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 (45)


Are You and Your Kids on the Same Team? (Or Are You Adversaries?)

This might seem like a silly question, but when it comes to food and eating, do you and your kids feel like you're on the same team?

Or do you feel like adversaries?

I've written a lot about power lately. Catch up by reading Kid-Approved Meals and The Problem of Playing Power Ball.

If you're parenting a toddler, chances are you feel like adversaries...a lot of the time.

That's unfortunate. Understandable, I would add, but unfortunate. And it's got to change.

You can't shift how your kids eat while they're in enemy-mode. 

As long as your kids see you as trying to force them to eat differently they'll dig their heels in— without even considering whatever it is you're asking them to do. That's one reason why kids often say "no" to eating something before they've even tried it.

Your kids need to feel like you're on their side. That you understand their perspective. And they need to trust you.

Imagine sitting across from your kids at the table.

Now imagine sitting side-by-side with your kids.  Which feels friendlier? Friendlier is better.

The feeding relationship is predisposed to being antogonistic because you and your children naturally have different feeding/eating goals. 

  • You want your kids to eat a healthy diet, or try a bite of something new, or eat their veggies.
  • Your kids want to eat whatever it is they've decided they want to eat, and it definitely doesn't include anything healthy, new, or green.

It's easier than you think to turn your kids into teammates. Just give up the nutrition mindset.

And adopt a teaching approach instead.

In other words, instead of trying to "get" nutrients into your kids, or trying to "get" them to eat something new, ask yourself, "What does my child need to learn in order to... (fill in the blank)."

This is a long-term perspective. We're talking the forest, not the trees.

Bring your kids onboard.

1) Parents often forget to explain their feeding goals to their kids. "I know you don't want try new foods, but it's important to me that you learn how because..." Read "You Can't Make Me Eat It!!"

2) As parents you are allowed to teach your kids things they don't want to learn. Brushing teeth? Sitting in a car seat? Going to bed at a decent hour? 

3) It helps a lot if you acknowledge the elephant in the room. "I know you don't want to eat vegetables, but it's important. And sometimes parents have to teach their kids things their kids don't want to learn. It's my job."

4) It helps a lot a lot if you acknowledge your child's feelings. "I know this is going to be hard (scary, painful, etc.) for you, but I'm going to help make it easier."

5) Develop a plan where the steps are incredibly easy. Kids are more willing to do easy things than difficult things—especially if they haven't bought into the goal. Read Encouraging Kids to Eat.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~ 


The Problem of Playing Power Ball

Control around food is almost always expressed as if it's a ball being thrown around.

First the parents have the power ball: "You will eat the meatloaf I made or no dessert and no tv."

Then, the kids have the power ball: "No, I want chicken nuggets. I'd rather starve than eat anything else."

Some parents think they're not playing ball at all. But, if you always make your children's favorite foods before they demand them your kids own the ball. And they're not sharing.

Power was the underlying theme of my last post, Kid-Approved Meals. Here we're going to address it directly because power struggles underlie a lot of your food struggles.

If you've read any parenting literature you're probably familiar with the four parenting styles. 

  • Authoritarian: Children are expected to follow the strict rules established by the parents, and the children aren't given much if any input.
  • Authoritative: Parents establish a strong, but compassionate structure. Children are engaged.
  • Permissive: Often associated with indulgent. Very warm and compassionate with little or no structure.
  • Uninvolved or Neglectful:

Parents often get stuck going back and forth being authoritarian and being permissive because they (mistakenly) believe that these are the only choices they have.

You start with the style you're most comfortable with. When it doesn't work, though, most parents flip to the other style. When that approach doesn't work any better—their kids still arent' trying new foods, and still aren't eating more vegetables—parents ultimately end up reverting to their original position. Back and forth they go.

Sound familiar?

(Note to public health professionals: It's not like parents aren't trying!)

The solution is to find the middle ground: authoritative parenting.

Authoritative parents are successful because they create an eating structure that is firm but flexible. And that's the winning ticket.

1) Set some guidelines to form a structure: I recommend you consider using the Rotation Rule and establish regular times for eating and for no-eating. I call these Eating Zones.

2) Offer your children choices within that structure. This produces shared control.

3) Engage in Sensory Education.

4) Stop looking for the "perfect" food. It doesn't exist. What kids will eat has more to do with their brains than their taste buds. Read You Can't Feed Your Way Out of a Picky Eating Problem.

5) Recognize that taste preferences are formed more than they're found. This is how Indian kids end up liking Indian food and Mexican kids end up liking Mexican food. Read Food Culture and What it Means to be "Child-Friendly."

6) Remember, young kids don't have stable taste preferences, so what they like actually can change from day-to-day. Expect some bumps in the road.

For more on this, read The Goldlocks Approach.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


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.~