It’s getting kids to eat what parents serve that causes so many problems.

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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 

Monday
Jul282014

End Dinner Food Fights with a Backup

Parents often ask me what they ought to do when their child refuses to eat the meal that's been prepared.

Here's one of my answers: use a backup.

I don't need a backup anymore because I'm not parenting a defiant eater anymore. But boy, did cottage cheese save my life.

Here's an old post about backups. And do read this post on Cook. Play. Explore. which describes the author's experience using this technique.

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Cottage cheese gets a bad rap.  It has the misfortune of being thought of as a diet food (and a pretty awful one at that).  But let me tell you how it changed my life.

My daughter likes cottage cheese.  She doesn’t LOVE it, would never choose it over something preferable – something like sushi, steak or even mac ‘n cheese – but when I serve up meatloaf, a spicy chili or a new dish that doesn’t quite make it, cottage cheese is her “go-to” meal.

I learned a long time ago that giving my daughter the option of eating cottage cheese whenever she didn’t want my dinner enabled me to cook whatever I desired.  And that opened up the culinary world to my husband and me – and, as it turned out, to my daughter as well.

Cottage cheese is our backup.  And, sometimes, having a backup is all you need to turn a tense meal around.

Kids have all sorts of reasons to decline your meal: they don’t like it, they don’t feel like eating it today, they’re cruising for some control.  Having a backup eliminates the sting of your kids’ snubs. 

Having a backup means you don’t have to beg, bribe or cajole your kids into eating, you don’t have to cook an alternate meal (or multiple alternates if you have a couple of kids) and you don’t have to worry about starvation.  You can simply say, “There’s always cottage cheese.”

A backup gives your children the safety net they need.

The backup gives your kids control over what they eat because they know exactly what the options are: they eat either the meal you’ve prepared or the backup.

The backup gives your children the freedom to try new foods because they know there’s always an out: the backup.

The backup eliminates the power play.

Your children don’t have to like cottage cheese.

Don’t panic if your kids don't like cottage cheese. There are lots of other foods you can use as a backup: tofu, hummus, plain yogurt, beans (or anything else out of a can that can be consumed without cooking).

Whatever backup food you choose, make sure it meets the following criteria:

1) The backup must always be the same food item. Pick ONE food and only ONE food to use as a backup.  It will undermine your efforts if your give your children choices for the backup of if the backup changes from time to time.

2) The backup must always be available. Use a food that isn’t highly perishable and which you usually stock. Cottage cheese works because it comes in small snack sizes that stay fresh for weeks at a time.

3) The backup must be nutritious.  That way you won’t worry when your children choose it.

4) The backup must be a NO COOK item.  The point is to make your life easier, not harder.

5) The backup must NOT be a preferred food.  Don’t choose cereal, sandwiches, flavored yogurt, or anything else your children would rather eat. You don’t want to give them an incentive to choose the backup. Instead, select something your kids like, not LOVE, and which they find kind of boring.

The backup works by changing the dynamic at the dinner table.  

When you set the overarching parameters, and your children make the choices, you alter your interactions so there's no more fighting about food. And your kids end up eating more of what you serve.  Now that's a habit to cultivate!

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~

Thursday
Jul172014

How Parents Teach Kids to Lie About Hunger

Should you let your kids stop eating even if you suspect they're not quite full?

Or let them eat if you know they're not hungry?

The surprising answer is yes.

Otherwise, kids just learn to lie.

In most families, there is only one legitimate reason to eat: hunger.

That means if kids want to eat something they have to say they’re hungry, even if they’re not. “That cake looks good; I’m hungry.”

It also means that if they don’t want to eat something kids often have to say they’re not hungry, even if they are. “Those peas look gross; I’m not hungry.” (Sometimes kids also say, “I don’t like it,” to get out of eating.)

I don’t really think of this as lying, per se. Rather, children are working with the tools we give them. And, I don't think parents do this intentionally.

A story to illustrate the problem:

One day I was at a birthday lunch for a young child. Among the celebrants was a 5 year old girl. The little girl had a lovely lunch and when she was full she stopped eating. "I'm full," she announced.

So far so good.

About 30 minutes later, when the birthday cake came out: "Yum. I'm starving!"

I know there are parents out there who will say that it's possible this girl was hungry. After all, a half-hour had passed! I don't buy it. 

Teach your kids to become fluent in the "language" of hunger—no matter how young they are.

Eating is a complicated business because people eat for all sorts of reasons and kids need to know this.

For instance, in addition to Tummy Hunger, people often eat because of the following reasons: 

  • Taste Hunger; something looks good. When this happens, it’s best to have a small portion, just a taste.
  • Practical Hunger, they need to eat for practical reasons such as when there won’t be time for lunch later. In this case, you might have to have a few bites even if you aren’t hungry.
  • Emotional Hunger, the times we eat to quench uncomfortable feelings. These situations are best responded to with a hug, or other comforting measure.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Source: Tribole, E. and E. Resch, 2003. Intuitive Eating: a Revolutionary Program That Works., Vol. 2nd Edition. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Monday
Jul142014

Treats End Tears. At What Cost?

How often do you give your child a treat to end the tears?

You know what I'm talking about: 

  • Toddler goes in the stroller.
  • Toddler immediately starts crying.
  • Parent produces a muffin out of thin air.
  • Toddler stops crying. 
  • Success, but at what cost?

I, myself, am guilty of using food to stop incessant crying. Until I realized that I had turned my child into an automatic, reflex-driven, car-snacker. And then I had to undo that habit. 

Who hasn't resorted to a little behavioral bribe? If you are good you can have a cookie!

Food—or more specifically the lovely cookie—has the power to produce miraculous results: kids who wait patiently through phone calls, lines at the bank and even grocery shopping trips that take forever.

You can have an ice cream if you play quietly by yourself for another 15 minutes.

Don’t do it.  It might just affect your children’s lifelong eating habits.

A 2003 Yale University study found that adults who remember their parents using food to control their behavior have higher rates of binge eating.  They are also more likely to be excessively concerned about their weight, suffer from weight fluctuations, and other problems such as chronic dieting.  Yikes.

Food works to reinforce behavior in the short term, but it also communicates mixed messages to children about the role that food should play in their lives.

So much parental energy goes into encouraging healthy eating, but then we reward our kids for behaving well by giving them…brownies!

These peas are good for you.  These cookies are just plain good.

It makes sense that when parents reward children with dessert, these same children grow into adults who reward themselves with dessert.  But it’s not just dessert consumption that is affected.  A 2001 study found people whose families used food as a reward for success and good behavior were more likely to be bulimic than people whose families did not use these tactics.

1) The key to teaching kids to eat right is to keep your eyes on the long term prize.

Nutrition puts enormous pressure on parents to get the right foods into kids.  And that pressure makes parents do crazy things.  If you’ve ever found yourself wrestling under the table to get one more slurp of applesauce into your little superstar then you know what I mean.

One study of college students founds that 72% of the students who had been forced to eat food as a child said they still wouldn’t eat that food today. 

And a substantial body of research shows that pressuring kids to eat more makes them eat less.  Give up your membership in the Clean Your Plate Club.  Instead, pay attention to the long-term lessons your kids are learning.

2) You can carefully use rewards to encourage healthy eating, but avoid using food to encourage behaving.

In an earlier post I talked about the power of rewards so I wouldn’t blame you if right about now you were thinking that I am the contradiction queen. I don't think I am.

Giving stars as a reward for eating behavior—trying new foods, for instance, or eating vegetables before the rest of the meal—is completely different than using food as a reward for desirable behavior. Read Star Power.

I'm not going to dispute that rewarding your kids with foods they really like will get their attention, but pulling out the big guns (and let’s be honest, nobody bribes good behavior with broccoli) overpowers kids.  Really big rewards produce really big results because of the amount of pressure they apply. What's a poor kid to do?

But while using food coercively works, it won't position your kids to develop a positive relationship with food. Research confirms this.

 3) Look for non-food rewards that work.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.  Allow your kids to:

  • Plan a special outing.
  • Pick games for family game night.
  • Choose a movie for the family to watch.
  • Select a sport for everyone to play together.
  • Stay up a few minutes past bedtime.
  • Allow a sleepover.
  • Have a few friends over for a special “party.”
  • Choose a small toy from a special toychest.
  • Play an extra computer game.

I’ve often said that you shouldn’t sacrifice your kids’ long term eating habits for the sake of the immediate meal.

Here I’m saying, don’t sacrifice your kids’ long term eating habits to stave off the immediate meltdown. Instead, arm yourself with an arsenal of non-food rewards and set your kids up for a life time of healthy eating.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

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Sources:

Batsell, R. W., Jr., A. S. Brown, M. Ansfield, E., and G. Y. Paschall. 2002. “"You Will Eat All of That!": a Retrospective Analysis of Forced Consumption Episodes.” Appetite 38: 211-19.

Puhl, R. M. and M. B. Schwartz. 2003. “If You Are Good You Can Have a Cookie: How Memories of Childhood Food Rules Link to Adult Eating Behaviors.” Eating Behaviors 4: 283-93.