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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Dinner Together Building Healthy Families One Meal at a Time.

Food Politics Marion Nestle's intelligent take on the politics of food and nutrition.

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Raise Healthy Eaters One of the best blogs (other than my own) for learning to raise healthy eaters.

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Entries in Habits (79)

Tuesday
Sep232014

The Curse of the Broken Pretzel

Broken pretzels are cursed.

How else can we explain why some kids absolutely refuse to eat them?

Source: Mommy Shorts.com

Last week, Mommy Shorts.com published a hilarious sequence of photos depicting picky eaters and their food hangups.  

Check it out here.

One of my readers asked if I could suggest what parents can do to combat these problem (other than give in). Here you go, a plan to exorcise the curse!

1) Recognize that what looks like a food issue is really a behavior issue.

Behavior issues are impacted by the interactions you have with your child. That's good news. The way to change your child's behavior is to change how you react.

2) You can't care whether or not your child eats the broken pretzel or granola bar.

Things to say: 

  • "A broken pretzel tastes exactly like an unbroken one."
  • "You don't have to eat it if you don't want it."
  • "I'll try to give you unbroken pretzels when I can, because I know you prefer them, but when I grab a handful of pretzels to give you, there are usually going to be some broken ones."
  • "I'm happy to hear how you feel about the pretzels, but not when you're having a fit (tantrum)."
  • "We can talk about how you feel about the pretzels for 1 (or 5) minutes, but I will not talk to you about this any longer (because that's a fit...especially if there's whining).

The only reason for parents to give in to their children's demands to eat only unbroken pretzels, or toast that has not been perfectly toasted, or sandwiches that are not cut exactly the right way is to avoid a fight.

But establishing firm boundaries is the other way to avoid the fight. 

The key, then, is to make sure you distinguish between food problems and behavioral problems. Behavioral problems (tantruming in response to being given a broken pretzel, for instance) has to be solved with a behavioral solution. Do whatever you do (like use a time out?) to correct your child's behavior.

If you need your child to eat the pretzels, your child holds all the power.

But you might want to ask yourself why you care whether or not your child eats the pretzels. And if your child's food refusal comes at meals, then remember that your child has to have the freedom NOT to eat before she'll be able to willingly choose to eat.

End a meal rather than give in to this kind of irrational demand. (Then, remind yourself that the next snack or meal is not that far away. Read The Upside of Hunger.)

Here's how giving in to broken pretzels curses YOU:

Curse 1: When children express their need for control by restricting (or even eliminating) the food they'll eat, there's only one direction this can go: downhill.

The terrific feeling of control your child gets from successfully controlling the shape and size of the pretzel or the granola bars he'll eat lasts about 10 seconds. Then, the next time he wants to feel control, the only thing he can do is restrict something else.

This is how children who eat a large variety of foods end up eating a smaller and smaller range of items.

Curse 2: Giving in to your children's quirky demands disempowers them.

Kids learn that they really can't cope with food in different forms. That they need to eat only unbroken pretzels.

Source: Mommy Shorts.com

Teaching children that they can cope with broken pretzels does the opposite: it empowers them. And if your child is refusing to eat a banana that has a bit of string or a sandwich that has crusts, teach your child to solve the problem herself. That's real power.

For more on this read The Power of the Imperfect Pretzel

Curse 3: Giving in to your children's quirky demands disempowers you...

...and turns the entire parenting relationship on its head.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~
Monday
Jul142014

Treats End Tears. At What Cost?

How often do you give your child a treat to end the tears?

You know what I'm talking about: 

  • Toddler goes in the stroller.
  • Toddler immediately starts crying.
  • Parent produces a muffin out of thin air.
  • Toddler stops crying. 
  • Success, but at what cost?

I, myself, am guilty of using food to stop incessant crying. Until I realized that I had turned my child into an automatic, reflex-driven, car-snacker. And then I had to undo that habit. 

Who hasn't resorted to a little behavioral bribe? If you are good you can have a cookie!

Food—or more specifically the lovely cookie—has the power to produce miraculous results: kids who wait patiently through phone calls, lines at the bank and even grocery shopping trips that take forever.

You can have an ice cream if you play quietly by yourself for another 15 minutes.

Don’t do it.  It might just affect your children’s lifelong eating habits.

A 2003 Yale University study found that adults who remember their parents using food to control their behavior have higher rates of binge eating.  They are also more likely to be excessively concerned about their weight, suffer from weight fluctuations, and other problems such as chronic dieting.  Yikes.

Food works to reinforce behavior in the short term, but it also communicates mixed messages to children about the role that food should play in their lives.

So much parental energy goes into encouraging healthy eating, but then we reward our kids for behaving well by giving them…brownies!

These peas are good for you.  These cookies are just plain good.

It makes sense that when parents reward children with dessert, these same children grow into adults who reward themselves with dessert.  But it’s not just dessert consumption that is affected.  A 2001 study found people whose families used food as a reward for success and good behavior were more likely to be bulimic than people whose families did not use these tactics.

1) The key to teaching kids to eat right is to keep your eyes on the long term prize.

Nutrition puts enormous pressure on parents to get the right foods into kids.  And that pressure makes parents do crazy things.  If you’ve ever found yourself wrestling under the table to get one more slurp of applesauce into your little superstar then you know what I mean.

One study of college students founds that 72% of the students who had been forced to eat food as a child said they still wouldn’t eat that food today. 

And a substantial body of research shows that pressuring kids to eat more makes them eat less.  Give up your membership in the Clean Your Plate Club.  Instead, pay attention to the long-term lessons your kids are learning.

2) You can carefully use rewards to encourage healthy eating, but avoid using food to encourage behaving.

In an earlier post I talked about the power of rewards so I wouldn’t blame you if right about now you were thinking that I am the contradiction queen. I don't think I am.

Giving stars as a reward for eating behavior—trying new foods, for instance, or eating vegetables before the rest of the meal—is completely different than using food as a reward for desirable behavior. Read Star Power.

I'm not going to dispute that rewarding your kids with foods they really like will get their attention, but pulling out the big guns (and let’s be honest, nobody bribes good behavior with broccoli) overpowers kids.  Really big rewards produce really big results because of the amount of pressure they apply. What's a poor kid to do?

But while using food coercively works, it won't position your kids to develop a positive relationship with food. Research confirms this.

 3) Look for non-food rewards that work.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.  Allow your kids to:

  • Plan a special outing.
  • Pick games for family game night.
  • Choose a movie for the family to watch.
  • Select a sport for everyone to play together.
  • Stay up a few minutes past bedtime.
  • Allow a sleepover.
  • Have a few friends over for a special “party.”
  • Choose a small toy from a special toychest.
  • Play an extra computer game.

I’ve often said that you shouldn’t sacrifice your kids’ long term eating habits for the sake of the immediate meal.

Here I’m saying, don’t sacrifice your kids’ long term eating habits to stave off the immediate meltdown. Instead, arm yourself with an arsenal of non-food rewards and set your kids up for a life time of healthy eating.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

====================================================== 

Sources:

Batsell, R. W., Jr., A. S. Brown, M. Ansfield, E., and G. Y. Paschall. 2002. “"You Will Eat All of That!": a Retrospective Analysis of Forced Consumption Episodes.” Appetite 38: 211-19.

Puhl, R. M. and M. B. Schwartz. 2003. “If You Are Good You Can Have a Cookie: How Memories of Childhood Food Rules Link to Adult Eating Behaviors.” Eating Behaviors 4: 283-93.

Thursday
May012014

Nutella vs Cake Frosting!

If you give your kids Nutella for breakfast, you'd be better off giving them Cake Frosting instead!

  • From a nutrition perspective, Nutella is a disaster. 
  • From a habits perspective, Nutella could be a disaster. It depends on how you use it.

Check this out:

I know...you know that Nutella is anything but healthy.

And yet, I see people acting as if it's healthy.

I was at an event with kids recently and Nutella was provided, presumably instead of peanut butter (due to potential allergies). Everyone acted as if eating Nutellas was equivalent to eating peanut butter. It's not.

(There were also yogurt tubes, as another "healthy" option...don't get me started on the difference between healthy foods and treats.)

For me, the issue is about HABITS.

The folks at Nutella want you to think that Nutella is great for breakfast. Have you seen their ad? 

"It's a quick and easy way to give my family a breakfast they'll want to eat," the actress says.
"And Nutella is made with simple quality ingredients like hazelnuts, skim milk and a hint of cocoa."

Here are the REAL Ingredients:

SUGAR, PALM OIL, HAZELNUTS, COCOA, SKIM MILK, REDUCED MINERALS WHEY (MILK)... 

No wonder "Breakfast never tasted this good." 

Read about the mom who won the class action suit againt Nutella for false advertising. 

I can hear the objections now. At least Nutella has...

  • Hazelnuts—Over 50 per 13 ounce jar! That amounts to about 4 hazelnuts per serving. Throw a couple of hazelnuts on your kids' chocolate frosting.
  • Protein: 2 grams per serving! 

However...

  • Two tablespoons of peanut butter has 7 grams of protein. And...
  • Your kids can pick up 2 grams of protein by eating 1/4 cup of green peas.

I'm not seriously suggesting that you give your kids cake frosting for breakfast.

But if you did, it would be more honest. 

  • Use Nutella as a substitute for chocolate sauce if you like the flavor of hazelnuts.
  • Don't use Nutella to "get" your kids to eat breakfast, as the ad suggests. It's a compromise that could ruin your kids' habits.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~