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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Entries in Apples (5)

Friday
Jan172014

The New Happy Meal Scores a Win, Research Shows

The changes McDonald's has made to the Happy Meal are a win.

Unlike most of the buzz on the internet, I was in favor of the changes McDonald's made to the Happy Meal: smaller fries, including apple slices as a side, advertising milk as the drink of choice instead of soda. Read Why I'm Not So Unhappy About the New Happy Meal.

Now, research shows these changes have been successful: 

  • Kids consume an average of almost 19% fewer calories
  • More meals have milk than ever before.

Does McDonald's have a long way to go before their food is really healthy? Sure. But from a habits perspective these changes are great.

The new Happy Meal teaches the right habits.

  • A serving of french fries that is 56% smaller gets kids used to seeing child-sized french fries. That teaches great portion control.
  • Automatically providing apple slices—without the caramel topping, by the way—gets kids used to the idea that fruit is the go-to side dish. Read How Do You Like Them Apples? for my take on caramel dipping sauce.
  • Advertising milk instead of soda downplays the desirability of soda.

It's easy to vilify McDonald's and other fast food restaurants.

But the truth is that children eat more of their junk at home. Read Home Meals as Bad as Fast Food, Research Says.

And, as this research shows, kids can eat their favorite foods, learn the right habits and still cut calories. 

Personally, I'm in favor of teaching children proportion—to eat really healthy foods most frequently—rather than totally restricting unhealthy foods.

It doesn't matter what your kids eat. What matters is how often they eat it. 

Total restriction backfires by making the forbidden food more desirable.

I'm also in favor of teaching kids moderation: eating the right amount.

The changes McDonald's has made to the Happy Meal points kids in the right direction.

It's something to think about. It might even be something to read about!

 I discuss all of these ideas in It's Not About the Broccoli.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source:Wansink, B. and A. S. Hanks. “Calorie Reductions and Within-Meal Calorie Compensation in Children's Meal Combos.” Obesity Published online 23 Dec 2013.

Tuesday
Jul242012

What Would Batman Do? Teaching Kids to Eat Right the Superhero Way.

Research likes this drives me crazy because it leads parents down the "garden path."

It makes the solution to a picky eating problem seem easy, like all you've got to do is find the right trick.

Ask your child what Batman—or any superhero of your choosing—would order at a fast food restaurant and you can kiss your kid's bad eating habits goodbye.

Or at least, that's what happened in the study.

  • Researchers showed children photos of admirable characters like Batman and asked the kids to say whether they thought this person would order apple "fries" or French fries.
  • The children were then offered a choice of eating apple "fries" or french fries.
  • The children who thought Batman would order the apple "fries" were more likely to order the apple "fries" themselves.

The conclusion: The right prime helps children make the right choice.

I have a lot of respect for these researchers—Brian Wansink and his colleagues at Cornell's Food & Brand Lab do interesting and important work. Read Mindless Eating and you'll see what I mean.—but these kinds of trick tips don't work.

Let me modify that: These kinds of trick tips don't work unless you already have a child who eats pretty well. If you're stuck in the mud with a real problem eater don't expect too much.

For starters, parents rarely implement trick tips the way researchers do.

This is one of the points I always make about getting kids to try new foods.  Researchers ask kids to taste new foods. Parents ask kids to eat new foods.  There's a big difference.

In this study, the researchers calmly asked the children to reflect on how their favorite superhero might eat and then let the kids choose to eat whatever they wanted, chips fall where they may.

Parents implementing this strategy, however, will inevitably put on the pressure.

  • Don't you want to eat like Batman?
  • Do you really think Batman would eat french fries? I think Batman would choose apple "fries."
  • You better eat your apple "fries" if you want to grow up like Batman.

Trick tips makes parents think that if they could only find the "right" trick tip their children would voluntarily eat right.

Then, when the trick tip doesn't work, these parents think they need to find another, more powerful trick tip.

Or, these parents give up trying because they believe that their child, somehow, has developed a superhuman ability to resist eating right. Teflon Kid. Able to deflect eating solutions in a single stroke.

It's not the parents who have failed, though, it's the trick tips.

Trick tips don't work when they are presented as islands unto themselves—pieces of advice that are disconnected from any kind of cohesive teaching strategy.

Even if trick tips work once or twice, they aren't a strategy you can use for the long haul.

Don't you think the Batman question would get a little old? 

  • Would Batman choose cereal & fruit or french toast?
  • Would Batman choose pizza or a salad?
  • What do you think Batman would do at this buffet? 

Let's face it, trick tips have a pretty short shelf life.

I think of trick tips as icing on the cake. Icing is good, but it's nothing without the cake.

The foundation that supports the trick tips (or icing) has three main componenents: 

  1. Make sure that your child is learning the lessons you intend. Read Conscious Parenting.
  2. Emphasize a strong (but compassionate) structure that stresses variety.  Read End Picky Eating with The Rotation Rule.
  3. Eliminate as much pressure as you can. Read The Pressure-Cooker Problem.

Yes, it's a little more complicated than this, and there are a lot of other points I could make (an entire blog's worth of points actually), but these three components will get you started.

The public discussion about how to teach children to eat right is filled with trick tips.

  • Cook with your kids.
  • Garden with your kids.
  • Go grocery shopping with your kids. 

Implement these trick tips if you want, but don't expect them to solve your problems on their own. Integrate them into a suitable structure, however, and they'll definitely help get your kids where you're going—towards a lifetime of healthy eating.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Wansink, B., M. Shimizu, and G. Camps. 2012. “What Would Batman Eat?: Priming Children to Make Healthier Fast Food Choices.” Pediatric Obesity 7(2): 121-23.

Tuesday
Aug022011

Why I'm Not So Unhappy about the New Happy Meal

By now you’ve probably heard that McDonald’s is getting ready to roll out its new Happy Meal.  Nutritionists are not impressed.

Marion Nestle says, “If McDonald’s were serious, it could offer a truly healthier Happy Meal as the default and back it up with marketing dollars.”  Read Nestle’s complete statement.

Instead, the Happy Meal hoopla boils down to a meal that now will include:

  • 3 or 4 slices of apple
  • one ounce less of French Fries
  • Less sodium

From a nutrition perspective, these changes don’t amount to a hill of beans.  But from a habits perspective, they’re worth considering.

It’s easy to scoff at the addition of 3 or 4 apple slices to the Happy Meal, but who else can so easily convince kids to eat apples?

I’m not saying that I wouldn’t like to see bigger changes.  Of course I would.  But I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when McDonald’s puts its branding might behind apples.

I’m sure you think most kids will eat the fries and dump the apples; don’t be so sure.  Branding shapes taste preferences.  (I guess that’s what a $10 billion advertising campaign can buy you!)

Check this out:

Researchers in California asked a group of preschoolers to taste two sets of carrots.  One set was placed on top of a McDonald’s French fries bag.  The other set was placed on a plain white bag.  What do you think happened?

The kids preferred the McDonald’s carrots.  Identical food.  Different packaging.

The researchers took McDonald’s French fries.  They placed some in a McDonald’s bag and some in a plain bag.  The preschoolers said the McDonald’s French fries tasted better—even though the plain bag fries were also McDonald’s fries.  Identical foods. Different packaging.

The same thing happened when the researchers presented the children with Chicken McNuggets and with milk: the kids thought the branded food tasted better.  (See, kids don’t really know what they like. They know what they think they like!  Read Mind over Matter.)

If McDonald’s can do this for apples…  

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

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Robinson, T. N., D. L. G. Borzekowski, D. M. Matheson, and H. C. Kraemer. 2011. “Effects of Fast Food Branding on Young Children's Taste Preferences.” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 161(8): 792-97.