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

Sign up for my newsletter!

Search


The Huffington Post


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

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 Control (37)

Tuesday
Mar112014

Choices, Choices, Choices

"I try to get my child to eat something different, but every time I ask her what she wants to eat, she chooses the same thing."

Sound familiar? I hear this a lot: "I try..." 

Especially when parents decide to implement The Rotation Rule.

"I try..." is usually a sign that parents are using choices incorrectly.

Parents typically have to change what their children eat in order to implement proportion and variety, two of the three habits that translate everything you need to know about nutrition into behavior. (Moderation is the third habit.) And, as most people know, it's good to give children choices.

Here's the problem:

Unstructured choices are ineffective.

  • An unstructured choice: What do you want for breakfast?
  • A structured choice: Would you like eggs or cereal for breakfast?

Here's why unstructure choices don't work.

  1. Your kids choose the same thing every single time, usually because that's the only choice they can think of. Then...
  2. You try to convince them to make another choice.
  3. They stick to their guns.
  4. You feel lousy. Then...
  5. You either fight with your child, impose your will, or give up.

This dynamic reinforces an arbitrary eating environment. Arbitrary encourages fighting. Read You Can't Make Me Eat It!

To understand the problem of unstructured choices take this little test:

  1. What's wrong with giving children choices?
  2. Is it better to give children an open-ended choice or a choice between two options?

Isn't it more difficult to answer question #1 than it is to answer question #2?

  • With Question #1 you have to dream up an answer. What popped into your head?
  • Question #2 directs your attention to the set of issues I want you to consider.

The same thing happens when you give children choices about what to eat.

Structured choices set the parameters of acceptable answers.

Any choice your child makes is acceptable. Happy days!

Authoritative Parenting—the style that has been shown to be most effective—is a combination of structure and compassion.

  • Setting the parameters of the choices is the structure.
  • Allowing your child to make the actual choice is the compassion.

Do children sometimes choose a "third" choice?

Absolutely. Especially if they're unfamiliar with structured choices. The "third" choice is an opportunity for parents to reinforce the structure.

  • "Do you want eggs or cereal for breakfast?"
  • "I want pancakes."
  • "You can have pancakes tomorrow. But today you can choose between choices eggs and cereal."

When children insist on the third choice they are testing the strength of the structure. You can't let the structure crumble. Children accept solid structures and fight weak ones.

Testing that turns into a tantrum is a sign that the situation has changed from a food issue to a behavioral issue. Respond the way you would to any behavioral problem.

For more on adopting an authoritative parenting style read:

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

 

 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

 

Thursday
Feb062014

The Power of the Imperfect Pretzel

Imperfect pretzels are so powerful they can turn normal kids into "crazies." But they can also turn your kids into empowered eaters.

But there's a twist: if you want to empower your kids you can't give in to their demands to be presented only with perfect pretzels. (I know, not giving in goes against the grain. Stick with me for a minute here.)

Some kids go absolutely nuts in the presence of Imperfect Pretzels.

"Ahhhhh. Take them away. Take them away!" 

You know what I'm talking about: Imperfect pretzels are cracked, not whole. As a result, they're totally offensive.

  • Maybe your "imperfect pretzel" is a waffle that hasn't been cut correctly.
  • Or it's a sandwich served with the crusts on. The horror!

It seems so easy to satisfy your child's eating idiosyncracies, and perhaps it feels a tad coercive not to. But serving only perfect pretzels teaches the wrong lessons.

Serving imperfect pretzels teaches kids that they're in charge of their own eating.

It's an effective way of saying, "You can choose whether or not to eat the pretzels."

Empowering kids by serving imperfect pretzels is counterintuitive.

It feels like giving in to your child's demands will empower her, but it doesn't. It simply reinforces a control struggle. It sends the message that you need her to eat. Therefore, you will provide food in whatever way she wishes.

In the process, it also limits your child by reinforcing the idea that he can (and should) only eat foods when they're presented in a certain way.

Think about how liberating choices are to children.

  • You can choose to eat only the whole pretzels if that's what you want to do.
  • You can tear the crusts off the sandwich, eat around them, or eat them. The choice is yours.
  • You can pick the mushrooms out of the stew, if you would like.

You can do this. You are able to do this. You are competent to do this.

Imperfect pretzels teach another very valuable lesson: foods that look different often taste the same.

Serving imperfect pretzels reduces the control struggle by setting a reasonable and appropriate boundary.

And it enables parents to be warm and compassionate at the same time.

Boundaries+compassion=authoritative parenting. Authoritative parenting has been shown over and over to produce kids with healthy eating habits.

Does this mean you should never serve perfect pretzels? 

Absolutely not. Sometimes serving perfect pretzels— because you know your child likes them— is a great way to show respect. It's the difference between wanting to and having to.

For more on this topic read Cutting Toast Triangles & Cucumber Squares?


 

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

 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Tuesday
Jan282014

The Argument for a Junky Breakfast

Parents tell me all the time that they can't get their children to eat breakfast. 

"But," I usually ask, "would your child eat a junky breakfast?" The answer is usually, "yes."

(Actually, it's usually, a "yes, but...")

Which would you rather do? Send your child to school: 

  • Having eaten something...and without a fight?
  • Not having eaten something...but still having had a fight? 

Sounds like two bad choices, I know. But sometimes, those are the only choices you've got. And sometimes, as parents we've got to get out of our own way.

I know that a healthy breakfast is your goal, but...

From a habits perspective, the choice is clear. 

  • Establish a breakfast-eating habit first.
  • Gradually improve the quality of the breakfast that is eaten.

Believing any change is permanent—and that you get only one change per problem—trips parents up.

In practice, you may have to go through a sequence of changes to get where you're going.  

  1. Consider a concession that makes you crazy.
  2. Reduce the pressure. 
  3. Resolve the original problem.
  4. Correct the correction before it becomes entrenched.

Read The Road Less Traveled.

I've made this argument before when talking about the struggle parents have introducing vegetables.

Sometimes The Less Nutritious Choice is Right.

Think about how good you'll feel when: 

  • Your child willingly (maybe even eagerly) eats breakfast.
  • You no longer get all twisted up inside worrying about sending your child off to school hungry.
  • Mornings lose the drama.

Once you've got a good breakfast-eating habit going...Use the Rotation Rule to switch things up.

If you don't know what I'm talking about (or if you need a refresher), read End Picky Eating with The Rotation Rule.

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

 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~