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.

Fooducate Like Having a Dietician on Speed dial.

Hoboken Family Alliance A terrific resource for people living in the great city of Hoboken, NJ.

The Lunch Tray Everything you need to know about improving school lunches.

Parent Hacks Forehead-Smackingly Smart Tips

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

Real Mom Nutrition Tales from the Trenches. Advice for the Real World. From a mom-nutritionist who knows!

Stay and Play The best indoor playspace on the East Coast. Oh yeah, and it happens to be owned by my brother.

weelicious Great Recipes for Kids 

Entries in Habits (78)

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.~

Wednesday
Mar192014

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.~