Food-Talk to Promote Food Enjoyment for Worried Eaters

It is often best to avoid food-talk completely and focus mealtime conversation on other topics. However, when children ask about foods or when friends and relatives ask you about your child’s eating - it can be helpful to have some responses ready!

How we talk and think about food is so influenced by society, culture, our upbringing, media and food marketing. Questioning the every-day phrases we use is essential in order to promote food enjoyment and reduce worry for children who are cautious or anxious around food.

  • Avoid language that may give children a negative view of themselves or gives them a label: “He’s such a picky eater” “She’s impossible to feed!” and replace with phrases that build your child’s confidence “Some foods are tricky - she’s managing really well”. 
  • Avoid referring to foods as “safe foods” as this implies that other foods are not safe or even dangerous! Use neutral terms like “accepted foods”, “preferred foods” or “foods she is still learning to eat”
  • Avoid language that implies that food preferences are fixed “I don’t like that” “I hate that” “I will never eat…” “Do you like it?”. Instead talk about food preferences as a process - “I’m still learning to eat that” “I’m curious to see how it looks or smells, but I don’t think I’m ready to taste it just yet” 
  • If your child asks about a food or shows interest in a new food, avoid telling them it is “yummy” or “delicious” - it may be yummy for you, but not for them! Instead, name the food and describe the neutral sensory properties of food - “that’s lightly steamed carrot, it is warm, crunchy and a little bit sweet - what colour is it?” Vocabulary for talking about the sensory properties of foods:
    • Smell - Big smell; small smell; strong smell; mild smell; sweet smell
    • Taste - Spicy; sweet; sour; bitter; salty; big taste; small taste 
    • Sight - Green; Orange; Red; round; square; triangles
    • Texture - soft; chewy; melty; gooey; runny; hard; crispy; dry; wet
    • Sound - Loud sound (e.g. raw carrot); quiet sound (e.g. banana).
    • Temperature - Hot; cold; warm; frozen  
  • Avoid words that place value or judgement on some foods over others “Healthy”, “Unhealthy”, “junk” “Good for you”, “Bad for you”, - and instead talk about all foods neutrally, “all foods can nourish us” “we can enjoy all kinds of foods”
  • Avoid talking about nutrition at meals unless your child asks you a specific question about it. Children usually don’t eat for rational reasons - telling them to "eat your yoghurt because the calcium will give you strong bones", simply raises anxiety. 
  • Respect body-size diversity and promote positive body-talk. Avoid phrases that could lead your child to worry about health or weight such as “too much of that will make you sick” or “I’ve put on so much weight, I need to watch what I eat” or “I’m so bad, I had cake at lunch time” and instead teach that “people come in all shapes and sizes, and that is absolutely fine”