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 Hunger (22)


How Parents Teach Kids to Lie About Hunger

Should you let your kids stop eating even if you suspect they're not quite full?

Or let them eat if you know they're not hungry?

The surprising answer is yes.

Otherwise, kids just learn to lie.

In most families, there is only one legitimate reason to eat: hunger.

That means if kids want to eat something they have to say they’re hungry, even if they’re not. “That cake looks good; I’m hungry.”

It also means that if they don’t want to eat something kids often have to say they’re not hungry, even if they are. “Those peas look gross; I’m not hungry.” (Sometimes kids also say, “I don’t like it,” to get out of eating.)

I don’t really think of this as lying, per se. Rather, children are working with the tools we give them. And, I don't think parents do this intentionally.

A story to illustrate the problem:

One day I was at a birthday lunch for a young child. Among the celebrants was a 5 year old girl. The little girl had a lovely lunch and when she was full she stopped eating. "I'm full," she announced.

So far so good.

About 30 minutes later, when the birthday cake came out: "Yum. I'm starving!"

I know there are parents out there who will say that it's possible this girl was hungry. After all, a half-hour had passed! I don't buy it. 

Teach your kids to become fluent in the "language" of hunger—no matter how young they are.

Eating is a complicated business because people eat for all sorts of reasons and kids need to know this.

For instance, in addition to Tummy Hunger, people often eat because of the following reasons: 

  • Taste Hunger; something looks good. When this happens, it’s best to have a small portion, just a taste.
  • Practical Hunger, they need to eat for practical reasons such as when there won’t be time for lunch later. In this case, you might have to have a few bites even if you aren’t hungry.
  • Emotional Hunger, the times we eat to quench uncomfortable feelings. These situations are best responded to with a hug, or other comforting measure.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Tribole, E. and E. Resch, 2003. Intuitive Eating: a Revolutionary Program That Works., Vol. 2nd Edition. New York: St. Martin's Press.


"You Have to Eat. Or Else..."

"You must eat at least a few bites of breakfast. Otherwise, we're not going shopping."

This was so not my finest parenting moment. Ever find yourself similarly threatening your child?

Here are the facts: 

  • My daughter woke up cranky.
  • I knew that part of the reason she was cranky was because she was hungry.
  • Before I pulled out the big guns (No Shopping!), I had tried a reasonable, "Let's go get some breakfast." 
  • I also had tried, "You know, sometimes when you feel cranky it's because you're hungry."
  • Nothing had worked and now I was looking at a morning (maybe even an entire day) of dealing with my darling daughter.
  • I couldn't realistically cancel the shopping trip because we were traveling, and if I did, we'd be stuck staring at each other in our hotel room. (OK, I could have canceled the trip, but what would I have done: replaced it with a trip to a museum?)

You're with me, right? I had to do what I did!

Pressure doesn't work.

So there we were at the cafe where we had eaten breakfast every day during our trip. I'd bought my daughter a glass of milk—That's a good compromise, right?— and myself a bowl of oatmeal. I was eating. She was crying. Through her tears she said:

I thought you aren't supposed to make kids eat when they aren't hungry. 

I was busted.  (Be glad you didn't just write a book on this topic.)

The natural physiologiclal response to being upset is to lose your appetite.

Here are the facts:

  • My daughter wasn't in touch with her feelings of hunger because she was cranky and upset.
  • The more conflict I created, the more likely it was that my daughter wouldn't feel hungry.
  • If I had successfully pressured my daughter into eating I would have taught her to override her internal feelings and to eat for emotional regulation.

For more on this read Using Sweets to Soothe the Soul

My daughter, rightfully, "won."

  • I finished my meal.
  • We threw out the milk. 
  • And off we went. Both of us sulking.

Eventually our moods improved. We shopped and then we ate lunch.

What should I have done instead?

  1. Corrected my daughter's behavior. Feeling cranky doesn't give anyone a free pass to act anyway they want. (And someday it won't be me dealing with her cranky attitude; it might be her boss.)
  2. Suggested to my daughter that she might like to eat. Then, I should have left it alone. 

In moments like this it is extremely difficult to think long term. 

But you have to. Teaching kids to stay in stay in touch with their internal hunger and satiation cues and with their own emotions is a big part of teaching them the habits they need for a lifetime of healthy eating.

It's something to think about. Maybe even something to read about!

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


 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Kids Eats Q&A: How Do I Deal with a Dinner Dawdler?

Got a Dinner Dawdler?

You know the kind of kid I'm talking about: 

  • She comes to the table and then just sits there, taking a bite every now and then, but not usually without a little prompting.
  • He comes to the table all full of giggles and laughter, ready to put on a show.
  • She constantly hops up and down from the table to check on something vital going on in the other room (a game half-played?) barely taking a bite.
  • He eats constantly throughout the meal but his bites are so small you begin to wonder whether he's even putting anything in his mouth!

Or maybe your dinner dawdler is really a breakfast or lunch dawdler. Dinner Dawdler come in all shapes and sizes. And they bless lots of families...especially when they're toddlers. 

So what can you do? I get this question a lot.

1) Figure out why your Dinner Dawdler dawdles.

There are many different reasons kids are dawdlers. For instance, perhaps your Dawdler is:

  • Not Hungry 
  • Distracted and Unfocused
  • Seeking Attention
  • Naturally a Slow Eater

This is not an insignificant step, so don't overlook it. You have to know why your child dawdles in order to implement the correct fix!

2) Match a structural solution to the cause.

Structure—a pattern of interactions that are routine, and therefore dependable—stops the struggle. (But only if you implement it clearly and consistently!)

  • If your child isn't terribly hungry at meals: Space snacks and meals out a little more. I call these Eating Zones: times when your child can and cannot eat.
  • If your child is distracted and unfocused: Remove distractions (such as a TV) when possible. Other distractions, such as a game that was left half-played before the meal, might need to be addressed another way: A doll could be "invited" to sit at the table with you or a family game could be scheduled after dinner.
  • If your child is seeking attention: Beef up your positive reinforcements by acknowledging the good behavior when it happens (even if you have to "jump" on the good behavior the second it happens).
  • If you have a naturally slow eater: well...this one's tough. As long as your child is consistently working on eating throughout the meal, I think you've got to let your child keep working.

3) Consider a Timer!

Your Dawdler might continue to dawdle...even with a great structure that addresses whatever makes your Dawdler dawdle! That's because dawdling is a HABIT and habits take time to unlearn.

Timers work because they do the nagging for you! And they're consistent. (I don't know about you but sometimes my "you have five minutes" turns into fifteen!)

There are two ways to use a timer. 

  • Set a total amount of time for the meal.
  • Set a time to complete the meal after the last person (other than the dawdler) has finished.

I prefer the second approach, but it's up to you.

For more on this topic:

It's something to think about. It might even be something to read about!

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

 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~