How do you raise competent eaters? Teach kids to cook and take a step back

As a mother of two teenagers, I fully realize that feeding children of all ages can sometimes be a bit stressful and difficult. We love our children and want them to be healthy and have healthy habits and behaviors.

This natural desire and concern for our children can easily turn into excessive preoccupation and genuine worry.

This can cause us to want to take control of their eating habits and possibly do or say things that aren’t necessarily helpful regarding food and their body image. This is why it can be useful to gain knowledge on the education of competent eaters.

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Teaching children to cook is one step in raising competent eaters.

Raising competent eaters or raising children who “eat healthy”

As parents, we want our children to grow up into competent adults, don’t we? The definition of competent is “having the ability, knowledge or skill to do something successfully”. We want them to be competent in school, competent in the profession they choose, competent in their relationships, etc.

Something that is thought of less often, I feel, is raising competent eaters – raising children who grow into adults who have the ability, knowledge and skills to feed themselves in a way that makes them feel good and helps them live their lives and have a healthy relationship with food and their bodies.

Ellyn Satter, registered dietitian and family therapist and authority on food and nutrition for children and families, says, “Competent eaters are confident, comfortable and flexible with food, and are pragmatic and dependable about get enough nice and nutritious food. food.”

As parents and grandparents, we can help our children become more competent eaters by providing and encouraging positive food experiences and learning more about what it means to be and raise competent eaters.

Lily Jones bakes banana and blueberry muffins with her mother, registered dietitian Anna Jones, at their home in this file photo.  Being comfortable in the kitchen and knowing how to create simple, nutritious and great tasting meals is an important life skill.

Why is it important to breed competent eaters?

According to research on food competence, people who eat well tend to be in better physical and emotional health. They tend to have a better diet – including more fruits and vegetables and a greater variety of foods, a lower incidence of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes and have better quality indicators of life, including more positive sleep and activity patterns.

Competent eaters are also more self-aware and accepting of themselves, not only with food, but also with their bodies and in other areas of their lives. The emphasis on helping children have a positive relationship with food is increasingly recognized in the scientific literature as a way to prevent eating disorders and eating disorders and problems related to body dissatisfaction.

Characteristics of competent eaters

Competent eaters:

  • Take the time to eat and make nutrition a priority by planning several meals and snacks a day
  • Are relaxed about eating and trust their body to eat enough
  • Are flexible to “deal with” when other people and situations dictate what is available to eat and what is not
  • Listen to their body to know when they are hungry and when they are full and ready to finish a meal
  • Savor the food and enjoy eating guilt-free
  • Give himself permission to eat whatever he wants and enjoy it
  • Sometimes they eat in response to their emotions or eat beyond comfortable satiety, but don’t worry because they know it’s just a normal part of eating.
  • Are relaxed, confident and happy to eat, and take good care of themselves with food
A sweet and spicy chicken vegetable stir-fry is prepared by registered dietitian Anna Jones who says fruits, vegetables and whole grains are important nutrients for a diet that helps prevent cancer.

How to put it into practice

As caregivers, we have a great influence on the relationship our children have with food and their bodies. Becoming a competent eater and raising our children to be the same is a process that takes time. Here are some things you and your family can do to start moving in that direction.

1. Eat together (if possible)

In our busy world, showing our children the importance of sitting down and taking time to eat is essential. With kids in the business and many of us with busy lives, this can’t happen ALL the time. Its good. But prioritizing and achieving it is sometimes possible and we know it has a positive impact.

2. Be an example

Children are like sponges and learn by watching adults. They learn from what you eat, how you eat, and what kind of relationship you have with food. We can be models of food enjoyment, constantly nurturing our bodies and speaking kindly about our own bodies. If you’re struggling with your own relationship with food, it’s never too late to address it, both for you and for your children/grandchildren.

3. Teach them to cook

Being comfortable in the kitchen and knowing how to create simple, nutritious and great tasting meals is an important life skill. Again, with our busy schedules, this may seem impossible. I promise, however, that the reward is worth it. Start simple and let them choose what to cook and have fun! Are you not really comfortable in the kitchen? It’s never too late to learn.

4. Take a step back

As a registered dietitian and mom of two teenagers, I know full well that this one can be very difficult! But simply put, kids can’t learn to self-regulate their eating if we always tell them what to do. We can offer advice and suggestions, make food available and lead by example, but we cannot force and/or control and the harder we try, the more it will backfire and stop them eating.

Ultimately we have roles as a parent/caregiver and as children and teenagers they have roles. By taking a step back, letting go, and giving our children the autonomy to make the best decisions for themselves (with some structure), we can create an easier, less stressful family food environment.

(I’ll cover more about this in Part 2 to come in my next blog on division of responsibilities.)

A sweet and spicy chicken vegetable stir-fry over whole wheat linguine prepared by registered dietitian Anna Jones in this file photo.  Jones says teaching children to cook and eat together as a family helps raise competent eaters.

Body diversity and education of competent eaters

The further away our children’s bodies are from the lean cultural ideal, the harder it can seem to put this framework into practice. Because of weight stigma and prejudice, we believe that if we can control our children’s food, movement, and other behaviors, we can help them control and “fix” their bodies and make them fit. to what our culture deems acceptable and therefore to save them from suffering.

In fact, the more we control, cajole, nag and restrict, the more we teach them not to trust their bodies and not to be competent eaters who make decisions about food according to their body’s needs.

The more we exert guilt, shame and pressure on them to “eat their veggies” or “don’t eat too many sweets” or suggest “maybe they’ve had enough”, the more we drive them away from the ability to approach food and relate to their body peacefully.

Having a stressful relationship with food and having a poor body image can lead to disordered eating habits and an unhealthy relationship with food. A client told me that one comment a parent made about her weight after she left for college scarred her for many years and contributed to her disordered relationship with food and her dissatisfaction with towards his body.

Making comments about a child’s weight, appearance, or body shape may seem harmless, but our off-the-cuff remarks can have lasting and harmful effects.

The reality is that bodies come in different shapes, sizes and weights. We are not all supposed to be the same size. Bodies change as children grow, going from babies to toddlers, to teenagers, to teenagers, and then to adulthood. There is no one right way to get a body. The more we can love, support and accept our children for who they are instead of trying to “fix” them, the better off they – and us – will be.

Banana and blueberry muffins prepared by Lily Jones, daughter of dietitian Anna Jones, in this file photo.

What message do you want to send to your children?

We love our children and want the best for them. Ultimately, the message we can share with children of all ages (and perhaps remember) is that food is about nutrition, but also about fun and enjoyment, and doesn’t have to be a matter of stress, guilt, fear, reward, punishment or rules.

By changing our own approach and beginning to incorporate these few guidelines, we can raise our children and grandchildren to competently and peacefully nurture and care for themselves and help them have a relationship. healthy with food and their body.

Want to know more about this topic? Check out for podcast suggestions to help you learn more about stress-free child feeding.

Anna Jones

Anna Jones is a dietitian. Visit her website at

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