Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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Entries in Control (43)


Kid-Approved Meals

What an idea: Kid-Approved Meals.

Ever been encouraged to provide kid-approved bed times? Or Kid-approved tooth-brushing methods? I doubt it. Then why do we think meals should be kid-approved?

Striving to provide "kid-approved" meals reverses the parent/child relationship.

Instead of children responding to parents, parents are responding to children. (In other words, the inmates are running the asylum.)

I understand how this role reversal happens. It feels like we have no other choice. 

  1. Parents need kids to eat. (It is, after all, our job to keep them alive.)
  2. Children have strong opinions about what they will and will not eat.
  3. And, there's no good way to make kids eat anything they don't want to eat.

Giving away your parental power won't solve a thing. In fact, it will entrench the problem even further. 

  • The more you feed to your children's taste preferences the less open they'll be to other tastes and textures.
  • The more your children see food/eating as an arena to gain control, they more they'll flex those muscles. 

No matter what it seems like, your kids want guidance. They crave structure. They don't want to be in charge!

I know that it's almost impossible to expect children to eat food they don't like. It helps to remember that children don't really know what they like.

Kids don't have what researchers call stable taste preferences. That's because their taste preferences are just developing. Read You Can't Feed Your Way Out of a Picky Eating Problem.

Children use the language of "like" because those are the words we've given them. "Just taste it and if you don't like it you don't have to eat it." Sound familiar? But if we taught kids a different set of words they would use those words: "That looks gross." "I was hoping to eat something different tonight." Read What 'I don't like it' Really Means.

I say: Reclaim Your Power!

This doesn't mean you have to become a hard you-know-what. It does mean you have to set direction and tone. 

  • Decide what food you will provide. Take your child's preferences into consideration but don't let them dictate every decision.
  • Make sure you provide something at each meal and snack that your child will eat. Don't make that item a preferred food every time. Just make it an acceptable food.
  • Contain snacking to a single session (no grazing) that gives your child ample time to get hungry before meals or to stay hungry after meals if he has chosen not to eat or chosen not to eat enough. (Expect your child to get this wrong in the beginning. Think of these times as learning moments.)

Teach some important lessons!

These include:

  • You can't eat your favorite foods every night.
  • You can survive a meal you think of as a clunker.
  • You have to share menu planning with others in the family.
  • Your parents love you but they won't necessarily "fold" when you are upset.  

Parents: I threw that last lesson in for you!

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~ 


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.