Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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Entries in Fat (12)


The Outsized Problem of Pizza: It Takes Up Too Much of the Pie

I'm getting a lot of flak for saying that pizza—not Valentine's Day candy—could single-handedly ruin our kids' eating habits.

In response to my last post—Valentine's Day Candy vs Pizza—one friend even accused me of hating pizza. (The only other post that stirred up this much animosity was Donuts vs. Muffins.)

So let me clarify: All I meant to say is that our diets are out of whack. Not because of Valentine's Candy—or because of candy in general—but because of pizza. And other grain products.

To meet current dietary recommendations, Americans would have to reduce our total grain consumption by 27%. 

Imagine reducing your grain intake by 27%. We're a grain-crazy country.

Add up all the bread, bagels, cereals, crackers, pretzels, granola bars, cookies, pasta, pizza, tacos, rice, popcorn and other grain-stuff your kids load up. Then comopare this group to everything else your kids eat. See what I mean?

I have nothing against pizza. I was making an argument about proportion.

Proportion is one of the three habits of healthy eating. (Variety and moderation are the other two.)  

  • If 1 in every 6 kids between the ages of 2 and 5 is eating pizza on any given day, then we're a country of people who eat too much pizza.
  • A healthy diet is not one that is dominated by one kind of food. Particularly if that food is a huge source of saturated fat and sodium. But even if you're diet were dominated by peas it would not be considered a healthy diet.

You know most people are eating a distorted diet when pizza is the second largest source of refined grains.

And since most people eat refined, not whole grains, I think it is safe to say that pizza is the second largest source of grains in the American diet. Not cereal. Not rice. Pizza.

Source: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 | Chapter Three 

From the habits perspective, a diet that is dominated by pizza is bad news.

One study found that pizza was the #5 source of calories for kids between the ages of 4-8. It was the #2 source of calories for kids between the ages of 9-13.

More proof that habits earned early in life tend to stick around.

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


 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Additional Source: Possible Implications for U.S. Agriculture from Adoption of Select Dietary Guidelines; Reedy, J. and S. Krebs-Smith. 2010. “Dietary Sources of Energy, Solid Fats, and Added Sugars Among Children and Adolescents in the United States.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 110(10): 1477-84.


Valentine's Day Candy vs Pizza

Today is Valentine's Day, and if the Internet and my inbox are tapping into the pulse of the nation at all accurately, there are a lot of parents out there who hate this holiday.

I exaggerate. These parents don't hate Valentine's Day, per se. What they hate is all that candy.

Pizza—not Valentine's Day candy—could single-handedly ruin our kids' eating habits.

I'm not a big fan of the tons of candy that is associated with this holiday, but it doesn't stress me out. Why? It's one day.

Even your kids end up lugging home so much candy that it hangs around your house for a few months, the solution is easy. Read Coping with Party Favor Candy Bags for Kids. It'll give you lots of ideas.

In the long run, how well your kids eat will have a lot more to do with how you handle pizza than how you handle Valentine's Day candy.

Most parents have thought a lot about candy and soda, cupcakes and ice cream. Pizza slides under the radar. After all, it's kinda nutritious.

For the record, I LOVE pizza. If I were ever on a desert island, it's the one food I would want to have with me.

However, the USDA just released a new report, Consumption of Pizza: What We Eat in America. Prepare to be shocked.

Look around you. Who is going to eat pizza today?

  • 1 in every 8 people
  • 1 in every 4 boys between 6 and 19
  • 1 in every 6 kids between the ages of 2 and 5

If there are 18 kids in the average preschool classroom, 3 of them will eat pizza today. Three of them will eat pizza tomorrow. And the next day.

Think of the habits this teaches! Especially when you consider that many (if not most) of these preschoolers are eating pizza-like foods (grilled cheese, cheese quesadillas, pasta with cheese) on all the other days. Read Pizza. Pizza. Pizza.

How many kids eat this much Valentine's Day candy this frequently?

The problem with pizza is that it has just enough of the "good" nutrients to give it a pass.

Pizza has protein, calcium, potassium. Eat pizza and you're likely to get more than half your daily dose of lycopene!! However...

According to The Harvard School of Public Health, pizza is now the leading source of saturated fat in the American diet. 

  • Pizza accounts for 33% of daily saturated fat intake for kids.
  • Pizza also has a ton of sodium: 33% of kids' daily intake.
  • And, when you (or your kids) eat pizza, it accounts for about 27% of your (or your kids') daily calories.

That's from the nutrition perspective.

From the habits perspective, regularly eating pizza has never taught anyone to eat broccoli.

Particularly if your kids eat their pizza as a snack. 

  • Kids are most likely to eat pizza at lunch or dinner.
  • However, 10% of all the pizza kids consume occurs as a snack.

Pizza for snack? That's one hefty (and unhealthy) snack. For the record, this is why it's a mistake to think of snack as a mini-meal.

Eating is really a matter of math.

The kinds of foods your kids get used to eating are the kinds of foods they'll keep eating. Think of taste, texture, experience...

(And by the way, the habits argument is true even if you make your own, home-made, über-healthy pizza. When it cmes to shaping what your kids eat, habits always trump nutrition.)

Does this mean you should never serve pizza?

Not at all. It just means we should put as much (if not more) effort into teaching our kids how to handle pizza as we do into curtailing their candy.

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


 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Breakfast Can Improve How Well Your Kids Eat Dinner

One of the downsides of the nutrition mindset is that it encourages parents to examine the immediate meal.

Actually, sometimes the nutrition mindset focuses parents' attention on the immediate mouthful! But the habits approach encourages you to step back and look at patterns.

Breakfast can change HOW your kids eat.

Here's a favorite post that explains...


Yes, breakfast is important nutritionally, but it is also the biggest missed opportunity for teaching your kids to eat right.

You’ve heard the nutrition news a zillion times before: kids need to eat breakfast.  It makes them healthier and better students at school.  (Though I’m not sure kids need the chocolate chip pancakes at IHOP which come in at over 600 calories, or the flapjacks at your local diner which are probably just as fantastic.)

But you probably haven't thought about breakfast from the habits perspective.

Used correctly, breakfast can teach kids to eat new foods.   Used incorrectly... well, you probably know what happens.

Here are three ways to get the most out of breakfast:

1) Use breakfast to get kids used to the idea that they eat different foods on different days and they’ll be more open to new foods.

Most parents settle on the same 1 or 2 things to feed kids in the morning.  It’s a busy time, and we want our kids to eat breakfast (after all, we know how important this meal is).

But feeding kids the same stuff all the time gets them used to eating the same stuff all the time.  No wonder they balk when different stuff comes around - even if different comes later in the day.

Read Make "New” Work For You.

Tip 1: Rotate the breakfast foods you serve.  You don’t need to introduce foods your kids have never eaten.  Simply establish the procedure of not serving the same food two days in a row.  If you must serve cereal every day, at least switch up the brands and the flavors.

2) Use breakfast to expand the taste, texture, appearance, aroma and temperature of foods your kids will eat and they’ll be more open to new foods.

Most parents think they are providing a variety of foods, but they’re not. Breakfast foods tend to all have basically the same taste, texture, aroma, appearance and temperature. 

Toast, cereal, bagels, muffins, French toast, pancakes … they’re all relatively bland, bready products.  Some offer a little more sweet, or a little more crunch, but the variation is minimal.  That’s because the main ingredient is the same: refined flour.

Read The Ingredients Game.

Tip 2: Pay attention to which tastes your kids gravitate towards and then slowly introduce them to other flavors.  Do the same thing with texture (do they only like crunchy?), appearances (are they white or beige eaters?), aromas and temperatures.

Read The Variety Masquerade.

3) Use breakfast to reduce your kids’ dependence on sweet and fat-laden foods and they’ll be more open to new foods.

A lot of what we feed our kids in the morning fosters eating habits that run counter to the healthy stuff we’re always begging them to eat.

Do our kids really need to develop a lifelong taste preference for butter, cream cheese, and sugar?  Not if you want them to eat broccoli.

Tip 3: Teach your children that …

  • Butter is an ingredient in food, not a topping on food.  Yes, it’s yummy but it’s also 100% fat, and nothing else. Get your kids in the habit of eating toast topped with peanut butter, cottage cheese, hummus, guacomole... anything but butter. 
  • Cream cheese is a treat, not a staple. According to the USDA cream cheese doesn’t fulfill your kid’s daily dairy requirement because it doesn’t have enough calcium.  Instead, it’s a fat delivery system - thinkcream cheese - that packs in 100 calories per ounce. Most people slather on at least 2 ounces. Read about USDA Milk Group.
  • “Children’s cereals” – which have up to 85% more sugar than those marketed to adults -- are treat snacks, not breakfast foods.  Maybe this is one reason most kids have such a sweet tooth! Read A Spoonful of Sugar? 
  • Syrup.  Is there really any point?  Think Coke without the bubbles.  Ounce for ounce Aunt Jemima’s syrup has 5 times as much sugar as Coke.  (Coke has 3.3g sugar per ounce; the syrup has 16g per ounce. A point of reference: those little packets of syrup served at fast food joints are approximately 2 ounces.) Teach your kids to enjoy pancakes with jelly, fresh fruit or -- here's a radical idea -- plain naked (then they'll know what pancakes really taste like).

When it comes to teaching kids to eat new foods every meal counts, especially breakfast.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~


Source: Zinczenko, D. and M. Goulding, 2008. Eat This Not That for Kids. New York, NY: Rodale. p. 74; product labels.