Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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Entries in Cake (2)


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.~ 


Party Hardy!

No one expects party food to be nutritious -- and I'm not here to bash parties -- but you've got to admit, the typical kids’ party really takes the cake (if you know what I mean).

It’s difficult to know the nutritional value of most party fare:

  • There isn’t one set menu -- although kids' parties where I live almost always serve pizza, juice and cupcakes.
  • The calorie content for seemingly identical items can vary quite a lot -- the range for cupcakes can be more than 500 calories.

I'll get to the nutrition of party food in a moment, but first, let's think about habits.

If parties occurred infrequently -- and if kids only ate pizza, juice and cupcakes when they attended parties -- there would be no problem.

But kids seem to gobble up party food on a weekly, or sometimes even a semi-weekly, basis.  And while it may be true that most kids don't hit the trifecta of pizza, juice and cupcakes too often, I think it's safe to say that many kids have the opportunity to indulge in a duet of two (pizza and juice or cupcakes and juice) fairly frequently.

The Habits Perspective: Have your ever thought about what blurring the line between party food and regular food teaches your children about food and eating?

I've written about the impact of juice and pizza on kids' eating habits.  Read Juice: Apple, Grape, Punch; Coke Beats JuicePizza and Peas: The Untold Story; The Snacking Minefield.

And I assume everyone knows what eating cupcakes on a regular (say weekly) basis would do to their kids' eating habits.

Well, regularly eating party food messes with your kids' habits too.  It teaches kids the wrong message about:

In addition, pizza, juice and cupcakes all shape your children's taste buds to prefer high fat, sweet and/or salty foods.  These nutrients have been linked to overeating.  They also influence whether your kids will accept the finer foods you offer, foods like asparagus.

The Nutrition Perspective: To accommodate the range in calorie counts, let’s consider two different scenarios -- one party hosted by Minimus Mom and another one hosted by Maximus Mom.

With Minimus Mom your child is likely to take in..

  • ½ slice of Pizza Hut thin crust cheese pizza from a regular pie = 95 calories
  • 1 small juice box = 60 calories
  • 1 small Hostess Cupcake type of cupcake = 200 calories

Total for the party = 355 calories.  That’s not bad, even if it is basically a third of a toddler’s daily intake.

With Maximus Mom your child is likely to take in…

  • 1 slice of Pizza Hut hand tossed crust cheese pizza from a regular pie = 220 calories
  • 1 large juice box = 100 calories
  • 1 cupcake from someplace such as Crumbs Bake Shop or one of the new cupcakes from Cinnabon = 500 or more calories.

Total for this party = 820 calories or around 80% of your toddler’s daily intake.

See USDA calorie intake recommendations.

Remember, though, that neither the count for Minimus Mom nor the count for Maximus Mom takes into consider all the extras.  If your child...

  • Drinks 2 juice boxes instead of 1, add 100 calories.
  • Snacks on 1 ounce of Goldfish Crackers, add 140 calories 
  • Scores a scoop of ice cream, add 100-200 calories

With these added delicacies your child could consume 600- 1000 calories at one event.  (And don't forget the candy from the party favor bag that she'll gobble down on the way home.)

The variation in calorie counts for pizza depends upon things you can see -- the type of crust, type of topping and size of the pie (larger pies yield larger slices) -- but that's not true with cupcakes and the truth about what goes into these little treasures will really shock you.

An NPR story from a few years ago calculated that eating one of Crumbs Bake Shop's creations is the equivalent of eating 3 slices of pizza. According to this report, at least one Crumb's concoction contains over 700 calories -- and 36 grams of fat.  (I can't verify this because Crumbs doesn't supply nutrition information for their cakes -- and after seeing these numbers, I can understand why -- but other internet sources concur.)

For some perspective: 1/2 cup of Ben & Jerry's Vanilla Caramel Fudge ice cream has only 270 calories and 14 grams of fat.

So what can you do to salvage parties?

1) Save party food for parties. Not only will this put pizza, juice and cupcakes into your children's diets in the right proportion, it will teach your kids the right lessons about party food.

2) Start using parties to teach your kids some valuable lessons about eating right. For instance, it's an ideal venue for teaching kids some ways to avoid overeating.  I'll say more about this in my next post.

3) Then, let your kids party hardy!

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~


Sources: - accessed 6/3/10 - accessed 6/3/10;

Center for Science in the Public Interest. 2010. "Sinnercake." Nutrition Action Healthletter, June. p. 16.

Pesca, Mike, 2007. "Just How Fattening is that Cupcake?" National Public Radio. May 23. - accessed 6/3/10; - accessed 6/3/10;