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 

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Friday
Mar232012

End Picky Eating With The Rotation Rule

Want to change how your kids eats? Implement The Rotation Rule. I promise, it will change your life.

That's no exaggeration. I've had parents tell me that implementing The Rotation Rule, doing just this one thing, changed their lives: kids started being more adventurous, they asked to taste foods, some kids even started eating the occasional vegetable!

The Rotation Rule is simple: Don't serve the identical food two days in a row.

And by extension...don't serve an identical food twice in one day. (Parents with cheese stick-aholics, I'm talking to you.)

Read House Building 101.

Most parents already implement a version of The Rotation Rule, but they do it only at dinner.

If you have family dinners, meals probably change from night to night.

All other meals and snacks, however, are typically handled with a small number of go-to foods.

And therein lies the problem: 

  • Day after day, at every eating opportunity except for dinner, kids eat a repetitious diet of familiar, warm and fuzzy foods that they come to expect.
  • Control over eating decisions shifts from kids during the day to parents at dinner.  (You may think you are in control, but if you serve foods because you know your kids will eat them, your kids are really in charge of the eating plan.)

This feeding style encourages children to get locked into a patterned way of eating that unintentionally teaches kids to prefer "child-friendly" fare, not to try new foods, and to resist your efforts to teach them to eat right.

You need a coherent feeding strategy.

Without a strategy, every eating opportunity has to be dealt with on its own terms.  

In other words, parents end up winging it based on...

1) Some version of nutrition that they carry around in their heads. (Nobody has the whole thing covered, and everyone worries about different things.

2) The answer to three questions: 

  • Will my child eat it?
  • Is it relatively healthy? Or, at least, is it healthier than other available options?
  • Has my child already had too much junk?

Winging it doesn't really work.

When there is no feeding strategy, parents can't:

  • Be consistent.
  • Communicate the reasons behind food-related decisions to their kids so the kids never know the game plan.
  • Stop the constant negotiation that kids seem to like so much.

And, when you constantly look inside food to see the nutrients you stop paying attention to taste and texture, the factors that shape kids habits.  Read The (Chocolate) Milk Mistake.

The Rotation Rule solves all of these problems.

The key to implementing The Rotation Rule sucessfully? Choices and reassurance.

Choices: You set the rotation structure; your kids choose the specifics.

Reassurance: Kids need to know their favorites aren't gone forever.

  • "Would you like waffles or eggs?"
  • "Toast"
  • "You had toast yesterday. You can have toast again tomorrow but today you have to have something different. Would you like waffles or eggs?"

The next day... 

  • "Yesterday you said you wanted toast, and I said you could have it tomorrow.  Well, now it's tomorrow. Do you still want toast? Or would you like yogurt?"

How different do foods in the rotation have to be?

Only you know your child, but ideally you would rotate between foods that are really different: cereal one day, eggs the next.

If you have a child who is particularly picky, or who has issues with sensory sensitivity, your rotation might be more subtle: different brands of blueberry yogurt, slight variations in the texture of the apple sauce.

Other things to know:

  1. Only use the kinds of foods your child already eats.  Save the "real" new stuff for later. 
  2. Don't keep the strategy a secret. Communicate The Rotation Rule—and your rationale for using it— to your kids.

Read about how to use The Rotation Rule in real life.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

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Reader Comments (5)

Great post - I also think rotation in a diet is important to keeping our bodies healthy. Last year, when my son was found to be allergic to multiple foods all of a sudden, I was told to eliminate all these foods, and then reintroduce them, but also make sure to rotate them in his diet.

March 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeanette

You called us out on this one: we rotate lunch and dinner foods, but have totally overlooked breakfast and snack foods. Most of our snacks are fruit and veggies and I have just been offering what is in season (you know trying to eat local and organic and not breaking the bank). According to the rotation rule it would be preferable to serve five different fruits and veggies on five different days instead of the same on a platter several days in a row? One thing with my picky eater is that he is not just picky but also a small eater - if he eats one banana he is good for the day (or even longer). How do you make the rotation rule work with a back-up food like in you cottage cheese-post? As always I love how your posts make me think!

March 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThy

Jeanette: Thanks foro sharing the rotation requirement for reintroducing foods your son is allergic too. Interesting.

Thy: You can't rotate the backup, that would defeat the purpose. The backup has to be constant, so it becomes boring. Some repetition isn't harmful if it's helping you achieve your overall goals. Having said that, if your child is overusing the backup it's not working and you need a new technique.

Dina

March 27, 2012 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

Dina,

I agree in theory with the rotation rule. The trouble I have is that with two kids that are under 3 years old, getting food on the table, PERIOD, is a lot of work. Thus we end up eating leftovers a lot...and sometimes they last a while because I don't want to have to cook fresh food every single day. Take for example, I made lentil soup several days ago and despite having some for one meal a day, it's still around. We didn't have any today, because *I* was tired of it, but if we don't have more tomorrow it's gonna go bad. My husband also really likes leftovers. So...how does one have enough variety of healthy foods in a rotation without making their whole life revolve around food preparation?

June 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAdina

Adina,

I'm with you on not wanting to spend my life cooking, and not wanting to waste food. I recommend that you start using your freezer to store food that won't make it through more than 2 rotations. After a couple of cooking days you'll have a lot of options of home cooked food to put on the table. The other way to use leftovers is to vary when during the day they are served. Think about using a dinner leftover for breakfast or lunch. The key here is to get your children to expect "different" instead of "same."

Good luck and let me know how it goes.

Dina

June 21, 2012 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

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