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 Eating Principles (19)


Talk is Cheap...But It Can Change How Your Kids Eat!

Want to change how your kids eat? Here's the simplest advice I have: Let your kids in on the game plan.

In my experience, talking to your kids about how to eat is one of the most effective, and most overlooked, parenting strategies out there.  

  • Talk to your toddlers often.
  • Talk to your toddlers as specifically as you can.

But don’t talk to your toddlers about:

The good news is that there are only 3 things you need to talk to toddlers about.

These principles translate everything anyone needs to know about nutrition into behavior. 

Proportion, variety and moderation create the structure—a set of stable rules—you need for eating/feeding success.

I’ve written a lot about the importance of creating a durable structure.  Read:

Proportion, variety and moderation are easy for toddlers to understand.

  • Proportion: We eat more fresh, natural foods than anything else (including crackers, hot dogs, sugary yogurts, candy, cookies...) 
  • Variety: We eat different things on different days. 
  • Moderation: We only eat when we're hungry. We stop eating when we're full.

How easy is that?

Try boiling everything you want your kids to know about nutrition into 3 easy-to-understand statements. You couldn't do it.  

If knowing about nutrition produced healthy eating habits we would be a nation of stellar eaters. 

Educating your kids about food only teaches them more about food.  You want to teach your toddlers how to eat, that means teaching them how to make eating decisions.

Never before has a nation known so much about nutrition, yet eaten so poorly. 

It’s time to give up our obsession with nutrition (or should I say addiction to nutrition?) and start talking about habits instead.

Don't underestimate how much toddlers understand. 

The beauty of proportion, variety and moderation is that they are specific and action-oriented. They tell your kids exactly how you want them to eat.

All too often parents know what they mean when they say something, but their kids interpret things differently. 

  • Don't go too far? (Across the room? Across the street?)
  • Don't eat too many sweets? (2? 10? A bagful?)

If you think about it, one reason the “2 more bites” tactic works (at least in the short run) is because it’s incredibly specific. Both you and your kids know exactly what you expect.

Specific statements that produce good eating include directions about how to choose what to eat, nothow much to eat.

In this regard, I’m totally with Ellyn Satter who says that you decide what food you’re going to provide and your kids decide how much of it they’re going to eat.  Satter calls this the Division of Responsibility and you can read more about it on her site: Also, read To Restrict or Not, That is the Question.

In my experience, many parents end up focusing on how much their toddlers eat because parents feel at a loss to shape what their kids eat. Parents don't make the switch from what to how much intentionally, and there are lots of good reasons to try to get kids to eat more—like you don't want to whip up a meal in the middle of the night. But if you want  your toddlers to choose the right foods, you have to give them some governing guidelines.

Here are a few things you should be very specific about.

Tell your toddlers you want them to eat:

There are other guidelines such as when it's time to eat (and when it's not) and how many sweets to eat in a day. I won't list them here, but they all flow from the three primary principles: proportion, variety and moderation.

Talk may be cheap...

But when it comes to teaching kids to eat right, what you say can really influence what your kids do. And doing (not knowing) is the key to teaching kids to eat right.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Not ALL Children LOVE Sugary, Salty, Fatty Foods

Think ALL children are predisposed to preferring foods with sugar, salt and fat? Think again.

New Research shows:

  • German and Spanish kids are twice as likely to prefer high fat foods than kids in Cyprus and Belgium.
  • Hungarian, Spanish and Estonian children have a preference for fat, salt and umami (savory), espcially when compared to Swedish, Belgium and Italian children.
  • German children are less likely to prefer sweet juice than Swedish, Italian and Hungarian children.

Want to know something else?

Country was the strongest predictor of taste preference.

That means, culture impacts taste preferences more than: 

  • Breastfeeding vs formula
  • Age at which fruit is introduced
  • Television viewing
  • Whether or not parents use food as a reward
  • Taste sensitivity

Want to know something else?

There are kids who aren't familiar with apple juice.

The researchers couldn't test the sweet preferences of the children in Cyprus because these kids were unfamiliar with apple juice (and the researchers wanted to use a standard sweet medium across the study).

How'd they do it?

Researchers maniuplated the level of sugar in apple juice, and the level of salt, fat and umami in crackers. Then, 1705 six to nine year old children were given paired tastings and asked to indicate which of the pair they liked best.

The study was conducted in Italy, Estonia, Cyprus, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Hungary and Spain.

You don’t need to move across the world to solve a picky-eating problem. You just have to establish a foreign culture at home.

Forget about feeding the American way, and start seriously rethinking what, when and why you offer the foods that you do.  Read Food Culture and What It Means to be "Child-Friendly."

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Lanfer, A., K. Bammann, K. Knof, K. Buchecker, P. Russo, T. Veidebaum, Y. Kourides, S. de Henauw, D. Molnar, S. Bel-Serrat, L. Lissner, and W. Ahrens. 2013. “Predictors and Correlates of Taste Preferences in European Children: the IDEFICS Study.” Food Quality and Preference 27: 128-36.


Surprise! Surprise!

Shhh, don’t say anything. Maybe he won’t notice this pasta isn’t his usual brand. 

Haven’t you ever held your breath while you waited to see what your child would do when you switched up his regular routine? Or gave him something new to eat?

Of course, kids always notice. And then they react: "I wasn't expecting my ravioli to taste like that."

Kids don't like surprises.

Unless you mean the kind of surprise that is a gift-wrapped box!

When you spring change on your children without warning you are pretty much guaranteed to get a backlash.

Why shouldn’t your kids rebel if you don’t talk to them first? If for no other reason than that they are surprised?

Kids don't want suprises (particularly if they’re caught in a control struggle). What children want is the opposite: they want predictability.

But here’s what happens in most homes.

Let’s say you decide you are going to use the Rotation Rule

  • Before you implement it, you prepare. You think through what, when, why and how you are going to do it.
  • Then, without any advance warning, wham! You start rotating foods. 
  • You expect your children to get with the program instantly. 

Not only that, you expect your kids to react exactly the way you want them to without any guidance from you. (Remember, you’re still holding your breath and hoping for the best.)

Instead of ceding the power you have to influence how things turn out to fate (or to your wily kids), talk to your kids.

Read You Can't Make Me Eat It!

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~