Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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Entries in Junk Foods (29)


Parenting Myth: It's Good to Treat All Your Kids the Same Way. Actually, It's Not.

If you've got more than one child, chances are you think one is a great, adventurous eater and the other? Not so much.

And if your younger child is the one who is adventurous, chances are you're worried that the older child's poor eating habits are going to rub off on the younger child, and before you know it, you'll have two picky eaters sitting at the table.

Sound familiar? I hear this from parents all the time.

You've got different kids. They need different parenting. It's time to dispel the myth that parents should strive to treat their kids the same.

I've written about fairness before. My point: Fair is getting what is right for you. Fair does not mean equal.

In my post Fair is Fair...Or Is It? I talked about the chocolate milk problem. Here is the problem in a nutshell:

You've got three kids and they each want exactly the same amount of chocolate milk. You might think of this as the cookie problem too. Or the ice cream problem. Or the problem that crops up anytime your kids think that fair means equal.

When it comes to food, fair isn't eating what everyone else is eating — at the same time and in the same amounts. Fair is getting what is right for you in that moment. For instance, small children get less chocolate milk than big kids get because small is the right amount for small tummies. Similarly, kids who have had their treats might not get a cookie when their siblings do.

Are you thinking that your kids would never stand for such unequal treatment?

I sympathize. But giving kids the same treats at the same time and in the same amounts teaches kids the wrong habits.

By the way, when I was growing up, my mother would throw out a treat rather than get the measurements exactly right. She wasn't trying to teach us anything about fairness or healthy eating habits. She just didn't want to be saddled with the task of making sure that everything was even-steven. I'm not recommending this approach because it's a little harsh. But drinking different amounts of chocolate milk didn't kill us.

On the other hand, when my mother had a sexist rationale for her unequal lessons... Read One for Girls, Two for Boys.

Every parent I have ever met knows intuitively that individualizing how you parent your kids is a good thing. But we talk the language of equality.

I'm not advocating that you become a short-order chef and create individualized meals for each of your kids. That would be insane. But it's also insane to think that all our kids need to learn the same lessons at the same pace.

Maybe you're thinking: "It's genetic. I feed my kids all the same. Some kids are simply great eaters. Others aren't."

While it is true that some children are naturally better eaters than others, and that some children are naturally more adventurous than others, the reason I balk at this line of reasoning is because it makes a lot of parents give up. Wait it out.

Of course, if you are worried that picky eating can be contagious, then you recognize that some of our kids' eating habits are social. What can be learned, can be unlearned.

Kids can have peculiar eating habits. You've probably seen some funny posts making the Internet rounds.

Here's one:

  • "Hello my name is Lexi and I will gag at the sight of sauce, unless you call it frosting. I love pasta frosting." 
  • "Hello my name is Luke and I like toast, but not the "brown parts" (which are the actual toasted areas). The bread must remain white, but have a slightly harder toasted exterior without actually changing color."

I get the appeal. If we don't laugh, we're going cry. Accommodating a toddler's food craziness can make you tear your hair out. And when you read the whole list it's comforting to know that other people have crazy kids too.

The thing that irks me about these posts, however, is that it sends the message that, when it comes to eating, it's normal for kids to make crazy demands and that there's nothing parents can do about it. But every single one of these toddlers can be taught to eat differently.

Does it matter if Lexi calls sauce "pasta?" Not at all. But she can be taught not to gag. Similarly,

  • Luke can learn to eat brown toast - or to remove the brown bits himself.
  • Riley can learn to eat her meal even if there's a pickle on the plate.
  • Chase can learn to eat corn whether it is on or off the cob.
  • And so on.

If you've tried to teach your kids another way of eating and it hasn't worked, it doesn't mean the problem is intractable.

It means you haven't found the right strategy...yet. This isn't a critique of your parenting skills. It's a comment on our national dialogue. "Cook with your kids!" "Take your kids grocery shopping!" These strategies only work for some kids, some of the time because they are incomplete. And they don't take into account how kids learn eating habits.

I have long advocated strategies such as The Rotation Rule and The Eating Zones Rule because they create a structure that teaches eating habits. Moreover, each of these strategies can be tailored to meet your kids wherever they are. Want ideas about how to introduce new foods? Click here.

Just because behavior is normal, it doesn't mean we have to wait it out.

Yes it's normal for kids to go through a separation anxiety stage, but we don't assume that we'll have to stay stuck to our kids' sides until the stage is over. Similarly, when it comes to food, it is normal for kids to go through a controlling/crazy eating stage. We can teach our way through it. But we have to know the goal (proportion, variety and moderation are the three habits kids need to learn) and we have to tailor what specific skills we teach to what each of our kids needs to learn.

Here are some ways that same doesn't work.

  • You give the kids the same amount of new food and ask them to taste it. Some kids are not ready for tasting. They need to explore using their other senses first.
  • You implement the Rotation Rule (congratulations!) and insist that everyone eats a different sandwich for lunch every day. That's too much rotation for one child. That child needs the same sandwich cut into different shapes.

There are lots of other examples, but I think you get my point.

Eating right is a skill. Every child comes equipped with a different set of strengths and weaknesses and so the techniques we use to teach eating skills has to vary from child to child.

If you're having trouble figuring out exactly what your kids need to learn right now, shoot me an email, or give me a call. (I give away free 30 minute consultations, just for the asking.)

It's a challenge to balance feeding the whole family and teaching each of our chidlren the skills they need to learn.

It helps, though, to recongize that how kids eat is less about the food than it is about the lessons. And that the only thing kids really need to be the same is for parents to figure out a strategy for teaching them the skills they need to learn.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~  


Healthy Eating Holiday Food Rules: Why You've Got to Have Them!

This holiday season, do your kids a favor. Set some rules.

Then trust your kids to work out the details.

Even young kids can do this. (And if yours can't...ask yourself, how are they ever going to learn?)

It's the only way to teach your kids the right habits for a lifetime of holiday eating.

New research confirms:

  1. Children as young as two can (and must!) learn to self-regulate.
  2. Even children who can self regulate need their parents to set some rules about food/eating.

And here's the kicker: knowing how to self-regulate isn't enough. Kids also need those rules.

Here's what the study found:

  • Preschoolers who were able to self-regulate at 2 had healthy eating habits by the time they were 4, so long as their parents also set rules about the right types of foods to eat.
  • On the other hand, self-regulation by itself, without parental food rules, made little difference in childrens' later eating habits.

Soda is a particular problem.

The researchers are quoted as saying:

  • "We found that preschoolers whose parents had no food rules drink soda about 25 percent more than children whose parents had food rules."
  • "We found that soda is pretty attractive to preschoolers, but soda cannot kill their hunger. It doesn't fill them up."

This study, conducted by researchers at the University at Buffalo, analyzed data for 8,850 children that were originally collected as part of a larger study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education.

Read more about the study here.

Some things you need to know: 

  • In this study, self-regulation at age 2=parental assessment of the child's ability to wait for something as well as general of irritability, fussiness and whimpering. There might be other, and even better measures of self-regulation. The point here, though, is that self-regulation isn't tied specifically to food and it still matters.
  • There is mounting evidence that parenting style matters. And the parenting style here is called authoritative. It's a blend of structure and warmth/compassion.

Parenting style matters so much that focusing on parenting style alone can improve how your kids eat.

Read more about the importance of parenting styles here.

On the other hand, just implementing rules probably won't work. That parenting style is called authoritarian and it has been shown to produce a few problems.

Think rules plus choices. Or rules plus autonomy. Or rules plus trust.

The rules you set for consumption should focus on the habits you want your kids to learn.

And the good news is that there are only 3 habits that translate everything you need to know about nutrition into behavior. They're easy for kids to learn too.

  • Proportion: We eat really healthy foods the most. (And by really healthy I don't mean chicken nuggets.) 
  • Variety: We eat different foods from meal-to-meal and from day-to-day.
  • Moderation: We eat when we're hungry, and stop when we're full. And we don't eat because we're bored, sad or lonely.

Here are some rules you might consider to get you through the holidays:

  • On days when there are no parties, there are no treats. (Discuss this as the principle of proportion.)
  • When you're at a party, you can eat whatever you want, but it's always better to eat the treats you love, rather than the treats that happen to be available. (You'll have to tell your kids what foods are going to be available and when.) OR...
  • You can have X number of treats at the party. You choose which ones and when you'll have them.
  • Pay attention to your tummy. (Discuss this in terms of hunger/fullness...i.e. moderation.)

For more on this topic, read Healthy Eating for the Holidays.

Happy Holidays!!!

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Stress Taste, Not Health When Talking to Toddlers About Food

The more you push healthy food because it's healthy, the less kids want to eat it.

The message is loud and clear:  If healthy food were good, we'd talk about how good it was. But we don't, we talk about how healthy it is.

This is what I call the Medicalization of the Meal. Ever give broccoli the Chocolate Cake Look? You know what I mean!

Read Junk Food=Yum, Healthy Food=Yuk, 

Here's the theory: We're talking about Experiential Benefits vs Instrumental Benefits.

You can enjoy food because...

  • It's a good experience (i.e. it tastes good). This is called an Experiential Benefit.
  • It is instrumental in advancing another goal. This is called an instrumental Benefit.

Research shows that when people focus on an activity's instrumental benefit, they enjoy it less. 

You might think that you could "sell" healthy food by talking up both its experiential and its instrumental benefits: "Yummmm, this broccoli is so tasty. It's also really good for you!"

But research shows that people believe if something will help them achieve an instrumental benefit, it can't also be effective in achieving a positive experience.

Here's the study.

Three different groups of 4-5 year old preschoolers are told a story during which Tara eats Wheat Thins either because they're healthy, they're tasty, or for no specific reasons.

  • In the healthy condition, "Tara felt strong and healthy, and she had all the energy..." 
  • In the yummy condition, "Tara thought the crackers were yummy, and she was happy..."

The healthy=bad effect happened and we're talking about crackers, not carrots.

After hearing the story, the children were offered a chance to eat Wheat Thins crackers.

  • Children in the "healthy" group ate fewer crackers than children in the "yummy" or the "no-story" group.
  • There was no difference in consumption between the "yummy" and the "no-story" group

The researchers replicated this study with younger children. They also replaced the "healthy" message with other instrumental messages, such as: These carrots will help you learn to read!

And the results were the same: kids don't want to eat food that is instrumental. They want to eat food that is tasty.

(Don't worry, they told the kids afterwards that eating carrots wouldn't help them read!)

What's the takeaway? You are better off saying nothing than saying "it's good for you."

But there's plenty of research that shows that talking about the sensory properties of food is better than saying nothing.

So make sure you keep talking to your kids about food. Just switch what you talk about from health to taste.

For more on how to talk about food, read Teaching Your Way ouf of a Picky Eating Problem with Sensory Education.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Maimaran, M. and A. Fishbach. October 2014. “If It's Useful and You Know it, Do You Eat? Preschoolers Refrain From Instrumental Food.” Journal of Consumer Research. Forthcoming.