Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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DINA ROSE, PhD is a sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert empowering parents to raise kids who eat right.

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Dinner Together Building Healthy Families One Meal at a Time.

Food Politics Marion Nestle's intelligent take on the politics of food and nutrition.

Fooducate Like Having a Dietician on Speed dial.

Hoboken Family Alliance A terrific resource for people living in the great city of Hoboken, NJ.

The Lunch Tray Everything you need to know about improving school lunches.

Parent Hacks Forehead-Smackingly Smart Tips

Raise Healthy Eaters One of the best blogs (other than my own) for learning to raise healthy eaters.

Real Mom Nutrition Tales from the Trenches. Advice for the Real World. From a mom-nutritionist who knows!

Stay and Play The best indoor playspace on the East Coast. Oh yeah, and it happens to be owned by my brother.

weelicious Great Recipes for Kids 


The Hunger-Induced Meltdown: Is It Real?

Few things strike as much fear into parents as the hunger-induced meltdown.

Many parents solve the problem by preempting meldowns by carting a boatload of snacks around. I should know. I used to do it too.

Teaching kids to snack on demand is a bad lifelong habit to have. Researchers have concluced that some kids eat up to 10 times per day and that snacking is frequently no longer associated with hunger.

What's more, there is no way to tell if your child's meltdown is really related to hunger. Doling out snacks in that scenario just rewards bad behavior.

Here's a post from the archives that explains why you can never know if your child's meltdown really is due to hunger and one way you could respond.


 Consider the following scenarios: 

  • You want to serve more fruits and vegetables for snack but the time you tried, your child refused and then had a hunger-induced meltdown. So now you stick to crackers because it's the safer bet.
  • You think the Rotation Rule is a good idea, but when you gave your child a choice between a turkey sandwich and a ham sandwich, she said she wanted peanut butter. You tried to stick to your guns (following my advice/script)—"You can have peanut butter tomorrow but today your choice is turkey or ham."—but then your daughter refused to eat lunch and all afternoon she was a mess.
  • You're not fond of the before-bed snack, but when you don't give your son a little something, he cries and then wakes up throughout the night. It's not worth the fight.

I could go on, but you get my point. The hunger-induced meltdown gets in the way of your best plans...all the time!

You can connect the dots (hunger-->no eating-->meltdown) but there's no way to know whether the meltdown is actually caused by your child's hunger since you can't get inside your child's tummy.

Possibilitiy A: Your child is so hungry he can't think straight. Hence the meltdown.

Possibility B: Your child is hungry, but wants something different to eat, and she knows from past experiences that behaving badly gets her what she wants.

Possibility C: Your child is not hungry but wants to eat and he knows that behaving badly gets you to produce snacks.

Possibility D: Your child is not hungry but is just behaving badly. When you produce the snacks you distract her from the tantrum and calm is restored.

This is just one of the things that makes parenting kids around food soooo difficult.

Since you can't know whether you're dealing with Possibility A, B, C, or D, the only solution is structure. And a couple of lessons.

Structure, i.e. rules that lay the foundation for what and when food is eating, is necessary because it makes food and eating predictable for your kids. 

And here's one last radical thought: One important lesson even small children can (and need to learn) is how to soothe themselves in the face of the hunger meltdown. 

After all, most young children can't really eat when they're upset anyway. 

There's no reason not to feed the child who has the one-off hunger-induced meltdown, but doing it on a regular basis sets up the wrong habits, both for now and for a lifetime of healthy eating.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~ 


Healthy Snacks for Kids: Bars vs Cookies

In the spirit of Eat This, Not That!, I've done a series of posts over the years pitting foods against each other.

But rather than assess the nutrition, I compare how different foods influence habits. Here I discuss bars and cookies.

source: yacobchuk1 /depositphotos.comFrom a Habits Perspective, if a bar seems like a cookie, then it is a cookie. And so...

  • If you wouldn't give your kids cookies every day, then don't give them bars every day. 
  • And if you give your kids a bar one day, don't give them cookies that same day.

Think of this as the if-it-quacks-like-a-duck argument. This is especially true when toddlers are just learning to eat right. 

From a habits perspective, bars and cookies are equivalents.

The only key difference between a bar and a cookie is that people don't generally polish off a box of bars, but a box of cookies? So, from this angle, and pretty much only this angle, bars beat cookies. (Though I do admit, this is a pretty big advantage!)

From a nutrition perspective, many cookies and bars are also equivalents.

Yes, some bars are healthier than others. And I'm sure you're home made bars certain are. But in general, cookies and bars are essentially equivalent.

For instance, compared to a Kashi Soft-Baked Ripe Strawberry cereal bar, a Kashi Soft-Baked Oatmeal Raisin Flax cookie has fewer calories, less sugar and the same amount of protein. The cookie even has one extra gram of whole grains.

Yes, I cherry-picked, but only to get two products that are kind of middle-of-the-road. But the nutrition argument is essentially splitting hairs. I guarantee that for every super-healthy bar out there we could find a cookie equivalent.

In the January/February issue of their Nutrition Action Healthletter, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, rated bars: nut, protein, granola...

"Let's be clear. Even the best bars don't hold a candle to fresh fruit, vegetables, plain Greek yogurt, or a handful of unadorned nuts. (That's why we awarded no Best Bites, just Better Bites.) If none of those will do, a bar could work in a pinch. But are you getting a decent snack or a glorified cookie?"

If you want to read CSPI's nutrition comparisons of all the major bars, consider subscribing to their healthletter. It's a wonderful resource.

In the meantime, make sure you "use" baked goods as if they're cookies.

Sweet beverages as if they're soda. Muffins as if they're donuts. Pretzels as if they're chips. I think you get my point.

And for fruits and vegetables, plain yogurt, etc. for most snacks!

And now, check out these other posts. 

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Some Thoughts on How to Actually Change Feeding Strategies

As dissatisfied as many parents are with the way their toddlers (or even older kids) eat, the thought of changing strategies can be daunting.

I'd go so far as to say it might even be paralizing. Here are the 6 steps you need to implement in order to achieve the change you desire.

Remember, success comes when you adopt the Habits Approach — or catch the habitude! Eating isn't really about nutrition, it's about shaping behaviors.

1. Recognize that what you're doing works—at least in some way. 

Yes, the way you and your kids interact around food may not be moving your kids towards new foods or a healthier diet...but it does something positive for youThe quesion is, what? For most parents, the answer is straightforward: It gets the job done! In other words, you feed the kids the way you do because it prevents hunger, prevents conflict, enables you to use food to express love...the list goes on. Read What's It to You?,  What's Holding You Hostage, Soccer Mom Syndrome, and, for my own confession on this topic, Cookie Love.

2. Prioritize problems. 

Trying to tackle too much change at once is a recipe for disaster. Remember, this is a system that's giving you some stability. Make a list of everything you want to change. Then, recognize that many problems (your child won't try vegetables) harbor other problems (your child won't try new foods).

Then, prioritize which problem you will tackle first. There's usually a logical sequence. For instance, it makes sense that you have to teach your child how to be more comfortable trying new foods before you can get her to eat more vegetables.

Read Baby Steps and the Step-by-Step Guide to Introducing New Foods series.

3. Gather strategic ideas.

Watch how other parents handle similar situations. Get expert advice, i.e. read It's Not About the Broccoli!. Don't compare as a way to bring yourself down. Instead, consider how/why other strategies work.

Then, try some strategies on for size—but only in your mind. This mental exercise will give you valuable information about whether a strategy has potential to work for you. Not all will. And that's OK. Some parents can let their kids go to bed hungry but others can't. If you pick a strategy that goes seriously against the grain, it won't work. 

4. Plan a course of action.

I can't stress this enough. Make sure you know what you are going to do—the Happy Bite or the Rotation Rule,—for instance. And then, make sure you know what you are going to do when your child won't play along. Here are a few ideas. And here are some more.

5. Stay positive.

Don't let the naysayers into your head. This can happen in lots of different ways. The most common? All kids eat this way. You just have to wait it out. 

Yes, all kids go through developmental stages. No, you don't have to just wait it out. Read Parenting Myth: It's Good to Treat All Your Kids the Same Way. Actually, It's Not.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~