Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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Entries in Backup Meals (4)


Using a Backup to Ease the Way When Introducing New Foods

Introducing new foods at meals can be stressful because you want, maybe you need, your child to eat what you have prepared.

Well, maybe you did that before. But now that you have been following along with this step-by-step, blow-by-blow guide to introducing new foods, you know that expecting a child to eat new food is the problem. 

  • Unless you're child is an experienced taster, I don't recommend you introduce new foods at meals.
  • If you're child is comfortable tasting new foods, then introducing them at meals is fine.
  • However, don't change your expectations. Even when new foods are introduced at meals, you should only expect your child to take a taste.

If you haven't yet grown a good taster than even if you say, "just take a taste," your child won't really taste the food. She'll just go through the motions to be a "good" child.

  • She'll  just put it in her mouth.
  • Swallow the food (if you're lucky).
  • Say she doesn't like it.
  • And move on to the food she really wants to eat.

(If you're new, start this series here.)

The key is reducing or eliminating pressure. That is what the BACKUP does. The backup is a legal "out."

In  my last post I suggested that you make sure there is always something on the table that your child can reasonably be expected to eat. Those alternate foods are a kind of backup.

The Backup is a single item that is not part of the meal but that your child can select to eat whenever he doesn't want you are serving. But it's not chosen after the rejection. And it's not chosen by negotiation.

The backup is a food that you (and hopefully your kids) have chosen when you're not at the table eating. It's one food. It's always the same.

After your child has indulged in the power of the backup, he'll start to eat the new food.

But only if he's an experienced taster and only if you don't put any pressure on him. Let the structure of the backup do its work.

1. The Backup must always be the same food.

The less negotiation, the less fighting. 

2. The Backup must always be available.

The backup needs to be on hand every time your child wants it. Otherwise you'll just end up negotiating what the backup will be that night.

3. The Backup must be nutritious.

That way you won't worry if (or should I say when?) your child chooses it every night for a week.

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.

You want your child to like, but not to love, the Backup so there is no incentive for her to repeatedly choose it over the main meal.

Potential Backup Foods 

  • Cottage Cheese. Click here to read how I used this backup in my own home.
  • Canned Chickpeas
  • Frozen Peas
  • Tofu
  • Plain yogurt

Foods you should never use as a Backup

  • PB&J or any sandwich
  • Cereal
  • Flavored Yogurt
  • Pizza, chicken nuggets, spaghetti, etc.

Got questions? Ask. 

 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~ 

Read the next installment in the series.


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.


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. ~


What's It To You?

You can’t change how your children eat until you figure out how you benefit from the current eating system.

I know it doesn’t seem like you benefit from the current state of affairs (unless you count hair-pulling as a low-cost way to get a haircut), but you do.  Because, let’s face it, your kids wouldn’t eat the way they do if it didn’t somehow work for you.

That’s not the same thing as saying that the way your kids eat is your fault, because it’s not.  (Let me repeat: it’s not your fault.) But, if the current system didn’t work for you somehow

  1. You would have reacted to your kids’ eating foibles differently
  2. In turn, your kids would have reacted to you differently. 
  3. Instead of being exactly where you are with your kids’ eating, you would be in a totally different spot.  (It wouldn’t necessarily be a better spot, but it would be a different one.)

Makes sense, right? Don’t you know other parents who reacted to their kids’ eating in a different way than you did and then ended up with different results?

If you’re a normal parent, you engage in a delicate balancing act when you feed your kids: on one hand you try to meet your children’s nutritional and emotional needs and on the other hand you try to take care of your own feelings too.

Sometimes, though, taking care of your feelings produces counterproductive results.

For instance, research shows …

  • Parents who describe their children as picky eaters are more likely to pressure their kids into eating, even though pressuring has been shown to make kids more negative about the food they’re pressured to eat (thereby perpetuating the cycle of resistance).
  • Also, parents who are concerned that their children might be underweight are more likely to pressure their kids to eat even though pressuring kids to eat has been shown to reduce their food consumption.
  • Alternatively, parents who are concerned that their kids might be overweight are more likely to restrict their children’s access to certain foods, even though restriction has been linked to an increased intake of those foods once the restriction is lifted (such as when kids are visiting their grandparents).

Parents I talk to recognize that sometimes the tactics they use don’t work.  Still, using these tactics makes them feel better.  And feeling better is important.

In fact, taking care of ourselves might be the best outcome of the strategies we sometimes choose.

Research shows that we parents aren’t very good at assessing our children’s weight accurately, don’t know how much food our children need to consume, are often wrong about what our kids will and will not eat, often use food to transmit more than nutrition (i.e. to express our love), and the list goes on.

For more on these ideas read Cookie Love. and Hiding Our Heads in the Sand.

The solution isn’t to ignore whatever issue makes you nuts; it’s to take care of yourself in a way that affects the system differently.

There is a host of issues that are particularly poignant for parents.  Some parents find themselves obsessing about nutrition, others will do anything to avoid a conflict, go out of their way to make sure their kids are never hungry, or worry their kids won’t feel loved without treats.

Everyone suffers from some mix of these issues — we all want our kids to eat nutritiously for instance — but some of us are gripped by these concerns more than others.  And when you’re gripped, you can’t even begin to think of alternative tactics.  Read What’s Holding You Hostage?

1) If you have a mealtime script that plays out repeatedly — you do A, your child does B — you know you’re using a tactic that doesn’t work.  (If you and your kids weren't stuck in a rut the script would change.)

2) Ask yourself if the way you are interacting with your children around food could be making things worse.

3) Identify what feelings or fears you have. One way to do this is to imagine that someone has told you to change your tactics — for example, if instead of asking your children to eat two more bites you were told to let your children eat as much as they wanted to — and see what you would say after the word but.  (“But then Sally wouldn’t eat enough. “)

4) Address your worries in a way that helps you break out of a bad system.  For instance...

  • If nutrition is big for you, consider giving your child a vitamin pill. It might calm your nutrition-nerves and allow you to experiment with other ways to get to eat the way you want. Dealin’ with the Devil

 ~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~



Gregory, J. E., S. J. Paxton, and A. M. Brozovic. 2010. “Pressure to Eat and Restriction Are Associated With Child Eating Behaviors and Maternal Concern About Child Weight, But Not Child Body Mass Index, in 2-4-Year-Old Children.” Appetite 54: 550-56.