Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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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 Control (43)


You're Caught in a Control Struggle over Food. Now What?

Want to know why kids play out their control issues around food? 

Control is like beauty, it's in the eye of the beholder.

  • You have to eat your peas before your pie.
  • You have to eat your peas if you want to have any pie.
  • If you want seconds of pasta you have to eat more of your peas.
  • You have to eat 4 more spoonfuls of peas before you can leave the table.
  • You have must at least try a bite of peas.
  • If you don't at least try one bite of peas then you won't be able to watch television later.
  • I'll make you your chicken nuggets but you have to eat your peas first.

You get my point.

We can't try to control our kids around food and then act surprised when they try to control us back. It's a lesson well learned.

Read Raising Lawyers.

I'm not suggesting that you let your kids rule the roost, or in this case, the kitchen.

There's a fine line between structure and control. Structure is good. It's necessary. It's what makes the whole system work. Control? Not so much.

Everytime you control what your kids do--or do not--eat, you are teaching your kids that food is arena for control. It's like deliberately showing your kids when and how to be the most difficult.

Don't think you're being controlling? Guess again. When a team of Pennsylvania State University researchers asked a group of parents and their five-year-old daughters about pressure (which, I think we can all agree is a form of control):

  • Only 26% of parents said they pressured their daugthers to eat
  • 61% of the girls said their parents used pressure tactics to get them to eat

That's a huge divide.

What you can do instead: Kids...

  • Won't eat their veggies? Use the Happy Bite Rule.
  • Want seconds of pasta before they've had their peas? Teach them One-One.
  • Want to leave the table before you think they're done? Implement Eating Zones.
  • Won't try the peas? Teach them how to be good tasters.
  • Want to eat chicken nuggets every night? Use the Rotation Rule.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


How Do I Stop My Child From Begging for Treats?

Have you ever noticed that kids always want to eat what they want to eat.

They almost never want to eat what you want them to eat.

Parents and kids are almost always using different decision rules to decide the menu. 

  • You: Something nutritious, usually. Something fun, occasionally. Or at least that's the idea.
  • Your kids: Something familiar, always. Something fun, always. Something you hadn't planned, always.

Stopping the endless whining and begging for treats—or anything that you aren't serving at that exact moment—is something you have to do before you'll be able to introduce new foods. 

You and your kids have to be on the same team. My 10 steps to stop the whining are listed below.

This is the second week in my series The Step-by-Step, Blow-by-Blow Guide to Introducing New Foods that's Guaranteed to Change How Your Kids Eat.

If you are new to this series, start here.

Last week I talked about the importance of having The Conversation with your kids. The Conversation helps to rebuild trust, reduce pressure, validate your children's feelings...

Stopping all the whining will clear your mental space. It also will provide the kind of structure kids crave. (It may seem like they want to whine as much as they'd like, but really, they'd rather be less out of control.)

1) Kids whine for sweets and treats because it's a strategy that works.

Let's face it. Kids don't whine when it doesn't work, at least occasionally. Occasionally is the key word here. Intermittent reinforcement.

The bottom line here is that kids need to know the rules. And the rules have to be the kind you can enforce consistently.

2) 10 Steps to Stop the Whining

  1. Decide if your kids can have treats once a day, twice a day, once a week, once a month. 
  2. Communicate the rule to your kids very clearly.
  3. Make sure sweets and treats are served in small, kid-sized portions.
  4. Let your kids decide when they have their treat. It doesn't matter if it is before breakfast. (If this makes your heart stop, keep reading.)
  5. Give your kids some kind of ticket to turn in when they want their treat. You can also use a magnet on the refrigerator or put an "x" on the calendar. It doesn't matter what the marker is, but there has to be a visual marker for young children.
  6. If your kids ask (or whine) for another treat after they have used their ticket, remind them they they decided to have a treat earlier in the day. Show them the marker as proof.
  7. Sympathize with your children's disappointment. Point out that saving tickets is a better strategy than using them up first thing.
  8. Curtail excessive whining. (See below)
  9. If you are at a special event and your kids has used their tickets, make an exception. Explain why you are making the exception.
  10. If you know a special event is coming up...remind your kids in the morning that they might want to save their ticket until later.

3) When the Sweets Strategy Fails to Stop the Whining...

Excessive whining is a behavioral problem that you can correct.

  • Lightweight Response: I can't give you the sweet now, even if I wanted to, because I don't want you to learn that whining is how you get your way.
  • Middleweight Response: I'm sorry you are upset. Let's talk about your feelings, but the whining has to stop.
  • Heavyweight Response: You've already asked me for the treat and I've already answered you. If you continue to whine  you will have a time out (or whatever you normally do for discipline).

The more structure you put in place, so your children know exactly what the behavioral expectations are, the less stress there will be around food.

And you need less stress to introduce new foods. Questions? Just ask.

See you tomorrow.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Read the next installment in the series here.


The Curse of the Broken Pretzel

Broken pretzels are cursed.

How else can we explain why some kids absolutely refuse to eat them?

Source: Mommy

Last week, Mommy published a hilarious sequence of photos depicting picky eaters and their food hangups.  

Check it out here.

One of my readers asked if I could suggest what parents can do to combat these problem (other than give in). Here you go, a plan to exorcise the curse!

1) Recognize that what looks like a food issue is really a behavior issue.

Behavior issues are impacted by the interactions you have with your child. That's good news. The way to change your child's behavior is to change how you react.

2) You can't care whether or not your child eats the broken pretzel or granola bar.

Things to say: 

  • "A broken pretzel tastes exactly like an unbroken one."
  • "You don't have to eat it if you don't want it."
  • "I'll try to give you unbroken pretzels when I can, because I know you prefer them, but when I grab a handful of pretzels to give you, there are usually going to be some broken ones."
  • "I'm happy to hear how you feel about the pretzels, but not when you're having a fit (tantrum)."
  • "We can talk about how you feel about the pretzels for 1 (or 5) minutes, but I will not talk to you about this any longer (because that's a fit...especially if there's whining).

The only reason for parents to give in to their children's demands to eat only unbroken pretzels, or toast that has not been perfectly toasted, or sandwiches that are not cut exactly the right way is to avoid a fight.

But establishing firm boundaries is the other way to avoid the fight. 

The key, then, is to make sure you distinguish between food problems and behavioral problems. Behavioral problems (tantruming in response to being given a broken pretzel, for instance) has to be solved with a behavioral solution. Do whatever you do (like use a time out?) to correct your child's behavior.

If you need your child to eat the pretzels, your child holds all the power.

But you might want to ask yourself why you care whether or not your child eats the pretzels. And if your child's food refusal comes at meals, then remember that your child has to have the freedom NOT to eat before she'll be able to willingly choose to eat.

End a meal rather than give in to this kind of irrational demand. (Then, remind yourself that the next snack or meal is not that far away. Read The Upside of Hunger.)

Here's how giving in to broken pretzels curses YOU:

Curse 1: When children express their need for control by restricting (or even eliminating) the food they'll eat, there's only one direction this can go: downhill.

The terrific feeling of control your child gets from successfully controlling the shape and size of the pretzel or the granola bars he'll eat lasts about 10 seconds. Then, the next time he wants to feel control, the only thing he can do is restrict something else.

This is how children who eat a large variety of foods end up eating a smaller and smaller range of items.

Curse 2: Giving in to your children's quirky demands disempowers them.

Kids learn that they really can't cope with food in different forms. That they need to eat only unbroken pretzels.

Source: Mommy

Teaching children that they can cope with broken pretzels does the opposite: it empowers them. And if your child is refusing to eat a banana that has a bit of string or a sandwich that has crusts, teach your child to solve the problem herself. That's real power.

For more on this read The Power of the Imperfect Pretzel

Curse 3: Giving in to your children's quirky demands disempowers you...

...and turns the entire parenting relationship on its head.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~