Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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Entries in Dessert (13)


Let's Stop Growing a Nation of Guilty Eaters

What's your guilty pleasure? Translation: What's the thing you enjoy even though you know you shouldn't?


Admittedly, your first answer may have nothing to do with food. But food always makes the list. Brownies. Ice cream. Gummy Bears.

It's time to stop growing a nation of guilty eaters. If you enjoy something, shouldn't you just enjoy it?

Healthy eating doesn't mean banning sweets and treats—or eating them secretly—or eating them alongside a sizable serving of guilt. Healthy eating means building sweets and treats into the diet in a healthy way. And teaching kids to enjoy healthy food. There's a list of things you can do at the end of this post.

Guilty eating is a consequences of a phenomenon I call, "The Medicalization of the Meal," i.e. thinking of food like medicine.

Eat spinach, we are told, because it is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, magnesium, folate, manganese, iron...

In this model, there is no legitimate space for unhealthy food. Honestly, I just saw a post on how to put vegetables in a chocolate dessert smoothie and a recipe for kale chocolate chip ice cream. The only thing that drives this trend is our belief that every bite can and should be healthy.

Is guilt really the lesson you want to pass on to your children? Read Cookies and the Cycle of Guilty Eating.

In America, the food world is divided into good and evil. 

  • Apples? Good. 
  • Brownies? Evil. 
  • Brownies with ice cream?

This would be OK if we thought evil foods tasted bad, but we don't. We think they're awesome. This also is an outgrowth of medicalizing the meal.

By medicalizing the meal we have inadvertently reserved all the good-tasting descriptors for sweets and treats. As a consequence we have come to believe that healthy food tastes bad and junky food tastes GREAT.

 When we talk about healthy food we stress nutrition. 

  • Eat an apple. It's good for you.
  • Eat an apple. It is full of vitamin C.
  • Eat an apple a day. It'll keep the doctor away!

When we talk about sweets and treats we talk about how good they taste.

  • These brownies are soooo chocolatey.
  • These brownies are rich and creamy.
  • These brownies are delicious. 

And the sad news is that even if you think healthy food tastes good, the research shows you subconsciously think junk food tastes better. Read Junk Food=Yum, Healthy Food=Yuk.

One way parents teach kids to be guilty eaters is by making the dessert deal: "Eat your peas and then you can have some pie."

We know we shouldn't do this, but most of us do it anyway. The pressure to get kids to eat vegetables is enormous and nothing gets peas down a kid's gullet faster than dessert.

As you probably know, making vegetables the price your kids have to pay in order to get to dessert makes your kids—shall we say appreciate?— dessert more than they already do. It also reinforces the idea that vegetables are necessary, but eating them is a chore. Yuk.

If this is news to you, or if you want a refresher, read Wheelin' & Dealin': 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Trade Peas for Pie.

5 things you can do to grow a healthy, not a guilty, eater.

1. Teach your kids about proportion. Then teach them to eat their sweets and treats with gusto, to enjoy every morsel. Read Have Your Cake and Eat It Too! and Mark Bittman's Dream Food Label (or how Bittman stole my ideas)

2. Never make kids earn dessert. Read Should My Child Get Dessert If He Doesn't Eat Dinner?

3. Don't talk about "good" and "bad" foods. Read "The Look": How Your Emotions Shape Your Kids' Eating.

4. Increase vegetable consumption by serving veggies more frequently. Read 10 Ways Improving Your Kids' Snacking will Improve YOUR Life and Fruits and Vegetables at Every Meal and Snack -- Every Darn Day

5. With veggies, implement The Happy Bite. Read The Happy Bite.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Should My Child Get Dessert If He Doesn't Eat Dinner?

Almost every parent I know uses some version of the Dessert Deal: No Dinner...No Dessert.

And I get it: The Dessert Deal works. Reluctant kids will almost always eat a few more bites of broccoli to earn their brownie.

At the risk of alienating every parent out there, let me tell you why you should dump the Dessert Deal.

  1. The Dessert Deal teaches ALL of the wrong lessons and NONE of the right lessons.
  2. The Dessert Deal can only intensify—never resolve— the food fight.
  3. All you have to do is change what you serve for dessert and your problems will all go away.

Are you willing to trade the possiblity of a long-term love of veggies for the short-term gain of a few more bites of broccoli today?

No parent ever entered into the Dessert Deal thinking, "Yeah, I want to teach my kids to hate vegetables." But there's a ton of research out there showing that kids who are "forced" to eat their veggies to get to their dessert end up thinking that veggies suck and that dessert is the bomb.

Read The Happy Bite.

5 Unintended Lessons the Dessert Deal Teaches

  1. Dinner is the "punishment," and dessert is the "reward."
  2. I can control what you eat because I control the "big guns."
  3. It's normal to eat dessert when you're full.
  4. Veggies somehow innoculate you against the sugar in dessert. Otherwise you wouldn't have to eat the veggies first.
  5. When there is no dessert, there's no reason to eat your dinner (or at least no reason to eat your veggies).

For more reasons why you shouldn't make your kids earn dessert read Wheelin' & Dealin': Why You Shouldn't Trade Peas for Pie;  10 Ways Kids Learn to Hate Veggies10 Ways Kids Learn to Love Veggies.

Trust and cooperation (not coercion) are the building blocks for teaching healthy eating habits. 

The Dessert Deal may seem like it's working, but that means it's only pushed the control struggle underground.

Reduce your kids' power and you might find that they are expressing their need for control in other not wanting to try new foods.

Sometimes, the Dessert Deal creates more headaches than it solves by teaching kids the fine art of negotiation. "How many bites do I have to eat? Four? How about two?" Read Raising Lawyers.

Let your kids fill up on dessert!

Imagine your child doesn't want to eat whatever you've served for dinner. Instead of offering an alternative, you say, "OK, you can just wait for dessert."

No fight. No power struggle. Dinner is pleasant! This can happen if you serve:

  • Fruit
  • Plain yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Smoothie
  • Baked Fruit such as apples or peaches 
  • Blueberry and Orange Yogurt Parfait

I can hear the complaints now: If I did this my child would never eat dinner. She'd always wait for dessert.

To this I say: Who cares? 

  • If you serve healthy food for dinner and healthy food for dessert, it won't matter which your child eats. 
  • Making dinner pleasant for both you and your child will—all by itself—encourage your child to eat time.

Read Dishing Up Dessert

However, if having your child hold out for dessert (even a healthy dessert) would really bother you then make sure dessert is NOT a preferred food. Go with a few items that your child likes but does NOT love.

This is the same idea behind using a backup. Read How Cottage Cheese Changed My Life.

Give your child control over when she eats her treats.

Remember, It Doesn't Matter WHEN Your Kids Eat Their Crap (And if it does, then your kids are eating too much crap. Scale back the portion size.)

Finally, when you do serve a treat dessert, let everyone eat it—no matter what.

It's the only surefire way to neutralize dessert.

I discuss all these ideas in It's Not About the Broccoli.


 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Use Ice Cream to Teach Your Kids to Eat Right

It's Memorial Day weekend and that means summer.  And summer means Ice Cream!!!

Hurray.  I love ice cream.  Most kids I know love it too.

And most parents I know go back and forth between trying to regulate their kids' consumption of ice cream over the summer and, well, just letting it go.

I'm going to suggest something radical: This summer use ice cream to teach your kids to eat right.

Half the battle of eating right is knowing how to fit sweets and treats into your diet in a way that works.

That's why I was disappointed when I picked up the current issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter, published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and read their tips for choosing the best ice cream.

I love this newsletter. I really do.  But, come on!

This article advocates eating a rational amount of ice cream—as opposed to digging into a bowl that's bigger than your body— a proposition I support.

But it also advocates...

1) Substituting the dessert of your dreams with a lower fat (and sometimes totally fake) version of the real deal. Artic Zero? Really?

I say, let your kids eat the ice cream they love.

2) Trying to reduce (or eliminate) the sugar rush you receive by choosing ice creams with the least amount of added sugar.

I say, let your kids eat the ice cream they love.

3) Maximizing the protein and calcium content of your cone.  Most premium ice creams contain 4-5 grams of protein per half cup, but Ciao Bella Adonia Greek Frozen Yogurt packs a 9 gram protein punch.

I say, let your kids eat the ice cream they love.  Ice cream shouldn't be your good nutrition "go-to." 

Lesson 1: It's better to fit REAL ice cream into your diet in a way that works than to look for the "healthiest" ice cream out there.

Yes, I know that the folks at the Center for Science in the Public Interest would advocate both—moderating your intake of the most nutritious ice cream out there—but that's not the way most people work.  Especially people who are kids.

Lesson 2: Let treats be treats.

The idea that we can expect things to be what they are not—ice cream that's packed with protein, cookies with as much fiber as a bowl of oatmeal—is a byproduct of the nutrition mentality (mixed with a healthy dose of manufacturing magic).

But here's the irony: It's harder to teach kids to treat ice cream as a treat if you "health-ify" it.

When you blur the boundaries between healthy food and treats, it's hard to:

  • Convince your kids to limit their intake of treats.  
  • Teach your kids the importance of eating healthy foods.

Lesson 3: Eat foods in proportion to their healthful benefits.

That means eating green beans more frequently than gelato and spinach more often than sorbet.

And then, teach your kids to indulge in ice cream as an occasional indulgence.

These are the lessons they will need for a lifetime of healthy (ice cream) eating.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Hurley, J. & B. Liebman. 2012. "Ice Cream: What's Hot in the Deep Freeze?" Nutrition Action Healthletter Center for Science in the Public Interest. June. pp. 13-15.