Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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Can Chocolate Help Your Kids Eat Healthier?

What can you do when your kid refuses to eat the very foods he needs most?

Nutritionist Nicci Micco suggests you go "kid-friendly."

  • Your kid doesn't like fruit? Mix it up in a "milkshake."
  • Your kid won't eat beans? Mash them up into a yummy dip and serve them with chips.
  • Your kid shuns broccoli (and other good-for-you veggies)? Drizzle on the cheese sauce.
  • Your kid won't drink milk? Stir in some chocolate.

In my view, these tactics should be the start point, not the end point, and certainly not the everyday point. Maybe this is what the author meant, but I don't thnk so. 

Read Micco's post.

Make these kinds of compromises (chocolate, cheese and chips) with caution. You could end up with kids who reject more of the real stuff.

I made this point on my Facebook page and got some kickback.

  • One person noted that these suggestions are intended as a way to introduce kids to foods they won't eat.
  • Another person said that using these kinds of compromises are the only way she can get her kids to eat any fruits or vegetables.

These are valid comments, and I appreciate that these readers posted them.  I would like to add:

1) Sometimes the less nutritious choices is right.

This is a position I have advocated many times. Read When the Less Nutritious Choice is Right and You Catch for Flies with Honey.

2) I wish parents would read pieces like this as ideas for introducing new foods, but they don't.

In my experience, when parents see a suggestion (or a food item) that works, they use it repeatedly, not just as a stepping stone to other foods. 

That's how kids end up eating so much cheese: it appears on every list of toddler friendly foods.  That's a mistake.  Read How Much Cheese Should You Eat? and Cheese vs Chips.

The repetition is a trap.

3) The better takeaway from this Micco's post is this: Make foods taste good.

You don't need to go "child-friendly" to avoid making vegetables bland and boring. Think garlic, oregano, cumin.

4) There are two essential elements to increasing new food acceptance: 

  1. Mixing it up. Read End Picky Eating with The Rotation Rule
  2. Asking kids to taste—but never asking them to eat—new foods. Read Why Some Kids Should Spit.

Of know, for every study that shows “child-friendly” foods are bad, you can find ones that say they’re not so bad.

One study Micco cites in her post found that kids who drank flavored milk had higher calcium intakes than kids who drank unflavored milks, without any increase in their overall intake of added sugar

In other words, more calcium, the same amount of sugar: seems like a win. 

But not if you have to keep sugaring up food to “sell” it.  And not if chocolate milk makes your kids avoid foods that aren’t so sweet.

Simply put, overusing "kid-friendly" tastes and textures points your kids' taste buds in the wrong direction.

It reinforces, rather than rectifies, the problem. Read Why Toddlers Don't Eat Vegetables.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Johnson, R. K. and M. Q. Wang. 2002. “The Nutritional Consequences of Flavored-Milk Consumption By School-Aged Children and Adolescents in the United States.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 102 (6): 853-56.

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Reader Comments (4)

You often mention the importance of switching things up. But could you possibly provide some ideas on *how* to do so in the midst of a packed schedule? Part of the reason why my son eats a lot of the same foods is because I only have so much time to make a meal or a snack. How can busy parents find the time to shake up the food rotation?

October 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmily Guy Birken

I agree with the "make it taste good" philosophy. I've recently starting roasting most of my veggies in a baking tray with a little garlic powder, salt, pepper & olive oil. Takes a bit longer than steaming them (although you can cut them small & "kick start" them in the microwave if you're in a hurry) but they are WAAAAAAAY tastier. I wouldn't say my kids are gobbling them up, but they're definitely eating more of them, and more variety. And I think my own veggie consumption has gone up too! My plate used to be about 1/4 veggies (not counting starchy goodness), now it's more than half - so I'm eating less meat (good for my wallet, my health & my butt!!!).

October 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVestifarian

Emily: Ideas coming in today's blog post.

Vestifarian: Thanks for sharing how yummy vegetables work. They won't, on their own, make a bad situation brilliant—as you point out, your kids aren't gobbling them up—but tasty food always helps.


October 29, 2012 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

I used to claim that I could introduce any new dish to my kids as long as it contained corn. Then my youngest turned two and warped into the pickiest eater ever and, well - two years later - I just don't know anymore.

I was considered a picky eater myself as a child and I can totally get behind just making the veggies tastier (mushy, sloppy, boiled to goo peas were just as dreaded as crisp, fresh snow peas were coveted).

One thing I was thinking about (when pregnancy hormones were toying with my sense of taste and smell) was: is there a correlation between hormonal changes in toddlers and young children and their pickiness? There is a lot of development going on there...

As always, your blog is a pleasure to read. Thank you.

October 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThy

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