It’s getting kids to eat what parents serve that causes so many problems.

Sign up for my newsletter!


The Podcast

Listen Now!

DINA ROSE, PhD is a sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert empowering parents to raise kids who eat right.

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 

Entries in Bagels (5)


When There Are No Good Food Choices

Imagine you’re at a lunchtime event with your toddlerThe menu: bagels with three flavors of cream cheese, cookies, and cupcakes.  What do you do?

Here’s what the dad standing next to me did: “Son, you have to eat your bagel before you can have that cupcake.”

I hate it when there are no good options.  Even though bread is basically my favorite food group—Read Manna from Heaven—bagels are not up there on the nutrition index.

That’s why I’m always surprised when parents make their toddlers eat a bagel before they eat a cookie.  As if the bagel were a salad.

In this situation, the only thing you can do is abandon any notion of nutrition.  Instead:

  • Tell your kids that the hosts decided to put out treats for lunch.  (In other words, tell  your kids the truth.)
  • Let your kids eat whichever items they want (since they’re all nutritional losers).
  • Take the hunger “edge” off, and then go get a real lunch.
  • Limit goodies for the remainder of the day, since your kids will have already eaten their treats.

Most parents will probably think this is a radical strategy, but I think it’s time for these habits to come “out of the closet.”

Teaching kids that a bagel with cream cheese is the healthy part of the meal is like teaching them the world is flat.

I didn’t do a nutritional analysis of the cookies and cupcakes that were served that day.  But, compared to a typical bagel with cream cheese (which has about 480 calories and 20 grams of fat), one slice of Entenmann’s Chocolate Fudge Cake is a bargain: it has 200 fewer calories, and about half the fat.  The cake even has the same amount of fiber!

True, the chocolate cake has less protein and more sugar than the bagel and cream cheese, but it has roughly the same amount of protein and more calcium than the cream cheese. (Maybe your kids should eat the cake on the bagel!)

If you’re brave enough to face the truth about bagels, read La Crème de la Crème

When there are no good food choices, the most important thing you can teach your kids is HOW MUCH to eat.  

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that parents are more focused on teaching kids what to eat than they are on teaching kids when, why and how much to eat.    This strategy works OK when there are healthy foods on the menu.  “Eat these peas; they’re good for you.”

But when there are no good foods on the menu, instead of searching around for the “best” food option—and then erroneously labeling whatever you’ve found as healthy—try shifting gears.

Here are the things your kids should consider:

  • How hungry are they?
  • How much junk have they had lately?
  • Are they likely to want sweets and treats later in the day?
  • Is there are particularly tempting treat they haven’t tasted before?

How your kids answer these questions will help you (and them) determine how much they should eat: 1 cookie?  1 cookie and ½ a bagel? 1 cookie, ½ a bagel, ½ a cupcake?

Children need to know how to manage bad choices.  The world is full of situations where there are no nutritional winners.

Think pancakes, muffins or bagels.  Grilled cheese, chicken nuggets, French fries.  How your kids manage these moments will dictate how well they eat—both now, and forever.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~ 


La Crème de la Crème.

You have to use a lot of imagination to classify a bagel and cream cheese as healthy.

But that’s what we’re teaching our kids.  (I wish I had a dime for every time a child was made to finish her bagel and cream cheese before she could have dessert. I would be rich!)

A bagel with cream cheese — basically a blob of refined flour coated in fat — may be a tasty way to start the day, but did you know that …

  • The typical bagel is equivalent to 4 slices of Wonder White Bread?
  • Cream cheese is 80% (or more, depending on the brand) pure fat, most of it saturated?
  • Cream cheese contains so little calcium that the USDA doesn’t consider cream cheese to be part of the milk group?

If you top your kid’s bagel with cream cheese thinking it’s healthy, you would be better off piling on the pudding instead.

Compared to Philadelphia Cream Cheese, each 2-ounce serving of Kozy Shack Chocolate Pudding has …

  • Fewer calories (70 vs. 200)
  • Less sodium (70mg vs. 210mg)
  • Less fat (1.8g vs. 18g)
  • More calcium (5% vs. 4%)

I admit that the pudding does have more sugar than the cream cheese (9.5g vs. 2g), but the additional 7.5 grams isn’t much.  In fact, we routinely accept this kind of a trade-off: chocolate milk has 12-15 grams of added sugar; a serving of Honey Nut Cheerios supplies 9 grams.  Read The (Chocolate) Milk Mistake.

And, yes, the pudding does have half the protein, but the 4 grams delivered by the cream cheese is nothing to write home about.  Give your kids the pudding instead of the cream cheese and you can make up the 2-gram deficit with…

  • A serving of Goldfish crackers (4g).
  • One slice of Wonder Bread Classic White Bread (2g).
  • Half a Reese’s Peanut Butter Big Cup (2.5g). (In fact, maybe you should consider putting the Peanut Butter Cup on the bagel.  If you can cope with the sugar, you’ll get slightly less calcium from the peanut butter cup than from the cream cheese, but you'll also get fewer calories, less sodium, less fat and more protein.)

 Better yet, give your kids an egg. It has 6 grams of protein. 

And, if teaching your kids to eat the healthier part of the meal first is your goal, a lot of times you would be better off having them dig into dessert.

For instance, compared to a typical bagel with cream cheese (which has about 480 calories and 20 grams of fat), one slice of Entenmann’s Chocolate Fudge Cake is a bargain: it has 200 fewer calories, and about half the fat.  The cake even has the same amount of fiber!

True, the chocolate cake has less protein and more sugar than the bagel and cream cheese, but it has roughly the same amount of protein and more calcium than the cream cheese. (Maybe your kids should eat the cake on the bagel!)

Of course, I don’t really think you should serve pudding, cake, or peanut butter cups on a bagel, because that would teach the wrong lesson. My point is…

It’s not about nutrition, it is all about the effect of regularly eating bagels and cream cheese on your children’s lifelong eating habits. 

Somehow, a bagel with cream cheese has become a staple of the toddler diet.  It’s right up there with macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, juice and all the other “dangerous” foods — foods that won’t kill your kids in the sense that they’re poisonous , but items that are dangerous in the sense that they poison your children’s eating habits.

Here’s what we know:

  1. Lifelong eating habits are established in childhood.
  2. A diet high in saturated fat is one of the leading causes of heart disease
  3. Conditions leading to heart disease now start in childhood.
  4. High fat food condition people to overeat because fat has what are called reinforcing qualities: pleasurable traits that keep us coming back for more.

If you teach kids that bagels are the healthy choice, why should they eat their veggies?

The veggies don’t have anything in common with a bagel and cream cheese. There's nothing you can do to peas to give them the crunchy, the chewy, the creamy — in other words, the palatability — of a bagel with cream cheese.  So don't train your kids' taste buds in that direction.

Plus, kids who get used to “healthy” bagel eating, think they’ve got the healthy thing covered.

Teach your kids to use bagels and cream cheese right: as a wonderful, delicious, decadent treat. (You know how I feel about bread! Read Manna from Heaven.) 

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~ 


Sources: All product websites accessed 10/19/10; Gidding, Samuel S., Barbara A. Dennison, Leann L. Birch, Stephen R. Daniels, et. al. 2005. "Dietary recommendations for children and adolescents. A guide for practitioners. Consensus statement from the American Heart Association.  Endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics." Circulation. 112:2061-2075.  Read a copy of this article; Kessler, D. A., MD, 2009. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. New York, NY: Rodale.


The 10 Most "Dangerous" Foods

I want to be clear: the items on this list aren't dangerous in the sense that they are poisonous.

But they are dangerous in the sense that they poison your children's eating habits.

Danger #1: Regularly eating any of these items will constrict rather than expand the range of foods your children will accept.

Nothing on the list looks, smells, tastes or feels like any of the new foods you're always coaxing your kids to eat. This matters because kids eat foods with sensory properties they're used to.  Instead of introducing new tastes and textures, the foods on this list reinforce the ones your kids already enjoy.  They're all...

  • Bland or Sweet
  • Liquid/non-chewable goo or Chewy/Crunchy

Danger #2: These foods all point your children's taste buds in the direction of the junk you're trying to control.

When "healthy" foods mimic junk they encourage your children to eat more junk. For instance...

  • Chocolate milk has more sugar than some chocolate bars and drinking it regularly teaches kids to like chocolate, not milk.
  • Oatmeal breakfast bars taste more like cookies than oatmeal (and are usually less nutritious than oatmeal cookies). 

Danger #3: These foods trick YOU into teaching your kids these foods are healthy.

These items seem to pass nutritional muster -- if barely -- and because you've got your eyes on monitoring vegetables and junk, these items slip right by.  

Even worse, because these foods (and I use the term loosely) seem "good enough" (even though they're really not) they fill in for healthier fare, and that's what we teach our kids. Who hasn't made their kids finish their mac & cheese, their pizza, or their bagel (because it's the "good" stuff) before moving on to dessert?

"Dangerous" Foods can be used safely, they just have to be used sparingly.

  • Be Unpredictable: Make sure there's a gap of at least one day between "uses" so your kids don't expect these items as daily fare.
  • Be Selective: Don't use more than 1 or 2 items from the list on any one day.
  • Be Choosy: Consider these items as stand-ins for junk (even if they're healthier) and then let your kids choose between these foods and the junk they clamor for. Make it sweet yogurt or ice cream, chocolate milk or cookies...

10 Most "Dangerous" Foods (in no particular order):

1) Cheese Read What's the Problem with Cheese?

2) Sweet Yogurt Read Yogurt vs. Coke

3) "Healthy" crunchy snacks like veggie chips, pretzels or Goldfish crackers. Read Goldfish vs. Bunnies and Potato Chips Win Again!

4) Bagel and Cream Cheese Read The Snacking Minefield and Manna from Heaven.

5) Granola or Breakfast Bars Read Cookies for Breakfast?!

6) Chocolate Milk Read Chocolate Milk vs. Chocolate Bars and Chocolate-Flavored Formula Rocks!

7) Juice Read Training Tiny Taste Buds

8) Sports Drinks Read Soccer Moms, BEWARE!

9) Pizza Read Pizza and Peas: The Untold Story.

10) Macaroni & Cheese Read Mac & Cheese Scores Again!

You may have a slightly different group of dangerous foods, but if you're having trouble getting your kids to eat something exotic (like tuna, tomatoes or turnips) evaluate the foods you feed them on a regular basis.

And then start mixing it up. Read House Building 101.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~