When my now 10-month-old son started solids, I initially felt overwhelmed by all of the information when it came to feeding him. There was baby-led weaning and purees and, of course, with all things involving parenting, many strong opinions. Often contradictory and confusing, I felt extremely frustrated. As I waded my way through the internet, my pediatrician’s advice and my own intuition, what I kept coming back to were the guiding lights I use every day in my work as an eating disorders therapist.

I knew from my work with my patients that I wanted to challenge diet culture and be a cycle-breaker in terms of my own previous roller-coaster relationship with food. I also knew that in order to do so, there were certain evidence-based interventions I could use to help my son have a balanced relationship with food.

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While I do not have all of the answers, I do feel like this specialty knowledge has helped me lay a strong foundation. The following are tenets I try to keep in mind as I introduce food to my son.

7 tips to help your children have a healthy relationship with food

1. Build balanced meals

Balanced meals incorporate food from all major nutrient groups (i.e. starches, proteins, fats, fruits and vegetables). One thing I have consistently heard from dietitians that I work with on our team is that it is important to not cut out major food groups because they all play an important role in our body’s homeostasis. If you cut out carbohydrates your energy will completely tank. If you cut out fat you will have a hard time feeling full.

Related: 15 proven ways to get your kids to eat healthier meals 🥙

2. Help kids become aware of and honor their hunger and fullness cues

The good news is, kids are incredibly naturally in touch with their hunger and fullness cues. In this way, our jobs as parents can look like following their lead with what they already naturally know how to do (“It looks like you are finished with lunch now, is your belly full?”) This can also look like modeling for them what reflecting on your own hunger and fullness cues look like (“Mama’s stomach is rumbling, I think I am ready for dinner.”) My son has a rare disease where it can be extremely dangerous for him to not eat, so trust me, I understand the anxiety that comes when kids do not eat when we want them to. But it is so important to teach kids to be able to be in touch with their bodies’ natural hunger and fullness cues.

3. Teach kids that “all foods fit” and “no foods are bad foods”

These are common phrases in eating disorder treatment that I really love. As I start to think about incorporating things like candy and sugar in the future, I want to incorporate them into his intake in a way where they are not considered “forbidden” or “bad foods.”

Research shows that the more we are taught to restrict a food, the more likely we are to think about it and crave it. This is why I generally recommend not making things like candy or sugar off-limits to kids, and not classifying them as “unhealthy” or “bad foods” when talking about them.

4. Break up the loaded concept of categorizing foods as “healthy” and “unhealthy”

Yes, as a mom I would like my son to eat his vegetables and have his sweet treats in moderation, as most moms would. But what is healthy for one family or kid may look different to another. I work with many families where kiddos have ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder).

Kids with this disorder have what I think of as excessively picky eating, due to a variety of reasons. For these families, a normal day of intake may look like mostly carbs and processed foods, because that is all they will eat. And for them, that is keeping their weight stable and helping them get as much nutrition as possible.

5. Help kids understand what specific foods do for their body

Instead of a more fear-and guilt-based approach of teaching that foods are “bad” or “unhealthy,” instead, focus on what specific foods do for your child’s body. Carbs give us energy. Fat fuels our brain. Protein boosts our muscles.

Related: These 6 words transformed my picky eaters

6. Give kids permission to find joy in food

Help kids appreciate the joy that can come with food, while at the same time teaching them other ways to self-soothe and not use food to cope with tough feelings and emotions.

Food does not just fuel our body, it is also deeply tied to tradition, culture, and our daily lives. It is OK to find joy in food while at the same time having other skills to cope with our feelings so we do not use food to numb them.

7. Encourage age-appropriate knowledge and education around misleading food and diet culture

With my own son, my goal is not just to empower him to have a balanced relationship with food, but to also be armed against the world of diet culture and predatory marketing. When he is younger, this may look like teaching him that all bodies are good bodies and not to comment on other people’s bodies, as well as modeling those behaviors myself.

Research shows that parents of kids who resisted engaging in “fat talk” had kids who were less likely to engage in disordered eating behaviors. When kids are older, this may look like cultivating a more advanced understanding of who profits off of teaching us that our bodies are not good enough.


Lydecker JA, Riley KE, Grilo CM. Associations of parents’ self, child, and other “fat talk” with child eating behaviors and weight. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2018 Jun;51(6):527-34.

Mann T, Ward A. Forbidden fruit: Does thinking about a prohibited food lead to its consumption?. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2001 Apr 1;29(3):319-27. doi:10.1016/S0306-4603(98)00049-5