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

Sign up for free parenting support!


Search

The Podcast

Listen Now!


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

Schedule a 30 minute call today Bring Dina to your community Schedule a Professional Development Seminar

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 (41)

Tuesday
Sep232014

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 Shorts.com

Last week, Mommy Shorts.com 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 Shorts.com

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.~
Monday
Aug182014

Why Kids Fight with You Over Food

Kids fight with parents over food because parents fight with their kids over food.

This isn't a blame-game going on. So hear me out. I'm making an argument about the lessons kids learn.

Have you ever stopped to think about all the ways you teach your kids to be controlling around food?

Probably not. The way most parents are controlling around food probably doesn't feel that controlling. And it certainly doesn't feel avoidable.

But if you think about the situation through your child's eyes, I think you'll see what I mean. 

Without really meaning to, many parents control almost every aspect of their children's eating.

We control what kids eat, when they eat, what order they eat their food in, how much they have to eat. No wonder that some kids start controlling you back!

Here's a sample of the controlling conversation between a father and his 2-3 year old son that I overheard at a restaurant the other evening.

  • No, you can't have that until you've had your veggie pouch. (I couldn't see what that was, but I assumed it was some kind of snack food the father had brought to the restaurant.)
  • You have to have your milk before you drink your milkshake. (This one I didn't understand.)
  • You're going to have a hamburger.
  • Eat a few more bites.

Granted, there are many reasons to structure what and when children eat. 

And I'm NOT advocating that parents become permissive. I'm just saying that if you think about...

Everytime you interact with your children around food, you're teaching them something about:

  • The food 
  • How to interact with you around food

Control is the enemy. It teaches kids to be controlling back.

After all, young kids are in the business of learning to control their bodies and their environment.

Structure is the antidote to control.

Establishing rules and boundaries stops the fighting because it clearly delineates domains. Think of this as the car-seat law: After an initial outburst, kids don't argue about the car seat because it doesn't get them anywhere.

Then, kids start thinking about what they can do while they're in the carseat!

Here are some ways to structure meals:

  • Use the Rotation Rule, don't serve the same food 2 days in a row
  • Use the Eating Zones Rule, establish times for eating and times for not eating
  • Teach children a style of eating called One-One, so kids eat a little of everything before they finish anything

Structure provides the same directions as the controlling interaction, but it's not controlling because it happens as a rule outside the interactions.

And then...

Within the structure give your children plenty of choices.

And make sure to give your kids plenty of choices around non-food related things too:

  • "Do you want to sit in this chair or that chair?"
  • "Do you want to put on your shoes now or in 5 minutes?"
  • "Do you want to put your shoes on your self right now or have Mommy do it right now?"

Properly empowering children takes the food out of the fight.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Monday
Jul282014

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. ~