The language of your child’s food – what’s helpful and what’s not


Food is something we all need but it’s so much more than fuel. Food for your baby is about care, comfort, nourishment, quality time, language, texture, smells, taste and more.

The way we talk to our children about food and the way we talk about food around our children, will impact how they view food.

5 words and phrases to avoid

1. Treat

Labelling a food a treat puts it on a pedestal. It makes it sound better than other foods so makes it more desirable. Call the food what it is. If it’s cake – say it’s cake. If it’s carrots – say it’s carrots.

2. Finish your broccoli first and then you can have pudding

This suggests broccoli, or whichever food you put in that part of the phrase, is to be endured. It says endure this horrible food and then you can have the nice one.

3. Eating cake will make you fat

Fat shaming is not a good approach. If your child does have to live with being overweight or obesity in later life they will feel like it is all their fault. Studies show this makes it even harder to treat the overweight or obesity. Concern about their weight can also lead to disordered eating and eating disorders as they will have a wrong view of their bodies. Children don’t need to be labelled.

Equally, one food is not going to cause weight issues. We don’t want to say any food (except if it is dangerous to the child) is out of bounds.

4. Finish what’s on your plate and then you can get down

Children need to be encouraged to listen to their internal fullness cues. If you make them finish their meal regularly, they will override those cues and stop listening to them. This can make them overeat later on.

5. Just try it, it’s yummy

It might be yummy in your mind but you have different senses. Encouraging your child to smell, touch and play with the food can all be ways of encouraging children to try new foods. They should not be forced to do this though. For some children, even touching the food will be a sensory overload.

Language is so complex. There is so much more I could say! As a linguist as well as a scientist, I can see both sides. It is easy to slip into habits or to do what our parents did. Sometimes having a chat with someone outside your household and family can help. Sometimes recording a meal can also give insight.

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