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 Skills (6)

Monday
Sep232013

Grazing Gone Wild

What can you do when other parents let their kids graze at the playground...

And they're happy to let your child join in the "fun?"

The short answer is, set some guidelines about when your kids eat their snacks, and about how much they can mooch on any one day. I'll get to the specifics in a minute.

In case you're just catching up, this is the third post in a series on coping with junk on the playground.

Ali wrote to me with a problem she was having: Other parents were filling her kids with crap at the playground. What could she do? Instead of giving a straight-forward, short and simple answer, I said that she really had four different problems and each one needed a different strategy to solve it.

  1. How to cope with the less than stellar food her friends serve to their kids and, by extension, to hers.
  2. The fact that her friends let their kids graze, but grazing ruins her daughter's appetite for meals.
  3. Not being allowed to eat junky treats makes her young daughter food obsessed.
  4. Being denied the snacks she wants also makes her daughter have major meltdowns.

Read posts 1 and 2 in the series: Can Other Parents Ruin Your Kids' Eating Habits? and How to Cope with Junk-Filled Playdates.

Also, read Do Kids Need to Snack?

Lessons children need to learn about snacks. 

  1. Snacks are meant to tide you over until the next meal. They're not meant to fill you up.
  2. Snack times have a beginning and an end. Read Should Toddler's Snack on Demand?

These lessons build on the lessons about proportion that I discussed in my last post.

So how do you teach these lessons at the playground?

Here are some ideas. Teach your child to... 

  • Ask you before snacking at the playground. This will take some time to perfect but it will solve a lot of problems in the long run.
  • Snack sitting down. This works particularly well if you add that he needs to eat from his special "snack" cup. This would entail putting the food he "scores" into the cup before eating.
  • Score only one snack from someone else. After that she must snack from your supply.
  • Accept snacks when they're offered if he wants the snack but that he shouldn't mooch off strangers or grab his friend's stash.
  • Stop eating when you say snack time is offically over. 

Will these lessons require your child to learn self-control?

Yes.

Will your child get it wrong some of the time?

Absolutely.

Might these guidelines produce a meltdown?

Sure, but responding to a meltdown is a behavioral problem, not a food problem. I'll address it later this week.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Wednesday
Sep182013

How to Cope with Junk-Filled Playdates

How do you handle other parents giving their kids junky snacks in front of your kids?

If you read my last post, Can Other Parents Ruin Your Kids' Eating Habits?, you know that was the essence of Ali's question.  And...

You also know that I said there were four different problems in the scenario she described.

  1. How to cope with the less than stellar food her friends serve to their kids and, by extension, to hers.
  2. The fact that her friends let their kids graze, but grazing ruins her daughter's appetite for meals.
  3. Not being allowed to eat junky treats makes her young daughter food obsessed.
  4. Being denied the snacks she wants also makes her daughter have major meltdowns.

What can she do? In this post I'll deal with the food issue.

Kids need to learn two lessons to cope with playdate crap (or any foods that you wouldn't normally serve).

  1. Different families eat differently.
  2. Proportion: We eat healthy food more frequently than everything else.

Lesson One—different families eat differently—celebrates differences without judgment. 

Not only does it teach your children that it's ok for other families to be different from your family, but it teaches your kids that it's ok for your family to be different from others.  (This is a subtle distinction but it's an important one.)

This lesson is particularly important if you can't see your way to allowing your children to eat any of what's being offered.  

I suggest that you teach this lesson and then... let your child eat (at least some of) the junk.

Why?

  • Junk is part of the world we live in.
  • Kids need to learn to cope with junk in the right way. You might as well start teaching them to cope from the get-go.
  • You're eventually going to have to let your kids eat this food (or they'll get it on their own). If you don't teach your kids how to cope, you're sending them out into the world (even if that world is preschool) without an important skill.  Besides, teaching kids is what parents do.

Lesson Two (proportion) teaches kids that it doesn't matter what you eat. What matters is how often you eat it.

Many people don't agree with me, but there is room in your child's diet for anything. Read It Doesn't Matter What Your Kids Eat.

Proportion is one of the three principles of healthy eating. The other two are variety and moderation. Read Have Your Cake and Eat it Too!

How do you teach a small child proportion? Easy.

 Start by talking about the principle: 

  • "We eat the healthiest foods most often."
  • "Goldfish are fun to eat. That's why we only eat them sometimes. We eat things like apples more often."

Then, when you know you are going to have a playdate where there will be junky snacks, talk about this to your child in advance. Say things such as...

  • "We are going to have a playdate later with your friend Susie. She always has yummy treats. So that's when you'll have your treat for the day."
  • "We're not going to have cookies now because I'm pretty sure that Susie is going to have treats for you at the playdate."

You don't have to get the principle of proportion 100% right every time.

So what if your kids have a few more treats today than you'd like. Think about this as a longterm project. You can't teach your kids manners or how to brush their teeth overnight either.

Teaching proportion won't solve all your playdate problems because it's only one of the four issues  you have to address.

But, proportion the best place to start. (And, it will go along way to solving problem three: coping with food obsessions.)

In my next post I'll discuss the problem of playdate grazing.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Tuesday
Sep172013

Can Other Parents Ruin Your Kids' Eating Habits?

Ever feel like it'd be a cinch to teach your kids healthy eating habits if it weren't for other parents?

You feed your kids lots of fruits and vegetables.

And these other parents? Well...they don't.

 

The problem occurs when your kids see their kids. (I'm sure you know what I mean.)

Ali writes that at home she feeds her 18 month-old daughter a small mid-morning snack. And it works great.

Her daughter eagerly eats whatever she serves up at lunch time.

However, Ali also writes, that her friends let their kids graze from a snack buffet all day long.

And her daughter is happy to eat from their buffets of, as Ali says, "sugar-sweetened and salt/MSG-laden junk" whenever they have playdates."

Ali feels caught in a bind. She doesn't want her daughter to eat this food, but...

"My daughter is only 1 1/2 so I feel I can't just tell her 'no' and not allow her to eat when all the other kids are eating. She has had meltdowns over being denied Goldfish crackers. In fact, if we are out playing somewhere and she sees food, she becomes obsessed by it, which I think is due to the fact that other kids always have hyper-palatable processed garbage that we do not eat at home."

The good news is that other parents can't ruin your kids' eating habits (unless you let them).

You just have to teach your way out of the problem.

So what do I suggest in this situation (other than Ali's idea of making new friends)?

Here's a radical idea: stop thinking about the food and starting thinking about habits, skills and life lessons.

You probably think I'm crazy. This kid is 1 1/2. But consider this: Every time you interact with your children—no matter their age— you're teaching them something. The only question that remains is, what are you going to teach them?

I say, why not make those interactions work in your favor?

Ask yourself, "What lessons or skills does my daughter need to learn?"

To figure that out, look at the problem closely to see all the different issues that need to be addressed. (There's almost always more than one.)

In this case I see four different problems:

  1. Food quality
  2. Grazing
  3. Food obsessions
  4. Meltdowns

And three different lessons that need to be learned:

  1. The concept of proportion.
  2. How to use Eating Zones properly.
  3. To cope with disappointment.

How will teaching her young daughter these lessons solve Ali's problems?

Check out my next few posts. I'll describe in detail what I suggest she does. In the meantime, read: My 3 Year old scores junky snacks from other parents and kids. What can I do?

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~