Finding Your Family's Sweet Spot

Finding Your Family's Sweet Spot

“I often feel like a bad parent when I give my children lollies. I hear it’s okay to give them sometimes but what does that mean?” Parent

‘Healthy eating’ can and does mean eating and enjoying a variety of foods. This can include foods that are lower in nutrition but are delicious and fun. Yes, this means you can include foods like chocolates, sweets, pastries and cakes sometimes. How often you include these foods is up to you. For example, certain foods may be an important part of your family or culture. How do we get the balance right?

Be clear about the roles in the feeding relationship

Your role as a parent or carer is to provide the food, set meal times and decide where the meals are served. Your child’s role is to choose whether to eat the food and how much. Read more about how to feed children

Learning to eat and to enjoy a wide range of foods is like any other developmental skill - it takes time and guidance. It can take time for children to learn how to include and enjoy a variety of foods and it’s important that they get a chance to learn this without feelings of guilt or restriction.

Show that you enjoy the food you eat

  • Talk about food in a neutral way; try not to use words like ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to describe foods or how you eat.
  • Talk about how food tastes or looks, about food variety and where different food comes from.
  • Show them how you enjoy eating the range of foods you offer.

Find your family’s sweet spot

Find a balance between having limits, without being too restrictive. Here are some tips to include foods such as chocolate sweets, pastries and sweet drinks sometimes:

  • Include a variety of foods that works well for your family. For example, including a sweet dessert or biscuits for an afternoon tea occasionally. As the parent, you choose when, what and how much to offer. Every family will make different choices.
  • Try not to connect these (or any foods) with behaviour. That means don’t use food as rewards or bribes or remove food as a punishment.
  • If you don’t want it to be a habit or expectation don’t make it one. For example when you go to the local pool or football game you don’t always have to buy food  from the canteen. You can say no.
  • It is okay to put limits on some foods but provide a simple explanation for example:
    • we have that food at birthday parties
    • we will have that food when we go on holiday or to Grandmas.
  • Be spontaneous – sometimes situations occur when these foods are important. This may be a late minute cafĂ© stop or a friend drops by with cake. This helps children understand how to be flexible. This is an important part of eating.

Children are more naturally in tune with their appetite. It is normal though that they will over eat sometimes. Trust that they will adjust what and how much they eat in response. Making a big deal of what or how much they eat will make them less trusting of their bodies and doesn’t help in the long term.

Think long term

Food is so much more than nutrition. Your role is not to protect your child from particular foods.

We know what children have most of the time has the most impact on your child’s overall eating habits more than what happens on a one-off occasion. What they see and learn from you will help them work their way through the many food choices that they come across in life. You can help by offering a wide range of foods at home and talking about foods we eat and enjoy every day (to nourish our bodies and to help them grow), and there are foods we eat and enjoy sometimes. This can help children understand about balance. This will also help role model to them that all foods have a place.

For information on food, nutrition, body image and physical activity for families visit Healthy Kids