My 7-year-old was a picky eater when he was young, so it’s no surprise that getting kids to eat healthy foods is one of the most common complaints among parents.

As a dietitian and founder of Kids Eat in Color, I help parents create a pleasant and inviting eating environment where their kids can learn to enjoy new foods.

Having spent years observing kids’ eating behaviors, I’ve found that certain phrases make them go off the rails. To help your child develop a healthy relationship with food, avoid these four toxic phrases:

1. “You can have dessert after you eat your broccoli.”

When you use sweets to convince a child to eat something, all they hear is: “Just so you know, broccoli is bad. It’s so bad that I have to bribe you to eat it.”

We want kids to have a balanced perspective on food, and pitting different foods against each other doesn’t encourage them to seek out healthy options.

What to say instead: “You can eat the broccoli when you’re ready.”

This still gives them a choice, and often works better than any bribe. Making mealtimes playful can also help kids engage with foods they don’t like yet, on their own terms.

For example, you can pretend your broccoli is a microphone and sing into it before you eat it. Your funny modeling can encourage your child interact with their broccoli, too.

2. “If you’re quiet, I’ll give you a cookie.”

Here’s another phrase that puts sweets on a pedestal. The more sugary snacks are used as a reward, the higher they go on that pedestal.

As a result, your child might want sweets more than they want other foods. Or, they’ll start associating them with feeling good, and always rely on them when they want to feel better.

What to say instead: “We can play your favorite game tonight if you’re quiet.”

Choose non-food rewards, and enjoy cookies with your child when they want to have cookies (instead of only on special occasions).

3. “You have to take one more bite before you can say ‘no.'”

This essentially translates to: “You can’t say ‘no,’ regardless of how you feel.”

Forcing your child to eat may teach them to ignore that feeling of hunger and fullness. And as they grow older, they might struggle with saying “no” to things they’re uncomfortable with.

What to say instead: “We say ‘no thank you’ when we don’t want to eat something.”

Instead of making your child take another bite, teach them how to politely refuse food.

4.  “It would make me happy if you took three more bites.”

Here are the best foods to feed kids, according to a Harvard brain expert





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