may think I’m just a passionate Nutritional Therapy Pracitioner that loves to help kids. While that is true, there is more to the story.

When I was in junior high, I overheard a neighbor say I was getting fatter. It was a statement that has impacted the rest of my life. From that moment I wanted to do anything in my power to not feel that shame and embarrassment. I needed to be in control and bury those emotions.

That day I decided to restrict my food intake. I was scared to eat fat (I bought into the low-fat lie of the 90’s that eating fat makes you fat). And the weight dropped off quickly. That felt much better than shame. Even if it meant acne, irregular cycles, brain fog, and less energy. I didn’t feel ashamed of my appearance.

I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder, but my disordered eating was a battle for many years. Instead of me being in control, it controlled me, turning into full blown obsessive compulsive disorder. I have done a lot of healing since then, but thirty years later it still impacts my life.

Two girls laying on the grass

How God Uses Struggles for Good

I definitely labeled food as good and bad. But in an uninformed way! I did so much harm to my body. If someone had taught me how to care for my Holy Temple when I was 13, I would have led a very different life.

But God uses our struggles for good. Now I teach other children how to understand nutrition and care for their bodies, including my own kids!

My oldest is 14, and we have frequent conversations around this subject. It makes me so happy to see her enjoying nutrient-dense food and understanding how her body works. She understands balance and how to enjoy treats without labeling them good or bad. It’s a beautiful thing.

So, unless you are labeling everything you eat as good and bad and using diet as a means to avoid strong emotions, you are not going to cause your child to develop an eating disorder by teaching them about nutrition. Quite the opposite – you are empowering your child and giving them an amazing gift for life! This is the epitome of kitchen stewardship.

What are your tips for teaching healthy eating habits?

How to teach kids about nutrition without causing an eating disorder.
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