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 (20)

Tuesday
Dec162014

Healthy Eating Holiday Food Rules: Why You've Got to Have Them!

This holiday season, do your kids a favor. Set some rules.

Then trust your kids to work out the details.

Even young kids can do this. (And if yours can't...ask yourself, how are they ever going to learn?)

It's the only way to teach your kids the right habits for a lifetime of holiday eating.

New research confirms:

  1. Children as young as two can (and must!) learn to self-regulate.
  2. Even children who can self regulate need their parents to set some rules about food/eating.

And here's the kicker: knowing how to self-regulate isn't enough. Kids also need those rules.

Here's what the study found:

  • Preschoolers who were able to self-regulate at 2 had healthy eating habits by the time they were 4, so long as their parents also set rules about the right types of foods to eat.
  • On the other hand, self-regulation by itself, without parental food rules, made little difference in childrens' later eating habits.

Soda is a particular problem.

The researchers are quoted as saying:

  • "We found that preschoolers whose parents had no food rules drink soda about 25 percent more than children whose parents had food rules."
  • "We found that soda is pretty attractive to preschoolers, but soda cannot kill their hunger. It doesn't fill them up."

This study, conducted by researchers at the University at Buffalo, analyzed data for 8,850 children that were originally collected as part of a larger study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education.

Read more about the study here.

Some things you need to know: 

  • In this study, self-regulation at age 2=parental assessment of the child's ability to wait for something as well as general of irritability, fussiness and whimpering. There might be other, and even better measures of self-regulation. The point here, though, is that self-regulation isn't tied specifically to food and it still matters.
  • There is mounting evidence that parenting style matters. And the parenting style here is called authoritative. It's a blend of structure and warmth/compassion.

Parenting style matters so much that focusing on parenting style alone can improve how your kids eat.

Read more about the importance of parenting styles here.

On the other hand, just implementing rules probably won't work. That parenting style is called authoritarian and it has been shown to produce a few problems.

Think rules plus choices. Or rules plus autonomy. Or rules plus trust.

The rules you set for consumption should focus on the habits you want your kids to learn.

And the good news is that there are only 3 habits that translate everything you need to know about nutrition into behavior. They're easy for kids to learn too.

  • Proportion: We eat really healthy foods the most. (And by really healthy I don't mean chicken nuggets.) 
  • Variety: We eat different foods from meal-to-meal and from day-to-day.
  • Moderation: We eat when we're hungry, and stop when we're full. And we don't eat because we're bored, sad or lonely.

Here are some rules you might consider to get you through the holidays:

  • On days when there are no parties, there are no treats. (Discuss this as the principle of proportion.)
  • When you're at a party, you can eat whatever you want, but it's always better to eat the treats you love, rather than the treats that happen to be available. (You'll have to tell your kids what foods are going to be available and when.) OR...
  • You can have X number of treats at the party. You choose which ones and when you'll have them.
  • Pay attention to your tummy. (Discuss this in terms of hunger/fullness...i.e. moderation.)

For more on this topic, read Healthy Eating for the Holidays.

Happy Holidays!!!

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Tuesday
Jul082014

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: www.ellynsatter.com. 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.~

Thursday
Apr252013

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.