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 (42)


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.~

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.~