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 Pasta (2)

Monday
Jul192010

The 10 Most "Dangerous" Foods

I want to be clear: the items on this list aren't dangerous in the sense that they are poisonous.

But they are dangerous in the sense that they poison your children's eating habits.

Danger #1: Regularly eating any of these items will constrict rather than expand the range of foods your children will accept.

Nothing on the list looks, smells, tastes or feels like any of the new foods you're always coaxing your kids to eat. This matters because kids eat foods with sensory properties they're used to.  Instead of introducing new tastes and textures, the foods on this list reinforce the ones your kids already enjoy.  They're all...

  • Bland or Sweet
  • Liquid/non-chewable goo or Chewy/Crunchy

Danger #2: These foods all point your children's taste buds in the direction of the junk you're trying to control.

When "healthy" foods mimic junk they encourage your children to eat more junk. For instance...

  • Chocolate milk has more sugar than some chocolate bars and drinking it regularly teaches kids to like chocolate, not milk.
  • Oatmeal breakfast bars taste more like cookies than oatmeal (and are usually less nutritious than oatmeal cookies). 

Danger #3: These foods trick YOU into teaching your kids these foods are healthy.

These items seem to pass nutritional muster -- if barely -- and because you've got your eyes on monitoring vegetables and junk, these items slip right by.  

Even worse, because these foods (and I use the term loosely) seem "good enough" (even though they're really not) they fill in for healthier fare, and that's what we teach our kids. Who hasn't made their kids finish their mac & cheese, their pizza, or their bagel (because it's the "good" stuff) before moving on to dessert?

"Dangerous" Foods can be used safely, they just have to be used sparingly.

  • Be Unpredictable: Make sure there's a gap of at least one day between "uses" so your kids don't expect these items as daily fare.
  • Be Selective: Don't use more than 1 or 2 items from the list on any one day.
  • Be Choosy: Consider these items as stand-ins for junk (even if they're healthier) and then let your kids choose between these foods and the junk they clamor for. Make it sweet yogurt or ice cream, chocolate milk or cookies...

10 Most "Dangerous" Foods (in no particular order):

1) Cheese Read What's the Problem with Cheese?

2) Sweet Yogurt Read Yogurt vs. Coke

3) "Healthy" crunchy snacks like veggie chips, pretzels or Goldfish crackers. Read Goldfish vs. Bunnies and Potato Chips Win Again!

4) Bagel and Cream Cheese Read The Snacking Minefield and Manna from Heaven.

5) Granola or Breakfast Bars Read Cookies for Breakfast?!

6) Chocolate Milk Read Chocolate Milk vs. Chocolate Bars and Chocolate-Flavored Formula Rocks!

7) Juice Read Training Tiny Taste Buds

8) Sports Drinks Read Soccer Moms, BEWARE!

9) Pizza Read Pizza and Peas: The Untold Story.

10) Macaroni & Cheese Read Mac & Cheese Scores Again!

You may have a slightly different group of dangerous foods, but if you're having trouble getting your kids to eat something exotic (like tuna, tomatoes or turnips) evaluate the foods you feed them on a regular basis.

And then start mixing it up. Read House Building 101.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~

Tuesday
Jun012010

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. ~

 =============================================

Sources: 

Elliott, S. 2010. “Kraft Hopes to Encourage Adults to Revert to a Childhood Favorite.” New York Times, May 26. Available online http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/27/business/media/27adco.html?scp=1&sq=kraft%20macaroni&st=cse accessed 5/31/10; 

Dixon, K. 2008. “Momma, I'll Have Some of Whatever You're Having.” New York Times. October 1.  Available online http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/01/dining/01baby.html?_r=2&scp=3&sq=my%20daughter%20eats%20pureed&st=Search accessed 5/31/10;

Tarkan, L. 2010. "Labels Urged for Food that Can Choke." May 24. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/25/health/25choke.html accessed 6/1/10;

http://www.nuval.com/scores/list/?s=10 accessed 5/31/10