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 (37)


Healthy Desserts for Kids

Dessert is magical.

In order to get dessert working for you, you've got to take it down a peg or two.  In most homes, dessert has way too much power.

Kids want dessert.  And, knowing this:

  • If you are parenting a picky eater, you probably use dessert to pressure your kids to eat more than than they want.  
  • If you are parenting an overeater, you probably try to restrict your child's access to dessert.
Research shows that pressure and restriction are parenting strategies that don't work.


You don't have to ditch dessert.  Just neutralize it.
  1. Serve dessert every night.  Read Dessert: How I LOVE Thee.
  2. Establish the rule that everyone who wants dessert gets it—no matter how well they've eaten.
  3. If dessert has a lot of power in your home, consider serving it at the same time as the main meal.

And then...change what you serve for dessert.

Serve fruit, yogurt, cheese or other healthy foods for dessert most nights, and sweet desserts only occasionally.

Need some ideas?  You don't have to serve fruit straight-up.

You can add a sprinkle of cinnamon, a dash of vanilla, or a dusting of powdered sugar to fresh fruit such as bananas, kiwi, oranges, cantaloupe, grapes, apples, mango, pear, cherries, blueberries...


Got a little more energy?

  • Grilled Pineapple
  • Mixed Berry Salad with Mint
  • Vanilla-Roasted Peaches with Raspberries
  • Broiled Plums with Marscapone Cream
  • Mango-Lime Rocotta Parfaits
  • Fresh Papaya with Coconut-Lime Yogurt  
  • Baked Apples
  • Roasted Fruit
  • Blueberries with Maple Whipped Cream
  • Apricot Fig Compote
  • Carmelized Pears
  • Carmelized Apples with Fresh Rosemary
  • Orange Sections with Mint Leaves & Honey
  • Carmelized Pineapple with Honey and Yogurt
  • Mixed Berries, Apples and Bananas
  • Puree of Apples and Blackcurrents

Many of these ideas came from Martha, others came from one of my favorite family cookbooks, Chef Bobo's Good Food Cookbook. (Every recipe in this book is a winner with kids—even the cauliflower soup. I kid you not.)

Want some ideas for serving yogurt? Read The Magic of Yogurt.

Change what you serve for dessert and you'll change how you and your kids interact around dinner.

You might even change how you interact during the course of the entire day. Less stress.  More success.  

There are so many kinds of fruit that you could have something different every night for a month. If you're willing to cook the fruit, you'll be able to offer variety every night for 2 months (or more).

But, if your kids do get bored with fruit dessert, consider your strategy a success—it's a sign that you've neutralized the biggest bully on the block.

And, it's a sign that you've taught your kids the habits they'll need for a lifetime of healthy eating. 

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Kid Eats Q&A: Help! My son would rather entertain than eat.

Everyone loves the class clown.

Clowns make things fun. They entertain. They make us happy.

Unless, that is, you're trying to get something done.  Like teach a class, or serve some dinner.  As a former college professor, this question really resonated with me.

Brenda writes:

I have a child who spends more time being the entertainment at dinner than eating his dinner. He is 7, almost 8 and from the time he could sit in a high chair, he has enjoyed dinnertime but especially because it's his time to talk and tell jokes and be silly. Sometimes he's out of his chair, most of the time he's in it. And I'll admit, he's so darn entertaining that it's hard to ignore him! He talks a mile a minute and asks a lot of questions--generally just an inquisitive and engaging child.

Brenda continues:

How much do we push our children to eat SOMETHING. Or is it the old, let them be hungry after dinner a few nights and they will then realize mealtime is the time to eat, not 20 minutes later?

Though I'm not a fan of pushing kids to eat more, and I believe that sometimes a little hunger can go a very long way, I think there's a better, more nuanced, solution than simple starvation.

Read Two More Bites and The Upside of Hunger.

Balance entertaining and eating by changing the mealtime environment.  

  1. Don't focus on the food...
  2. Or on how much your son eats. 

Instead, alter how you interact at dinner.

Read Meals: The Daily Struggle and When Playing is More Fun Than Eating

My 10-Point Plan for Feeding an Entertainer

1) Talk to your child about the importance of eating at mealtimes, and acknowledge that eating rather than entertaining can be difficult and boring.  Brainstorm solutions with your son, including some of the following suggestions.  Read Table Talk and Conscious Parenting.

2) Give your son 10 minutes of pre- or post-meal attention every night so he can revel in having an audience.

3) Limit snacks before dinner so your son is hungry when he sits down to dine.  Alternatively, consider giving your son a quality pre-meal snack (fruit, vegetables, salad, etc.) so you know he’s “good to go,” even if he never really settles down to dinner.

4) Teach your son to share the stage by giving everyone time to talk during meals. Consider using a talking stick to promote table time democracy with a visual cue of who has “the floor.”

5) Set some of the conversation by introducing a topic for discussion: politics, world affairs, geography, the pros and cons of something that's on your mind....

6) Require everyone to stay seated for the duration of the meal (even if standing would really, really enhance the story).

7) Decide, with your son, how much time he should have to complete his meal after the last other person has finished eating.  Use a timer if you think it will help.

8) Give your son gentle reminders to let him know how much eating time he has left.

9) Eliminate after-dinner snacks.

10) Remember to enjoy the nightly show!

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Kid Eats Q&A: How do you handle it when your children protest the new food on their plates or when they want something else for their meal or snack?

Thanks again to Melissa who posted this question on my Facebook page.

Want to know how to get your kids to eat what you serve? Don't teach them that rejecting food is a strategy that works!

Nobody deliberately teaches their kids to reject foods, but sometimes parents do it despite their best intentions.

  • All toddlers reject foods periodically.  It's what they do.  Consider letting these kids go on strike.
  • But I know plenty of kids who practically think it’s their job to reject food.  These kids literally scan the table to identify which item or items they’re going to reject.  They need something, anything.  And they do it everyday.  While these kids are motivated by lots of things—i.e. control, the desire to be oppositional—their opinion of the food isn’t one of them.

In my experience, toddlers who habitually reject food, do it in response to 1 of 2 conditions:

  • Persistant Parental Pressure — Eat this! Eat more! Eat now! 


  • Persistent Parental Permissiveness — What would you like? Let me get you something different? What will you eat? 

Many parents vascilate between these two extremes.

If you’ve got an habitual rejector—someone who routinely rejects today food that she happily ate yesterday—you've got to find the middle groundan environment that encourages your child to eat what you serve while simultaneously honoring and respecting her natural desire to control some of what she consumes.

Create an environment that encourages your child to eat what you serve.

If you're struggling to introduce new foods, I’m not addressing that here. Though you need to create the right environment for that to happen too, getting kids to eat new foods is an entirely different subject, best saved for another time.  I can’t leave this topic, however, without saying one thing: never make your kids’ sustenance and survival contingent upon consuming something new.  In other words, don’t make new foods the centerpiece of a meal; make them an optional extra.  Read The Happy Bite and A New Approach to Teaching Tots to Try New Foods.

Now back to the question...

Teaching kids to eat the food you serve boils down to three things:

1) Make sure there is always something on the table that your child can reasonably be expected to eat.  What’s a reasonable expectation?  Foods your child has eaten and enjoyed on a couple of occasions.

2) Eliminate grazing and eating-on-demand. (We’re talking toddlers, not infants.)

3) Redirect your child's craving for control so it works for you, not against you.

 More specifically...

Step 1: Set up a basic schedule for meals and snacks.

  • Eliminate grazing.  You want your child to know that food comes at regular intervals.  If she doesn't eat when food is served, she’ll have to wait.  A little hunger can go a long way.  Read The Upside of Hunger. 
  • Come up with a basic schedule for meals and snacks so you know when you are going to feed your child.  This will help you resist the urge to feed your Regular Rejector whenever she wants.  (You don't have to be rigid about the schedule, however.)

2) Decide what you are going to serve.

  • Provide 3 or 4 items at meal and 1 or 2 items for snacks. Every item doesn't have to be a winner, but do make sure there is something on the table your child normally eats.  (Even if she hasn’t eaten that item lately.) 
  • Consider following the Rotation Rule: don’t serve anything two days in a row (or twice in one day), except for milk. If your child has peanut butter toast for breakfast, don’t offer PB&J for lunch. And pay attention to all the ways in which you serve pizza.  Read Pizza, Pizza, Pizza.

The Rotation Rule gets your child used to the idea of eating different foods on different days. This will establish a new routine for your Rejector (and it will lay the foundation for new foods).  Read House Building 101.

3) Give your children structured choices as frequently as possible. 

Structuring the choices you give your child is the key.  Structured choices are different from open-ended choices ("What would you like to eat") because they limit your child to choices you've already approved. 

  • Question: “Would you like an apple or a banana?”
  • Answer: “I want grapes.”
  • Your response: “You can have grapes this afternoon. Right now your choice is between an apple and a banana. Which would you like?” 

Now what?

  • If your child chooses either an apple or a banana, great.
  • If your child has a meltdown: Don’t give in to the tantrum.  You’ll be teaching the lesson that tantrums work.
  • If your child insists on grapes (or cookies, or yogurt, or anything else): Reinforce the choice options and then remind your child she can have the grapes (cookies, yogurt, etc.) at the next meal or snack, or even the following day.  Do this once or twice only. Then end the conversation by making the choice yourself.

Then what?

  • Follow through! “Do you remember that earlier you asked for grapes and I told you that you could have them at snack in the afternoon. Well, now it’s the afternoon. Do you still want the grapes? Or would you like raisins instead.”

Don't assume your Rejector still wants the alternative he asked for earlier. Check in and offer another choice. Remember, Rejectors like to change with the times.   

  • Offer as many other choices as possible: "The green cup or the blue cup?" "This chair or that chair? 

4) Consider using a backup. 

Read How Cottage Cheese Changed My Life and then read this real life story of how someone used this technique.

6) Don’t panic if your child refuses a meal or two.

 This can be a painful and scary process, but remember:

  • You are serving food your Rejector normally likes so you're not asking for a big stretch.
  • You are serving food frequently enough that your Rejector won't have to stay hungry for too long.
  • The calmer you are, the more likely your Rejector will eat what you serve.
  • If you’re really worried, you can always move the next snack or meal time up.  And if it's bedtime, you can give your Rejector a small glass of milk. 
  • Kids need to learn the consequences of their actions.
  • Feeding alternatives will only reinforce your Rejector's resistance.

You've got to change the system if you want to change the outcome.  Focus on shaping your Rejector's behavior, not on fixing the food.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~