Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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Entries in NuVal (11)


Mac & Cheese Scores Again!

I’m here to report that Kraft has decided to market macaroni and cheese to adults--they say parents need warm cheesy hugs too.

According to the New York Times

  • Adults have a problem: They can't eat Kraft macaroni and cheese without feeling like they're eating kids' food.
  • To counter this problem Kraft has allocated more than $50 million to promote its macaroni products (an increase of more than 30%).

Adults everywhere rejoice -- and ignore the fact that Kraft macaroni and cheese gets a nutrition score lower than some cookies (more on that later).

Read New York Times article.

Anything that blurs the line between “kids’ food” and “regular” or “adult” food is a good thing.

Of course, it would be preferable if the blurring happened because kids were being welcomed into the realm of finer fare, instead of encouraging adults to dumb their palettes down, but I’ll take the culinary crossover anyway I can get it.

The idea that kids only eat certain kinds of food is marketing hype.  You only have to make 3 concessions when cooking for young diners:

1) Food needs to be moist.  Meats and other dry foods should be served sort of like a stew.

2) Food needs to be presented in small pieces. According to an article on choking in New York Times recently, food should be even smaller than the quarter-sized slices of hot dogs people normally give to young kids.  Quarter those slices and you’re in the right realm.  Read the New York Times article.

3) Food needs to be tame, not overly peppery, piquant or hot.  But mild doesn’t mean bland.  Feel free to “go for it” if your recipe calls for garlic, basil, or any other flavoring.

Hmm.  Small, moist and tame.  Sounds just like macaroni and cheese!

Of course, it could also describe the …

  • Pasta Bolognese with mint
  • Ravioli with sage butter, percorino and crispy sage leaves
  • Cannellini beans with rosemary oil, garlic confit and shallots
  • Lentils with carmelized onions and wilted arugula
  • Sole Milanese

... that New York Times writer Keith Dixon  introduced to his 7 month old daughter. He did it by moistening and milling the regular food he and his wife enjoy eating.

Hey, Dixon creates his own "kids' food!" Check out Dixon’s story.

Any “kids’ food” you create will beat macaroni and cheese.

NuVal (the group that scores the nutritional value of foods from 1 to 100, with 100 being top nutrition) gives Kraft macaroni and cheese a 5

That’s food for thought: a 5.  Even Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies score a 10. And it doesn’t matter whether the macaroni and cheese comes from Kraft or Annie’s.  They’re both nutritional losers: Annie's mac also scores a 5.

Kraft Whole Grain Macaroni and Cheese gets an 18.  Then again, Annie's Home Grown Bite Size Whole Wheat Bunnies Baked Snack Crackers does better.  It gets a 27

Knowing this, would you serve the Bunnies for dinner instead?  No, because it wouldn’t be nutritious and it wouldn’t produce good habits.  And that’s the point.

Read more about NuVal’s macaroni scores.

If you are attached to the idea of using “kids’ food” make sure it’s the kind of kids’ food they serve in India, Mexico, or even Japan.

My Indian friends tell me that when their children are young they cook their curries without the heat – but not without the flavor.  I don’t know, but I’m assuming the same thing happens in other countries that have a penchant for the piquant.

You can do the same thing here – cook your food “child-friendly” i.e.  flavorful but not hot --  or you can use yogurt or sour cream to cut the heat in grownup-style dishes.

Or  you can explore Asian food: Places like Japan introduce their kids to foods we would never consider.  Read Fish for Dessert! 

I'm sure you've heard it said that kids rise (or fall) to the level of their parents’ expectations.  

Expect your kids to eat adult fare and they will.  It's all a matter of what they're used to.  It's all a matter of habits.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~



Elliott, S. 2010. “Kraft Hopes to Encourage Adults to Revert to a Childhood Favorite.” New York Times, May 26. Available online accessed 5/31/10; 

Dixon, K. 2008. “Momma, I'll Have Some of Whatever You're Having.” New York Times. October 1.  Available online accessed 5/31/10;

Tarkan, L. 2010. "Labels Urged for Food that Can Choke." May 24. accessed 6/1/10; accessed 5/31/10


Manna from Heaven

Have you ever played that game where you have to list the 1 food you would most want if you were ever stranded on a desert island?

Well, for me, it would be bread.  I love it.  For me, bread truly is manna from heaven. My daughter loves bread too.

But even though bread has been a staple food throughout history, most of us eat way too much of it. (I just finished a bagel as I type this!)  Our kids eat way too much bread too.

If you are having trouble selling your kids on fruits and vegetables, evaluate how much bread they eat.

I know it doesn’t seem like bread is related to broccoli, but it is:

  • Bread is hard to beat.  It has a satisfyingly chewy consistency when fresh, and a delectable crunch when toasted.  It’s bland and unchallenging, and appeals to most pint-sized palates.  But bread couldn’t be more different than fruits and vegetables in terms of taste, texture, appearance, aroma… the aspect of food that matters most to kids.  Since kids are most comfortable eating the same kinds of foods they’re used to, over-exposing your kids to bread is a recipe for disaster: it produces bread-lovers who end up eating less of everything else.
  • Bread is extremely filling.  Give your kids bread during a meal and they can easily forgo the other stuff you really want them to eat.

Bread’s got a good publicist: it’s part of the most popular club in the Food Pyramid (the grains) and it’s endowed with an aura of health.

But bread isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – especially if it’s not made from whole grains.  


Even though the Food Pyramid makes us think our kids gotta get their grains – grains do get the biggest share of the Pyramid after all --  kids don’t need as much as you think. 

If you use up your kid’s grain allotment with bread, there isn’t a lot left for other grains, like rice or pasta. 



The USDA recommends kids 2-3 year olds consume approximately 3 ounces of grains per day.   That’s not a lot.  The typical bagel now weighs in at 4 ounces.

Three ounces of grains amounts to:

  • 2 slices of bread and a handful of crackers.  Or
  • 1 pancake, ½ cup of cooked pasta and ½ an English muffin. Or
  • 1 small box of Goldfish crackers and 1 slice of bread.

If your kids eat half a bagel for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and pasta or rice for dinner, they’ve had more than their fair share.  Throw in some snack time crackers and some popcorn and they’re on grain overload. Forget about adding in pizza, muffins, or even a granola bar.

From a nutrition perspective, most bread isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.  Most of today’s bread is a mass of refined flour baked up with sugar and salt.

  • Most bread gets a NuVal score in the 20-30 range. (Remember, NuVal scores the nutritional value of foods from 1-100 with 100 being top nutrition.)  Sure there are breads that score higher, but are those the ones your kids eat?  Probably not.  Most of our kids are more likely to eat Wonder Cinnamon Raison Bread, which scores 8, than they are to eat Arnold Flax and Fiber Bread which scores a 48. NuVal bread scores.
  • Bread is one of the top sources of sodium in the American diet.  Not because it is so much saltier than other processed foods, but because we eat so much more of it.  For instance, one slice of Arnold Whole Wheat bread has 170 mg of sodium.  That translates into 11% of an adult’s daily sodium intake and 17% of a toddler’s intake. Pita bread can be even saltier.  One Damascus Bakeries whole wheat pita has 290mg  -- 29% of your toddler’s recommended intake.

So much of what your kids will eat is a function of what they already eat.  It’s really a matter of math. 

I know it sounds like circular logic to say that you have to get your kids used to the kinds of foods you want them to eat before they’ll eat those foods the way you want them to, but that’s what you’ve got to do.

Use your children’s tendency to want to eat what they’re used to eating to your advantage.

Assess how often your kids eat bread (and bread-like products such as crackers, pizza, quesadillas) compared to fruits and veggies.  Then tip the balance in your favor by reversing the ratio.

Teaching kids to eat foods in the right proportion is the biggest part of getting them to eat right.  Start getting the ratios right by helping your kids develop the proper bread habit.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~


Source: accessed 5/20/10; accessed 5/20/10; Marsh, B. 2010. “Stealth Salt in the Pantry.” New York Times. April 24



Nutrition By Numbers

How well do you know your nutrition?

If you want to have some fun play the Nutrition by Numbers game that NuVal recently posted on their website.  (Click on Play Game at the bottom of the NuVal home page.)

Don’t be surprised, however, when it turns out that putting 3 products in order from most to least nutritious turns out to be trickier than you thought. I was wrong almost as often as I was right – at first.  (Would YOU know that chocolate soy milk beats out creamed spinach by 30 points?)

Then I remembered, there are only 3 things you need to know about a food to know about its nutritional value: 

  • how processed it is
  • how much fat it contains
  • whether or not it’s loaded up with added sugars

I went back to play another round of Nutrition by Numbers using these criteria and my score improved a lot.

(See It Doesn’t Matter WHAT Your Kids Eat, and It’s Too Simple for more on this topic.)

Here’s a quick cheat-sheet for playing Nutrition By Numbers.

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables always score higher than any processed food.
  • Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables almost always score higher than processed foods.
  • Fruits and veggies trump chicken, meat and fish.
  • Fish trumps chicken and meat.
  • Meat and fish usually trump processed foods.
  • Guessing between 3 processed foods is basically a crapshoot.

Are there exceptions to these rules?  Of course.

  • Old-Fashioned Kettle-Cooked Cape Cod Potato Chips 40% Reduced score 32 (out of 100 for top nutrition) and Birds Eye Carrots and Cranberries only scores 22.
  • Snyders of Hanover Original Tortilla Chips score amazingly well: 31.
  • Del Monte Quality Sweet Bavarian Style Sauerkraut is a nutritional wasteland: 2.

In general, though, fruits and vegetables are your winners.  Even iceberg lettuce (82) beats a pork tenderloin (35). 

Nutrition by Numbers is only necessary when you are considering processed foods. If you stick primarily to fruits, vegetables and low-fat proteins, you can easily go-it-alone.

If you are wondering whether Cap’n Crunch Sweetened Corn & Oat Cereal is a better bet than Wonder Cinnamon Raisin Bread – it is – or whether you should give your kids Annie’s Whole Wheat Bunnies or Nabisco Mini Teddy Grahams (it’s basically a push), then you need Nutrition by Numbers.  There’s no other way to make sense of things.

But if you make processed foods a minimal part of your kids' eating habits, you can disregard the nutrition numbers.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~