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

Sign up for my newsletter!


DINA ROSE, PhD is a sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert empowering parents to raise kids who eat right.

Dinner Together Building Healthy Families One Meal at a Time.

Food Politics Marion Nestle's intelligent take on the politics of food and nutrition.

Fooducate Like Having a Dietician on Speed dial.

Hoboken Family Alliance A terrific resource for people living in the great city of Hoboken, NJ.

The Lunch Tray Everything you need to know about improving school lunches.

Parent Hacks Forehead-Smackingly Smart Tips

Raise Healthy Eaters One of the best blogs (other than my own) for learning to raise healthy eaters.

Real Mom Nutrition Tales from the Trenches. Advice for the Real World. From a mom-nutritionist who knows!

Stay and Play The best indoor playspace on the East Coast. Oh yeah, and it happens to be owned by my brother.

weelicious Great Recipes for Kids 

Entries in Control (39)


When Parents "Pack": Eating Out Without a Major Meltdown

Ever have someone you've invited over for dinner bring a separate meal for their children?

Or better yet, ever have guests ask to borrow your stove so they can whip up something special for their kids? 

We've all be in the place where we think, "My child won't eat that."  Come to think of it, we've all be in that place where we think, "I won't eat that!"

Believe me, I understand the rationale for always being ready with your own rations.

It's better to be safe than sorry.  And, when used as an occasional strategy to get through a strange situation—kept in your bag and used only as a backup (what if turns out your kids like chicken tandoori?)—it's not a bad thing.  But "packing" on a regular basis teaches kids the wrong lessons.  

Bringing your own MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat) undermines your objectives and makes the problems of parenting a picky eater worse.

"Packing" on a regular basis:

  1. Deprives children of the opportunity to sit, ponder, consider and (perhaps even) consume something new.
  2. Reinforces your children's delusion that they should be able to eat their favorite foods every time they eat. 
  3. Doesn't prepare your children for the real world.

Parents who "pack" probably think they'll never have a peaceful moment; that made-to-order macaroni and cheese is all that stands between them and mayhem.

And really, when you think about it that way, bringing a meal for your kids doesn't seem like a big deal. Everyone deserves a quiet dinner out.  (And no one wants to parent a picky eater in public.)

On the other hand, there are other, better, ways to feed the family and to avoid a scene. Trust me, you don't need to pull up to your host's house carting a cooler full of consumables.  Just change your goals.

Shift your goals from getting your kids fed (peacefully) to teaching them how to handle food-related social situations.

The pickier your kids are the more they need to learn this. (Even if they're 2.)

Lessons kids need to learn:

1) Different moms, different restaurants, different countries (you do want to travel some day, don't you?) sometimes cook different food.

2) There are ways to cope when confronted with foreign foods.  (Never mind that the foreign food we're talking about here is probably something as simple as grilled chicken. Your kids still gotta learn.) 

Talk with your children about what food will probably be on the menu. 

Then, brainstorm things your children can do to get through the situation, without starving, sulking or stomping. I suggest you consider the following:

  • Let your kids eat before going out, and then maybe again, after you get home.
  • Find something (anything) palatable on the menu being served.
  • Taste unfamiliar foods with NO PRESSURE or EXPECTATION to eat them.
  • Always be polite. 

When you think about it, aren't these the techniques you use when you go out? You can teach them to your kids, too.

Most kids don't spontaneously start eating differently

They need practice and opportunity.  Read Let Your Kids Sit With Their Own Struggles.

And most kids don't automatically know how to be polite when confronted with an eating disaster.

They need practice and opportunity for this too.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Let Your Kids Sit with Their Own Struggles

Many children need time to stare offensive food "in the face." They need time to think, to ponder, to consider, to struggle, to sit and stew. Eventually they'll eat.

This is a point I made in my last post Cooking with Kids, but since it was buried at the bottom you might have missed it.  It's such an important, and counter-intuitive point, that I want to revisit it here.

When it comes to getting kids to eat right most parents I know think they have to choose between being lenient and being strict.

Many parents also think it is mean to put a picky eater in a situation where he has to wrestle with his demons (or a well-crafted crontrol sturggle), but think of it this way: You wouldn't keep a shy kid away from social situations. Instead you would expose your shy child to carefully choreographed, and increasingly complex, moments of mingling.  

That's what picky eaters have to do with food: They have to mingle.  With a safety net (more on this in a moment).

I am not advocating a starve-it-out strategy.

In this month's Real Simple Magazine, Noelle Howey writes about how she put her kids through a picky-eater boot camp. Look at how she let her kids sit with their own struggles.

First, Howey established a set of rules that included general politeness and appreciation, and rules such as:  

  1. Three bites before you say you don't like it.
  2. Kids get to choose their own portion size.

Then, Howey proceeded to make a series of meals, some of which were "easy" for her kids, some of which were more "challenging."

Finally, THE SAFETY NET. Howey made sure there was at least one ingredient in each dish that her kids found palatable. 

A safety net provides your child with nourishment (so you don't have to worry he'll starve) but also gives him the opportunity—time— to think about eating whatever it is you've cooked.

I might not make kids eat three bites, and I'm particularly wary of "I don't like it," but, the key to Howey's system is this:

After the rules were established, Howey sat back and let her kids work through their eating issues on their own. She didn't beg, scold, demand or do anything else. She remained silent (and hopeful).

And her kids began to eat. Tentatively.  Read Howey's story.

If you're too lenient your kids never have to come to terms with their own food challenges.

But, if you're too strict, your kids also never have to come to terms with their own food challenges—because they get wrapped up in the struggle.

You have to expose your children to food challenges without too much pressure to help them grow.  Structure, with a safety net, lets you do that.

1) Decide not to fight about food.  Cook foods you like to eat.  Make sure there is something on the table your children will eat (even if it's not their first choice.) Ellyn Satter recommends bread and butter, but I recommend you switch up your "safety." (Variety creates a variety mentality; monotony creates a monotonous mentality.)

2) Let your children sit with their own internal struggle.  Get on your kids' team by finding ways to help them: Serve foods that aren't too unfamiliar; Teach your children how to predict what a food will taste like; Make sure there's a glass of water handy.

Might your picky eater still refuse to eat?

Sure, but that doesn't change a thing.  If you've put a safety out that your child should reasonably be expected to eat—he ate it yesterday for instance—then you've done what you can do.  Some kids need to choose NOT to eat before they'll chose TO eat.

But, if you completely cater to your kids' culinary demands you'll reinforce the pickiness rather than take steps to eradicate it.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


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.~