Talking to kids about the foods we eat and why 

Boy in yellow shirt bites into a strawberry

We all want the best for our kids, especially when it comes to their health. We now know that what our children eat can significantly impact the way they play, learn and sleep. The strong link between physical health and mental health is also clear.

Kids often experience a new food through a sensory adventure – the look, taste, crunch and temperature. Kids don’t generally describe foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’, ‘junk’ or ‘superfoods’ and often only learn this through the people they spend time with.   

While it is true there are many foods that contain important nutrients for good health, labelling a food “good” or “bad” can attach a positive or negative judgement or emotion to that food. This in turn can impact a person’s feeling of self-worth when eating particular foods.

If kids end up feeling guilty or shamed for eating or not eating certain foods, it can potentially increase the risk factors associated with eating disorders, such as disordered eating or eating patterns. Instead, we want our kids to understand that food does not have a moral value, rather it provides energy and nutrients that help our bodies survive. As such, no one is a good person, or a bad person based on what they choose to eat.

So how should we talk about foods? 

The best approach is to avoid making judgements and labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Dietitians and other health professionals like to use the words “everyday foods” and “sometimes foods” which describes the food in a neutral way but does help educate at the same time.

Everyday foods are those we need each day to be the healthiest version of ourselves. These are the foods that are described within the food groups of the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, such as lean meats and legumes, wholegrains and cereals, dairy and fruits and vegetables.

Young boy touching blueberries on a plate

Sometimes foods are the foods our bodies do not need every day and eating them too often can contribute to poor health. For this reason, we should aim to eat these only sometimes. These are often processed foods, such as chips, soft-drinks, cakes, chocolate and ice-cream or cooked savoury foods which are deep-fried, crumbed or battered. 

Developing a healthy relationship with foods 

Instead of labelling foods, parents can help their kids to grow positive relationships with foods by describing the food itself, or how food can affect their bodies. For younger children, it might be talking about the colour and texture of the food, or how everyday foods help them to run faster, or to sleep well, or help them *giggle* poo (… don’t all kids like to giggle about poo?)!

Asian girl asleep in her bed with a night light on

The sometimes foods can also be described by their colour or texture and how they affect our bodies; eating sometimes foods too often can stop kids from running faster or playing a whole game of sport, it might make them feel tired, make it hard to *giggle* poo or impact sleep. For this reason, we enjoy these foods with no guilt, but do need to monitor how much and how often we eat them.  

Talk to older kids and teenagers about how eating regular, healthy meals can help regulate their hormones and emotions, and that everyday foods can positively impact their concentration at school, their energy levels during a game of sport, and how well they sleep at night. Model listening to your hunger or thirst cues and responding to those as this is an important lesson for kids and teenagers also. 

Boys playing soccer on field

Linking different actions, rather than emotions, to foods means children start to understand what to eat to help them learn, play, grow healthier (… and *giggle*, poo). It can be difficult to do for adults brought up in the diet culture of the 80s and 90s. If this content is triggering or evokes any distress please seek out supports or discuss with your health provider.


  1. Bana (Accessed 2023).  Why language around food matters 
  2. Raising Children Network (Accessed 2023).  Healthy eating habits for teenagers. Access: 
  3. Nuton (Accessed 2023).  What is food neutrality. Access: 
  4. Nutrition Australia (Accessed 2023). Helping kids to become great eaters. Access:
  5. Raising Children Network (Accessed 2023). Healthy eating and exercise for parents. Access:

Health and Wellbeing Queensland thanks Dr Kim Hurst, Senior Psychologist, Robina Private Hospital Eating Disorder Service for supporting the development of this factsheet.