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10 Things Dietitians Never Say To Their Kids About Food

What we say to our kids can affect them more than we know. Help them build a positive relationship with food with the things you say (and don’t say).

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Family At Home Eating Meal In Kitchen TogetherShutterstock / Monkey Business Images

What we learn about food as kids shapes our eating habits and relationship with food as we get older. Sometimes the things parents say can have a lasting negative effect, even though they had good intentions. Skip these common mealtime directives to set your kids up for success (and not just when you make kid-friendly meals).

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Cute little girl refuses to eat, pushes the plateShutterstock / Iren_Geo

You can’t leave the table until you clean your plate.

This sets up kids to become overeaters and not listen to their bodies to decide when they are full. Consider if you’re giving them too much food to start (they need a lot less food than adults). If there’s still a lot of food on their plate and you don’t want to be wasteful, just cover their plates and put them into the fridge. When it’s time for a healthy snack, just reheat their leftovers.

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A head portrait of a beautiful smiling caucasian girl child eating a delicious white vanilla ice-creamspfotocz/Shutterstock

You can have a treat if…

Whether the reward is for good behavior or eating all of their veggies, using food as a reward is not a good idea. It teaches kids that sweets are something they get for good behavior and connects that positive emotion with unhealthy foods. Later in life, they’re more likely to have that emotional association between rewards and food.

When it does become time for a treat, try these light and sweet snacks.

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Handsome sad dark-haired little boy having healthy breakfast and looking at the green vegetable on his fork and not liking itShutterstock / Dmytro Zinkevych

Eat your Brussels sprouts because they’re good for you.

Let’s get rid of that phrase altogether! Encourage kids to eat sprouts because they’re like baby cabbages or because they taste so delicious when they’re roasted. If they end up not liking Brussels sprouts, they may expect all healthy food to taste bad. (Psst! This recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts may turn them into a believer.)

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Children trying to take candy put asideSzasz-Fabian Ilka Erika/Shutterstock

We don’t keep candy in the house because it’s bad for us.

Avoid categorizing food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Instead, frame it as all foods can fit, but we need a variety of foods for us to stay healthy. Different foods offer different nutrients that our bodies need. Sometimes candy is ok, but not all the time.

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Furious little boy waiting for dinner.Shutterstock / plantic

If you don’t like what we’re having for dinner, I’ll make you something else.

You’ve heard this before—about not becoming a short order cook, but it’s true. Kids have to learn that it’s ok to not have their favorite foods all the time. Again, we need a variety of foods to keep us healthy (I use that phrase a lot). Instead, if you know you’re serving something they might not like, make sure there are lots of options on their plate to choose from.

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Asian kid with spoons and forks.Shutterstock / GUNDAM_Ai

Nice work! You ate all of your dinner tonight.

Kids shouldn’t think they’ve behaved badly if they didn’t clean their plate. As parents, we really need to encourage them to use their level of fullness to decide when they are done. This will set them up for success now and as their relationship with food becomes more complicated as adults.

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Young girl holding a broccoli isolated on whiteShutterstock / Igor Dutina

You won’t like it.

Don’t assume that your kids won’t like a food, including foods that you don’t like. Let them try all sorts of foods and not just one version. If they don’t like baked potatoes–try mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes or hash browns instead. Get them involved in meal preparation, too, and have them make their own lunches to learn about foods they might like to try.

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Say no to unhealthy food! Confident young woman putting away chocolate muffing laying near the fresh vegetablesShutterstock / g-stockstudio

If I eat that, I’ll get fat.

This is a biggie and encompasses all of our adult baggage when it comes to food and body image. Do your best to keep your own negative thoughts from your kids so they aren’t shaped by them.

Want to press restart on your diet? Learn all about our approach to healthy eating for a surefire start.

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Sad dark-haired little brother and sister sitting at the table and having healthy breakfast and looking sadly at the vegetablesShutterstock / Dmytro Zinkevych

Three more bites and then you can be done.

Again, this has to do with letting your kids be the ones that decide whether or not they are full. You might explain that snack time isn’t for another few hours, so they’ll want to make sure they’ve had enough to eat. Beyond that, let them decide when they are done.

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Small girl refusing to eat vegetable saladShutterstock / Africa Studio

You have to try it.

This can be a tricky one. I talk to my kids a lot about giving new foods a try—after all, how can they know they don’t like it if they don’t taste it? But I don’t let it turn into an argument. If I give them some encouragement and they still refuse, I know there are other things on their plate that they will eat.

Peggy Woodward, RDN
Peggy is a Senior Food Editor for Taste of Home. In addition to curating recipes, she writes articles, develops recipes and is our in-house nutrition expert. She studied dietetics at the University of Illinois and completed post-graduate studies at the Medical University of South Carolina to become a registered dietitian nutritionist. Peggy has more than 20 years of experience in the industry. She’s a mom, a foodie and enjoys being active in her rural Wisconsin community.