Helping Children Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food

This November, the CCEI newsletter and no-cost trial course are all about promoting nutrition and healthy eating habits. So many of the habits we have as adults were established when we were young children. Early care and education providers have a great opportunity to teach children about healthy options and to establish healthy habits at an early age.

Beyond making the healthy choice between a bag of chips or an apple, ECE professionals also help children develop healthy relationships with food. They do so through the messages they send children about food during interactions as well as modeling signs of healthy relationships as well.

Here are a few practices that caregivers can put in place that will help children develop a healthy relationship with the food they consume:

Teach children to listen to what their body is telling them about their hunger.

  • Often, children are forced to eat, even when they are not hungry. Children go through periods when they have small appetites, or they feel hungry at times that do not align with our scheduled meals and snacks. Be prepared to meet the needs of children if you notice changes in their appetites.
  • Our bodies send messages that we are both hungry and full. Talk with children about how your body feels when you are hungry and when you are satisfied. Encourage them to pay attention to the sensations in their bodies during meals and snacks.
  • Don’t force children to eat if they are not hungry. Don’t risk the stress and emotional damage that forcing a child to eat can cause. Offer a variety of foods so that if a child does not like one of the foods offered, they can eat more of another option for proper nutrition.

For more information, visit: 

Never use food as a reward or punishment.

  • Withholding food in an early childhood is a form of neglect (defined as failing to provide for a child’s basic needs) and should never be practiced in a child care setting.
  • Remember the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? The basic need of every human being includes consistent, unconditional access to food and water. Children who’s basic needs are not met or are inconsistently met have difficulty feeling secure and building relationships with others.
  • Punishing children by withholding food can send a message that children are not worthy of food. It also causes insecurity around food that could lead to binge eating, hording food, or refusing to eat.
  • When we reward young children with food, especially sugary treats, we risk sending the message that when you do well in life, you deserve a treat. This can lead to overeating or even instances of children depriving themselves of food when they make mistakes or struggle with tasks.
  • Using food as punishment and reward can create patterns of behavior that follow a child long into adulthood as they struggle with issues of self-worth and emotional eating.

For more information, visit:

Other things you can do to model a healthy relationship with food:

  • Eat slowly.
  • Chew your food thoroughly.
  • Talk about the delicious foods you are eating and how they are benefiting your body.
  • Talk about the appropriate portion sizes that you are enjoying. Use MyPlate resources to help children learn how to build a healthy plate of food.
  • Avoid eating foods right out of the bag or box. Pour a few crackers on your plate to model an appropriate portion size. If you are eating foods from a bag, close the bag and say, “That’s all my body needs right now.”
  • Practice everything in moderation. It’s OK to have an occasional sweet treat as long as it is balanced with an overall healthy diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and protein.

For more information, visit:

Visit CCEI’s Facebook page and share your thoughts on this subject.