Top 5 Ways to Nurture Your Daughter’s Relationship with Food, From a Dietitian Mom

As a pediatric registered dietitian and mom of 3 (including a brilliant pre-teen girl), I know that fostering a healthy relationship with food for my daughter goes well beyond ensuring that she’s meeting her nutritional requirements. See, food provides more than just nutrition. It provides an opportunity for connection, joy, creating memories, celebrating culture and tradition, and so much more.  

It’s also important to understand that “health” is more than just eating well and being active. Health is multifaceted and involves things like mental health, sleep patterns, and socioeconomic status.  

Fostering a healthy relationship with food and body in your daughter involves creating positive food experiences (such as cooking together or enjoying smores around a campfire together), challenging societal norms (like the false value of thinness), and instilling values that promote self-compassion and body acceptance. It also involves using body-accepting and food-neutral language with your daughter, whether it’s directed towards her or yourself.   

In honour of International Women’s Day, I’m sharing 5 ways to nurture your daughter’s relationship with food:  

kids healthy relationship with food

1. Get your daughter into the kitchen:  

Life is busy. I get that more than anyone! But prioritizing quality time with your kiddos is important.  Cooking together with your daughter is more than just preparing meals; it’s a journey of exploration and creativity and can be an opportunity to connect and bond with her, while sharing family dishes and recipes. For example, my daughter and I LOVE making this homemade quick bread recipe that has been passed down for generations.  

Cooking together also imparts essential life skills that my daughter can carry into her teen and adult years. At the age of 10, she has learned to dice and roast veggies, bake muffins and cookies, and put together a beautiful charcuterie board. This makes her feel proud and empowered and has encouraged her to try different foods that she maybe wouldn’t have otherwise.  

2. Teach your daughter how to be an Intuitive Eater 

The mealtime environment that you create at home plays a pivotal role in shaping your daughter’s relationship with food. A calm, pressure-free, and pleasant space encourages her to explore and enjoy meals without anxiety. Granting her autonomy to decide how much to eat out of what you’ve served communicates to her that she can trust her body’s signals. If you’re not already familiar with Intuitive Eating, I’d highly recommend you explore and learn about it. Intuitive Eating allows your child to trust their body and eat accordingly. The first step is to learn how to eat intuitively yourself, which can be a journey in and of itself. To get you started, here are a couple of helpful resources:  

How to start Intuitive Eating 

Raising Intuitive Eaters  

As a mom, I completely understand the parental desire to “get your child to eat” in the “right” amounts for them, to help them grow into the “right” body. The thing is, we as parents don’t know what the right amounts are – only our kids do! And as far as what body they grow into, well, none of us know! And that’s ok. Appetites change from meal to meal and from week to week depending on SO many factors. Similarly, body shapes change throughout childhood, for many reasons. Your job as the parent is to provide a safe, positive mealtime environment with a variety of foods, at appropriate intervals throughout the day. The rest should be left up to your child!  

kids healthy relationship with food

3. Challenge diet culture: 

Oh, diet culture. This is a big (and important) topic, but I’ll do my best to summarize it. Diet culture often infiltrates our homes unnoticed (coming from school, peers, social media etc), influencing how we and our kids perceive food and bodies. Recognizing and challenging these damaging narratives is crucial for your daughter’s well-being.  

The pervasive messages of eating for “optimal health” or to achieve a specific body shape or size can lead to disordered eating and eating disorders, which are particularly prevalent among pre-teen and teenage girls. As parents, it’s our job to model body-accepting behaviors and language, rejecting unrealistic food and body “standards” so that we can break this generational cycle.  

It’s important to recognize that body shape or size is not, on its own, an indicator of health. All bodies are good bodies and it’s so important that we communicate this to our daughters (and all of our children). It’s also really important that our daughters learn that bodies change throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood and this is normal and nothing to worry about.  

4. Recognize that food serves purposes beyond nourishment and health  

Food is not just fuel for the body; it is a source of joy, and pleasure, a means of celebrating tradition, and so much more.  

Here’s an exercise you can try with your daughter (depending on her age): a mind map. On a large piece of paper, put the word “food” in the centre and answer the question, “What role does food play in our lives?” Start drawing lines branching out from the center (like the spokes of a wheel) to words that describe this relationship.  

For example, you might write about the cultural and social aspects of eating. Making this connection helps your daughter appreciate the richness of food beyond its nutritional value.  

It’s also important that we use neutral language when talking about food around our daughters. Dichotomous and judgemental labels like “good”, “bad”, “healthy” or “unhealthy” are not helpful, and in fact can harm a child’s relationship with food. A simple to keep food neutral is to simply call it by its name: cookie, broccoli, or ice cream.  

fostering healthy relationship with food young girls

5. Display self-compassion and body appreciation 

As a role model, your attitude towards your own body has a big influence on how your daughter views her own body. Demonstrate self-compassion and appreciation for your body, emphasizing that its value goes far beyond appearance. Be careful about subtle gestures or under-the-breath comments that you make about your own body or eating habits – your daughter is smart and will notice! What your daughter hears and sees will become her inner dialogue and what she deems as “normal”.   

For example, you could randomly say, “Wow, I’m so grateful that I have the strength to carry these groceries. What are you grateful for about your body?” I know, I know. It may sound a bit cheesy, but trust me when I say our words have impact.  

Be loud and proud about rejecting societal pressures that prioritize physical appearance or thinness over overall well-being. This teaches your daughter that her worth is not determined by how she looks in jeans or a bikini but is rooted in self-love and acceptance. 

Bottom Line 

Let’s break the generational cycle of food and body shame! Fostering a healthy relationship with food for your daughter involves having positive experiences with food, creating pressure-free mealtimes, learning about Intuitive Eating and rejecting diet culture, and recognizing the diverse joys food brings. It’s not all about nutrition! Your loving support and positive role modeling will empower her to embrace her body with confidence for years to come. 

Meet Sarah

Sarah Remmer, is a registered dietitian (since 2006) mom of 3 and the proud founder and President of The Centre for Family Nutrition, a Calgary-based nutrition counseling practice that specializes in prenatal, infant and child nutrition, that specializes in prenatal, infant and child nutrition. 

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