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Adults play the biggest role in a child’s eating behavior. They learn from watching. What an adult says has an impact on whether or not a child develops healthy eating habits. Negative phrases can easily be changed into positive, helpful ones! Try the following positive phrases.

Please SAY THIS...

"This is kiwi fruit; it's sweet like a strawberry."
"These radishes are very crunchy!"

Phrases such as these help point out the sensory qualities of food. They encourage children to try new foods.

"Is your stomach telling you that you're full?"
"Is your stomach still making its hungry growling noise?"
"Has your tummy had enough?"

Phrases such as these help children recognize when they are full. This can prevent overeating.

"Do you like that?"
"Which one is your favorite?"
"Everybody likes different foods, don't they?"

Phrases such as these allow children to feel like they are making the choices. They are learning to be independent. It also shifts the focus toward the taste of food rather than who was right.

"We can try these vegetables again another time."
"Next time would you like to try them raw instead of cooked?"

Reward children with attention and kind words.

"I am sorry you are sad. Come here and let me give you a big hug."

Comfort them with hugs and talks. Show love by spending time and having fun together. Patience works better than pressure.


"Eat that for me."
"If you do not eat one more bite, I will be mad."

Phrases such as these teach children to eat for someone's approval and love. This can lead children to have unhealthy behaviors, attitudes and beliefs about food and themselves.

"You're such a big girl; you finished all your peas."
"Look at Jenny! She ate all of her bananas."
"You have to take one more bite before you leave the table."

Phrases such as these teach children to ignore fullness cues. It is better for children to stop eating when full or satisfied than when all of the food has been eaten.

"See, that didn't taste so bad, did it?"

This implies to children that they were wrong to refuse the food. This can lead to unhealthy attitudes about food or self.

"No dessert until you eat your vegetables."

Offering certain foods as a reward for finishing other foods makes those foods seem more desirable than others. For example, trying to get children to eat vegetables by offering dessert usually backfires. Children think there is something wrong with the vegetable if they are being rewarded with dessert.

"Stop crying and I will give you a cookie."

Getting a food treat when your child is upset teaches him to eat to feel better. This can lead to overeating.


Adapted from the University of Idaho

Buffington, A. and Lindsay, A. 2021, Talking Positively At Mealtimes - Your Words Matter, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, FS-21-90

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Healthy Kids Resource Center

A one-stop shop for evidence-based research, resources, curricula, activities and materials that focus on obesity prevention for teachers and parents of young children. It is designed to educate parents and teachers as well as provide the tools needed to teach young children how to live a healthy lifestyle.