Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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Entries in Dinner (6)


My Psychology Today Post re: Kids Who Don't Eat Dinner

One of the most vexing problems parents have is kids who don't eat—or don't eat enough—at dinner. It can make you tear your hair out.

In my recent Psychology Today post, I take a look at how parents often inadvertently teach their kids NOT to eat dinner—and what you can do to turn things around. I hope you'll take a moment to read it.


~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


5 Easy Ways to Mix-It Up: The Rotation Rule in Action

The Rotation Rule—switching what you serve from day-to-day— lays the foundation for introducing new foods.

I write about this all the time (so, sorry if you're sick of it) because it's crucial. Kids who get used to eating different foods are more open to eating new foods.

Still, many people find it very hard to mix-it up. That's why I was glad to receive this question from Emily. Emily writes: 

You often mention the importance of switching things up. But could you possibly provide some ideas on *how* to do so in the midst of a packed schedule? Part of the reason why my son eats a lot of the same foods is because I only have so much time to make a meal or a snack. How can busy parents find the time to shake up the food rotation?

I get it. Lots of people are too exhausted (both physically and mentally) to put more effort into meals. I, myself, confessed to suffering from this situation in When You're Too Tired to Cook...

Here are 5 ideas to make mixing it up easy to do.

1) The Simple Rotation

Make a list of what your children eat for meals and snacks. Then, develop menus by alternating what you serve. Don't strive to provide radically different meals. The idea is to create a structure of change. 

  • Day 1: Eggs Day 2: Waffles Day 3: Cereal
  • Day 1: Eggs Day 2: Waffles Day 3: Eggs

2) Borrowed Foods: Foods your children eat for different meals and snacks.

Make a list of all the foods your children currently eat on a regular basis. Then mix up when you serve stuff. 

You don’t have to stick to breakfast foods for breakfast, lunch foods for lunch and/or dinner foods for dinner. And you certainly don’t have to stick to snack foods for snacks—any food can fit this category. Make a list of foods your children happily eat at other times and consider using them to fix your Food Ruts. Everyone enjoys pancakes for dinner, but you can also consider carrot sticks and dip at breakfast or chicken and broccoli for snack. Anything goes! 

Read Falafel for Breakfast.

2) Forgotten Foods: Foods your children used to eat but which they now refuse.

Parents often take food refusals more seriously than their children do. Don't assume that once rejected is always rejected. 

Read The Easy Way to Solve Your Toddler's Decision to Suddenly Refuse Certain Foods. 

3) Planned-for Foods: Foods your children would willingly eat but which take a little planning to use on a regular basis.

Muffins, omelets, blintzes, and lasagna for instance, all can be refrigerated or frozen for use during the week.

4) Invented Foods: Old favorites you can dish up in new combinations.

For instance, does your child like cottage cheese, bananas and jelly? Put them together and make a breakfast banana split.

5) Get your kids involved

Let your children tell you how they experience foods they eat. Then, get them to help you figure out how to mix up tastes, textures, etc.

If your children are extremely attached to one food...

Consider varying the flavor, the texture, or the brand. As your child's palate expands you'll be able to reduce your dependency on this one food.

When your children ask for a Food Rut two days in a row...

Remind them you will honor their request the following day. This way your kids won't think their favorite food is out of the rotation forever.

Remember to tell your children before you make any changes.

A simple statement should do it, "Tomorrow we are going to start eating different things on different days because that's the healthiest way to eat. Don't worry, I'm not going to ask you to eat anything new."

~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.~