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 Habits (76)


How Young is Too Young?

"I don't think my 2 year old understands. I've tried to implement The Rotation Rule, but when I ask her if she wants yogurt or cereal for breakfast she always says pancakes. How young is too young?"

Sound familiar? I get this kind of question all the time. The answer is: No child is too young to learn how to eat right.

Before you think I'm nuts, consider two things: 

  • Babies learn from an early age that their parents will come when they cry.
  • Research shows that children often learn bad eating habits, like emotional eating, as young as 2 or 3. (Read Using Sweets to Soothe the Soul.) If kids can learn bad habits at age 2, how can they be too young to learn good eating habits at age 2?

But here's the real reason that kids can't be too young to learn good eating habits...

Implementing techniques like the Rotation Rule shapes how PARENTS interact with their kids.

And it's shaping your interactions that ultimately teaches kids how to eat. (Even those who are pre-verbal or too young to have a conversation!)

Let's take a look at some interactions. You'll see what I mean.

When you have trouble getting your kids to accept the Rotation Rule, parents are thinking some version of the following:

  • "I've explained the Rotation Rule: We're not going to eat the same food two days in a row."
  • "My child doesn't go along with the rule. She must not be able to understand it."
  • "If she's too young, I should stop trying."

(Don't know what the Rotation Rule is? Click here.)

Here's the child's version of events:

  • "Mom explained something called The Rotation Rule."
  • "Mom offered me two choices for breakfast: yogurt or cereal."
  • "I said I want pancakes."
  • "Mom said I need to choose either yogurt or cereal."
  • "I said I want pancakes."
  • "Mom is getting irritated. She offered me yogurt or cereal...again."
  • "I said I still want pancakes. I started whining."
  • "Mom gave me pancakes."
  • "Yum! Hurray!"

I say, this child understands exactly what's going on. 

 It's just that she's learned a different lesson then the one mom intended. The child has learned:

  1. Hold out. 
  2. Make a fuss. 
  3. Wait long enough and you'lll your pancakes!

The disconnect between the lesson you think you're teaching and the lesson your kids are actually learning is the space where feeding problems crop up. 

For more on this topic, read Eating, Seen Through Your Child's Eyes.

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


 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


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.~


The Power of the Imperfect Pretzel

Imperfect pretzels are so powerful they can turn normal kids into "crazies." But they can also turn your kids into empowered eaters.

But there's a twist: if you want to empower your kids you can't give in to their demands to be presented only with perfect pretzels. (I know, not giving in goes against the grain. Stick with me for a minute here.)

Some kids go absolutely nuts in the presence of Imperfect Pretzels.

"Ahhhhh. Take them away. Take them away!" 

You know what I'm talking about: Imperfect pretzels are cracked, not whole. As a result, they're totally offensive.

  • Maybe your "imperfect pretzel" is a waffle that hasn't been cut correctly.
  • Or it's a sandwich served with the crusts on. The horror!

It seems so easy to satisfy your child's eating idiosyncracies, and perhaps it feels a tad coercive not to. But serving only perfect pretzels teaches the wrong lessons.

Serving imperfect pretzels teaches kids that they're in charge of their own eating.

It's an effective way of saying, "You can choose whether or not to eat the pretzels."

Empowering kids by serving imperfect pretzels is counterintuitive.

It feels like giving in to your child's demands will empower her, but it doesn't. It simply reinforces a control struggle. It sends the message that you need her to eat. Therefore, you will provide food in whatever way she wishes.

In the process, it also limits your child by reinforcing the idea that he can (and should) only eat foods when they're presented in a certain way.

Think about how liberating choices are to children.

  • You can choose to eat only the whole pretzels if that's what you want to do.
  • You can tear the crusts off the sandwich, eat around them, or eat them. The choice is yours.
  • You can pick the mushrooms out of the stew, if you would like.

You can do this. You are able to do this. You are competent to do this.

Imperfect pretzels teach another very valuable lesson: foods that look different often taste the same.

Serving imperfect pretzels reduces the control struggle by setting a reasonable and appropriate boundary.

And it enables parents to be warm and compassionate at the same time.

Boundaries+compassion=authoritative parenting. Authoritative parenting has been shown over and over to produce kids with healthy eating habits.

Does this mean you should never serve perfect pretzels? 

Absolutely not. Sometimes serving perfect pretzels— because you know your child likes them— is a great way to show respect. It's the difference between wanting to and having to.

For more on this topic read Cutting Toast Triangles & Cucumber Squares?


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

 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~