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 Overeating (27)


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're Too Fat" Backfires

Ever told your child that she was too fat?

If so, you're not alone. One study, which followed over 2000 girls from age 10 until age 19, found that 58% reported being labeled as fat.

This study is nationally representative, which means: More than half of all girls are labeled fat. That's shocking.

The study wasn't focused solely on labeling done by parents.

The question, "Have any of these people told you that you were too fat?" was followed by a list that included father, mother, brother, sister, best girlfriend, boy you like best, any other girl, any other boy, and teacher.

Being labeled as fat at age 10 increased the odds of a child being obese at age 19.

    • Girls who were labeled by their families were 60% more likely to be obese at age 19.
    • Girls who were labeled by others were 40% more likely to be obese at age 19.

You might think the results just reflect who was fattest at age 10, but the researchers took that into consideration when they analyzed the data. The labeling effect is an added factor.

What's the takeaway? Even if you have a legitimate reason to worry about your child's weight, don't label her.

And don't put your child on a diet either. Kids can lose weight simply by growing.

Instead, focus on teaching your childen the skills they'll need for a lifetime of healthy eating.

There are only three habits that translate everything you need to know about nutrition into behavior:

  • Proportion
  • Variety
  • Moderation

Read Table Talk.

For more on parenting and weight:

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Hunger, J. M. and J. A. Tomiyama. “Weight Labeling and Obesity: a Longitudinal Study of Girls Aged 10 to 19 Years.” Journal of American Medical Association Pediatrics Published Online April 28, 2014.


Should You Sneak Kale into the Thanksgiving Stuffing?

No. Definitely not. Don't sneak kale into the holiday stuffing.

Put it there if you like kale and if it will make the stuffing taste good. But don't put it there to "healthify" the holiday.

Here are two other things you don't have to think about this Thanksgiving:

  1. Making sure you stuff your kids with healthy snacks before the main meal. 
  2. Make sure your kids eat their veggies before they nose-dive into the pie.

Unless you want to risk teaching your kids to overeat. 'Cause really, no one passes up the pie just because they're full.

The pressure to make Thanksgiving healthy is misguided. It's part of a trend towards the medicalization of meals.

I recently saw a video where a Registered Dietician was showing some children how to make tacos that followed the MyPlate guidelines. Everything that went into the tacos was "justified" by its health benefits.

The tomatoes, the RD offered, should go in because—and I don't remember the wording exactly— they were packed with healthy things like vitamins and Lycopene. As an afterthought the RD added something about how great tomatoes taste.

As long as we continue to talk about food in terms of health, and not in terms of taste, we'll never sell the "good" stuff, and we'll keep selling the "good" stuff—if you know what I mean.

I'll write more about the medicalization of meals another time. But it's important to think about this during Thanksgiving because you don't want to put too much pressure on this lovely holiday.

Besides, how valuable is "healthifying" Thanksgiving if you don't teach your kids some healthy holiday habits?

The skills and habits you teach your children about how to handle holiday eating will last a lifetime.  So, what are you going to teach them?

I’d like to suggest:

  • Have fun.
  • Enjoy the food.
  • Don’t throw up.

I’m only partially joking.  An incredibly important holiday survival strategy is learning to indulge without grossly overeating, i.e. without throwing up. 

So much attention is placed on one or two celebratory days.  When really, if you have developed the right eating habits, you should be able to go wild—if that’s what you want—for each and every holiday of the year.

There are three habits that translate nutrition into behavior. 

  • Proportion: Eating healthy food more frequently than mediocre or junky food.
  • Variety: Eating different food over time.
  • Moderation: Only eating when you're hungry, and stopping when you're full (and not eating because you're bored, sad, or lonely). 

During Thanksgiving focus primarily on teaching Proportion and Moderation. (If you want, you can include variety during step 3 below: Bookends.)

Here are three strategies to teach your kids that will serve them well over a lifetime of holiday eating.

  1. Eat What You Want
  2. Pace Yourself
  3. Bookend the Holidays with Healthy Eating

For tips on how to implement these strategies, read Tips for a Healthy Thanksgiving.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~