Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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Entries in Goldfish (6)


Preschool and Pop Tarts

You've grown a great eater...until he lands in daycare or preschool.

That's what happened to Michelle's son. He was a shopping cart-riding/broccoli-gnawing tot until he got to preschool where he was exposed to Goldfish crackers, gummy candy, and some sort of birthday treat from a classmate nearly every week.

And to Courtney's son. He was an eating champ until he got to daycare where they served him cafeteria food like macaroni and cheese, corn dogs, and even Pop Tarts for snacks.

What can you do?

You can become an advocate for change. You can also use this as an opportunity to teach your child how to live in a world dominated by this stuff.

There isn’t anything your children need to understand about eating right that can’t be presented in child-sized nuggets.

No child is too young to learn how to handle sweets and treats. But you can't teach this stuff just by limiting the junk. You've got to talk to your kids too.

Talk to your child about proportion.

Proportion is easy to explain: We eat some foods more often than other foods.

And, there's room in the diet for everything. Including Pop Tarts—which I still eat once a year or so when I'm in the mood to taste my childhood!

Here's a sample dialogue.

  • Mary: The food you eat at daycare is pretty tasty, isn’t it?
  • Bob: Yeah, I love it.
  • Mary: I love that kind of food too. But you know what? It’s not the healthiest food.
  • Bob: It’s not?
  • Mary: No. Remember how I always say that we have to eat things like fruits and vegetables more often than we eat hot dogs, noodles, and cookies?
  • Bob: Yeah.
  • Mary: Well, because you eat all that Fun and Treat Food during the day, we have to be extra careful to eat Growing Food at home. That’s why I am always going to offer you things like apples and pears for snack when you get home from school. You don’t have to eat the snack, but there won’t be food again until dinner. Okay?
  • Bob: Okay, but I don’t like pears. They’re mushy.
  • Mary: I didn’t know you don’t like pears. Thanks for telling me. This must be a new thing because you liked pears last week. Let’s make up a list of the fruit you like right now and I’ll make sure to include those items in our Rotation Rule. Okay?
  • Bob: Okay.
  • Mary: But remember, I’m going to keep serving pears from time-to-time. I like them and you never know when you might want to start eating them again.

Don't know about Growing Food, Fun Food and Treat Food? Read Slackers Rule. Or what the Rotation Rule is? Read End Picky Eating with The Rotation Rule.

Some lessons can’t be learned by structure alone. They need explanation.

Imagine walking into your child’s classroom to find the teacher handing each child a book. Afterwards, you watch the teacher sit down in her chair, open her book, and start reading quietly to herself. 

It wouldn’t take long before the children figured out what they were supposed to do: open their books and start reading. 

So far the teacher’s actions seem reasonable. They also seem perfectly adequate: the children have all the information they need to figure out what they’re supposed to do.

Now imagine that the children don’t know how to read. Do you still think the teacher’s actions seem adequate? Probably not. Some lessons need active instruction.

If you’re worried that having this kind of conversation with a young child would make him feel bad about his daycare center...

As if you’re somehow putting them down or accusing them of serving unhealthy food, you could add something like:

  • “Every family eats differently and your teachers have to make sure they serve something that everyone likes.” Or, 
  • “Your teachers know that kids like to eat Fun and Treat Foods with their friends. But we can’t eat these foods all the time.”

The key to authoritative parenting is blending a solid structure and firm discipline with warmth and compassion.

That’s why talking to your children is so crucial. It’s where the warmth and compassion come in.

During these conversations you not only get to explain your thinking to your children, but your kids get to explain their thinking to you.

For more on this topic, read When School Nutrition Stinks.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Crackers & Juice, Chips & Soda

Want your kids to eat vegetables? Serve fewer salty snacks.
Here's the logic. Research shows that:
  • Kids eat fewer vegetables when they drink sweetened beverages.
  • Kids drink more sweetened beverages when they eat salty snacks.

Therefore, if you serve fewer salty snacks, your kids will drink fewer sugary beverages and, presto, they'll start eating more vegetables.


OK. It might not work that smoothly, but it's something to consider the next time you hand your toddler a bag of Goldfish crackers and an apple juice. 


I've written about the relationship between vegetable-eating and drinking sweetened beverages before.

Here's a refresher: Even after consuming only a small amount of the sweetened drink, the children were relatively disinterested in eating vegetables. 

Read about this study in Water vs. Punch and Soda.
Now, an Australian team has found that kids are more likely to seek out sugary drinks when they eat salty foods. 

Two findings, one obvious and one not so obvious:
  • The more dietary salt a child has, the higher their fluid intake. (That's the no-brainer.)
  • The more salt a child consumes, the greater their consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages.

Click here to read the article that recently appeared in Pediatrics.

Explanation 1

  • Eating salty food makes people thirsty. 
  • Thirsty people drink more. 
  • Thirsty people who are used to sugary beverages drink more sugary beverages.

Explanation 2 

  • People who drink sugar sweetened beverages often eat other unhealthy foods. Think hamburger, fries and a soda. It's a clustering effect. 

Explanation 3

  • Kids who eat foods high in sugar, salt and fat—the basic “Child-friendly”  diet—end up seeking out these kinds foods in order to achieve a “flavor-hit.”  They’re going for the high!

I wrote about this in the post Toddler Used to Eat Vegetables.

Other things you should know about salt and sugary beverages from this study: 

  • Salt intake increases with age.
  • Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages increases with age.
  • 62% of Australian children consume sugar-sweetened beverages; 80% of American children do.
  • Children who consume more than one sugar-sweetened beverage per day are 26% more likely to be overweight or obese (but only if the kids also aren't exercising).

One more thing...the effects reported here are small, but... 

  • The researchers were only looking at the relationship between salty foods and sugary drinks. If they had looked at the whole diet, I believe they would have found the full effect of salty foods on eating habits.
  • Kids graduate from crackers to chips, and from juice to soda.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~ 


Salt: The New Fat

It used to be that every time you opened a newspaper or magazine, turned on the television or the radio, you heard about the dangers of eating too much fat.  Well, now it’s sodium.

According to a recent New York Times article, researchers have concluded that if everyone consumed ½ a teaspoon less salt per day, there would be between 54,000 and 99,000 fewer heart attacks each year and between 44,000 and 92,000 fewer deaths.

So what’s that got to do with kids?  The taste for salt (or I should say, the salty habit) starts in childhood.

Sodium is everywhere and it’s wreaking havoc with your kids’ taste buds.

Most nutritionists recommend that 1-3 year olds limit their daily sodium to 1000 – 1200 mg, though the USDA more generously says to keep kids' sodium intake below 1500 mg.

Most people think of potato chips as the standard for salt, and chips certainly are salty.

  • One bag of Lay’s Classic Potato Chips (1 7/8 oz) contains 330 mg of sodium.

But do you know how salty your kids' food really is?

  • 1 small, milk-carton size box Cheddar Goldfish crackers (2 oz) = 500 mg.
  • 1 slice of a 12 inch cheese pizza from Pizza Hut = 520 mg.
  • 1 Oscar Mayer hot dog = 540 mg.
  • 1 serving of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese = 610 mg.
  • 1 Bruegger’s bagel with cream cheese = 660 mg (bagel=560 mg, cheese=100mg).

You would be better off giving your kids a daily dose of Nacho Cheese Doritos. 

  • 1 bag = 180 mg

Or Pepperidge Farm Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. 

  • One cookie = 90 mg.

Of course, you would never do that because you wouldn’t want your kids form those kinds of habits.  And that’s the point.

You don’t have to read nutrition labels to reduce your kids’ intake of sodium.

You simply have to ...

  • Feed your kids real food most of the time.
  • Limit processed foods to once or twice per day.  (Let your kids choose which ones they eat and when they have them to reduce control struggles.)

Not only will this strategy reduce your kids’ intake of sodium, but it will make them more willing to eat fruits and vegetables.  That's because when you reduce the salt threshold your kids are accustomed to, they’ll be more open to different flavors, including items that are less salty -- like apples.  It’s all about their habits. 

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~