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.
Links

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 

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.~

====================================================== 

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.

Tuesday
Jul082014

Talk is Cheap...But It Can Change How Your Kids Eat!

Want to change how your kids eat? Here's the simplest advice I have: Let your kids in on the game plan.

In my experience, talking to your kids about how to eat is one of the most effective, and most overlooked, parenting strategies out there.  

  • Talk to your toddlers often.
  • Talk to your toddlers as specifically as you can.

But don’t talk to your toddlers about:

The good news is that there are only 3 things you need to talk to toddlers about.

These principles translate everything anyone needs to know about nutrition into behavior. 

Proportion, variety and moderation create the structure—a set of stable rules—you need for eating/feeding success.

I’ve written a lot about the importance of creating a durable structure.  Read:

Proportion, variety and moderation are easy for toddlers to understand.

  • Proportion: We eat more fresh, natural foods than anything else (including crackers, hot dogs, sugary yogurts, candy, cookies...) 
  • Variety: We eat different things on different days. 
  • Moderation: We only eat when we're hungry. We stop eating when we're full.

How easy is that?

Try boiling everything you want your kids to know about nutrition into 3 easy-to-understand statements. You couldn't do it.  

If knowing about nutrition produced healthy eating habits we would be a nation of stellar eaters. 

Educating your kids about food only teaches them more about food.  You want to teach your toddlers how to eat, that means teaching them how to make eating decisions.

Never before has a nation known so much about nutrition, yet eaten so poorly. 

It’s time to give up our obsession with nutrition (or should I say addiction to nutrition?) and start talking about habits instead.

Don't underestimate how much toddlers understand. 

The beauty of proportion, variety and moderation is that they are specific and action-oriented. They tell your kids exactly how you want them to eat.

All too often parents know what they mean when they say something, but their kids interpret things differently. 

  • Don't go too far? (Across the room? Across the street?)
  • Don't eat too many sweets? (2? 10? A bagful?)

If you think about it, one reason the “2 more bites” tactic works (at least in the short run) is because it’s incredibly specific. Both you and your kids know exactly what you expect.

Specific statements that produce good eating include directions about how to choose what to eat, nothow much to eat.

In this regard, I’m totally with Ellyn Satter who says that you decide what food you’re going to provide and your kids decide how much of it they’re going to eat.  Satter calls this the Division of Responsibility and you can read more about it on her site: www.ellynsatter.com. Also, read To Restrict or Not, That is the Question.

In my experience, many parents end up focusing on how much their toddlers eat because parents feel at a loss to shape what their kids eat. Parents don't make the switch from what to how much intentionally, and there are lots of good reasons to try to get kids to eat more—like you don't want to whip up a meal in the middle of the night. But if you want  your toddlers to choose the right foods, you have to give them some governing guidelines.

Here are a few things you should be very specific about.

Tell your toddlers you want them to eat:

There are other guidelines such as when it's time to eat (and when it's not) and how many sweets to eat in a day. I won't list them here, but they all flow from the three primary principles: proportion, variety and moderation.

Talk may be cheap...

But when it comes to teaching kids to eat right, what you say can really influence what your kids do. And doing (not knowing) is the key to teaching kids to eat right.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~