1 Build positive and predictable food rituals
In our fast food culture, mealtime in many homes is no longer a time of family togetherness. Find your family’s own ways to express gratitude for bounty and to appreciate food (after all, we need food in order to live. You can also give your child responsibility for one part of each meal -- saying blessings, setting the table, or choosing the menu, for example.
2 Present foods with variety and an attitude of celebration
Kids innately like to try new things -- all you have to do is put new foods in front of them and they'll usually take a taste. Try to avoid giving in to complaints and providing foods they'll eat with no problems. That may work in the short run, but it could result in unhealthy eating habits which become life-long. It’s better to approach food as a way of enjoying life in its variety, not just as “fuel” to be gobbled down.
3 Avoid labeling certain foods as “forbidden”
Within your value system and dietary restrictions, present all kinds of food in moderation. The key is to set reasonable limits, then let the kids choose freely within them.
4 Do not use food as a reward or a punishment
Although it may be tempting to take away dessert or dinner to punish negative behavior, avoid the impulse. Use other disciplinary tactics, such as removing a favorite activity or TV show for an evening. You do not want your kids to associate food with sadness, anger, or with pleasing others, only with sustenance and pleasure.
5 Do not pressure your children to lose weight through diet or exercise
Help kids to recognize the feeling of being comfortably satisfied after a meal and to stop eating at that point. As long as they are presented with a variety of foods in moderation, most children will naturally reach and maintain their appropriate body weight. Approach exercise as a fun activity that makes your body feel good, and help children find a type of exercise that doesn't feel like a chore.
6 Limit the amount of television your child watches
Unfortunately, television and movies are brimming with images of dangerously thin women and musclebound men. When your child does watch TV, help him to challenge these unrealistic and idealized body images. Make an effort to show that people come in all different shapes and sizes, each one valuable and special. Regularly point out positive qualities in others that have nothing to do with physical appearance.
7 Be aware of behaviors and messages you model to your children, both verbal and nonverbal
Try not to give your children negative messages about their eating habits and bodies (“You’re eating like a pig”, “You’d be so handsome if you’d just bulk up a little”). Focus more on giving your child positive messages about who he or she is as a person (“You have a beautiful smile”, “You are so generous to your friends”, “You are a wonderful helper”). Most importantly, try hard not to give your children mixed messages about food and body image. For example, if you tell your daughter she is beautiful, but you are constantly dieting and worrying about your own weight, she will be confused and will have trouble believing what you say about her.
8 Remember that help is available
Don’t feel that you have to handle all problems alone. There are many caring professionals, including pediatricians, therapists and teachers, who possess a wealth of information about these issues. Reaching out to them can often be the best decision you make in supporting your child’s personal growth.
When it comes to healthy eating and positive body image, the good news is that parents have a much greater influence on their kids than they may think. Despite kids’ attempts to push against limits and assert their independence, they still look to you for guidance and praise. For that reason it is important that you examine your own behaviors and beliefs about eating and appearance. If you find a lot of negativity and shame in the way you view your own body, get support from a friend or counselor to feel better. You won't be the only person to benefit -- your kids will too!