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

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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)


Do You Have a Dinner Backup?

A backup can save the day.

Parents often ask me what they ought to do when their child refuses to eat the meal that's been prepared. A backup is almost always my answer.

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 for you to read while I finish my book! 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. ~


The Nag Factor

Research shows that children influence purchases like cars, vacations and electronics. And, of course, children influence food purchases.

  • Children influence food purchases proactively: One study shows kids put approximately 6 items in the cart.
  • Children influence food purchases by nagging: One study shows that some kids ask more than 50 times for particular products.

50 times? That's one helluva parental headache!

Nagging comes in many guises, but it's always a pain in the butt.

Kids nag by:

  • Repeatedly asking for items, whining, stomping feet, making fists, grunting.
  • Putting items in the shopping cart even when told, "no."
  • Having an all-out tantrum.
  • Being manipulative, i.e. by professing love or hate for the mother, and by saying other children have the item.

You don't have to take it. You can teach your way out of this problem. (After all, the chances are that you, inadvertently, taught your way into this problem.)

There are two ways to eliminate nagging:
  • Say "no" and mean it.
  • Say "yes." (After all, if you're going to say "yes" eventually you might as well say "yes" from the get-go and save yourself the fight.)
Don't say no unless you mean it.

"No. No. No. Yes" actually encourages your kids to nag. They know that wearing you down is a strategy that works. They  just don't know when it will work.
I can hear the protests now: "But my child continues to ask... even after I've said, 'no!'" 

That's also a strategy that kids learn. After you have said "no" once or twice—the second "no" is kind of like a short grace period— refuse to engage in the conversation (and I use the term conversation lightly).
  • "You've already asked and I've already answered. Asking again won't change anything."
  • "Even if I wanted to change my mind, now I can't. I don't want you to learn that nagging works." (I LOVE this reply because it teaches the lesson explicitly.)
Then, ignore, distract, or use a time out. BUT, and this is REALLY IMPORTANT, don't ignore the intial request.
  • If you ignore the intial request you will promote nagging.
  • And don't ignore your child without warning: "I've answered you and now I'm going to ignore your requests."
Clarify the shopping rules before you get into the store.

Here are some ideas:
  • You may select one item to purchase that is not on my list.
  • You may (or may not) eat that item (or a piece of that item) while we are shopping.
  • If you nag me for a second item you will not get the first item.

And, afterwards, of course, "Thank you for behaving so well at the grocery store today."

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Henry, H. K. M. and D. L. G. Borzekowski. 2011. “The Nag Factor: a Mixed-Methodology Study in the Us of Young Children's Requests for Advertised Products.” Journal of Children and Media 5(3): 298-317.


2013 Resolutions: Lose Weight and Change How Your Kids Eat

It is New Year's Day, and what do people usually do today? Start on their resolutions. 

Improve Health and Fitness always make the Top 10 New Year's Resolution lists. Here are some tips to get you going.

As new study reports small habit changes lead to effective weight loss: use smaller plates, don't eat directly from the package, drink water with every meal, put your utensils down between bites.
  • The key to effective weight loss? Small and concrete habit changes.
  • The key to changing how your kids eat? Small and concrete habit changes.
See where I'm going? 


Parents tell me all the time about how excited and upbeat they feel when they come across a new strategy, and how equally frustrated they feel when the new strategy fails.

Other people seem to have success, these parents say. Why can’t they?

The answer comes down to two things.
  • Switching strategies can’t work while tensions in the household remain high because your child is still primed to resist all of your efforts, no matter what they are
  • Many parents attempt to make changes that seem like small steps to them but which are too difficult for their children to achieve.

Resolution 1: Do whatever it takes to reduce the tension around eating in your household.

It might surprise you to hear that the easiest way for parents to reduce tension is to tap into their permissive parent. When used as a long-term strategy, permissive parenting exacerbates problem eating. Here, I’m proposing that you use permissive parenting as a temporary fix. 

Scale back on your expectations and demands for a few days or a week. Let your child: 

  • Forgo vegetables
  • Drink chocolate milk
  • Eat on the go

Resolution 2: Break your feeding goals down into small, incremental steps, ones your children can achieve very easily.

The smaller the step, the easier to achieve, the more successful you'll be.

For most children, the ideal outcome is simply too hard to attain in one giant step. By pressing for too big of a challenge, parents set their children up for failure (and, in doing so, they set themselves up for a great deal of frustration).

Instead, work towards smaller goals, one stage at a time.

  • You may want your children to eat new food when what they have to do first is learn to taste new foods.
  • You may want your kids to taste new foods when what they need to do first is learn to smell new foods.
  • You may want your child to smell new foods when what they need to do first is let new foods sit on their plates.

Reward your children for each small step. Reward with praise. Reward with stars. Reward with extra stories at bedtime. Reward with whatever your children find rewarding!

The point is, when you present your kids with small, doable challenges, they succeed. Nothing encourages kids to move forward more than that.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Kaipainen K, Payne CR, Wansink B. 2012. Mindless Eating challenge: Retention, Weight Outcomes, and Barriers for Changes in a Public Web-Based Healthy Eating and Weight Loss Program. J med Internet Res 14(6): e168 downloaded from on 1/1/13.