Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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Entries in Proportion (62)


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.~  


The Bad News About Bread

Have you ever noticed that we're raising a generation of bread addicts?

  • Americans consume more than twice the amount of refined grains than we should. That's old news.
  • Did you you know that to meet the dietary guidelines, we would have to decrease our total grain intake by about 27%?

A 27% surplus in grain consumption is significant!

If you're having trouble expanding the range of foods your children will eat, think about getting rid of bread.

It's a scary thought, I know. But consider this...

From a nutrition perspective, most bread is a wasteland. From a habits perspective, bread is even worse. 

Over-using bread means that the taste and texture of bread (in all it's various forms) shapes the other foods kids will accept.

Remember, for the most part, taste preferences are formed—not found.

Eating is a matter of math: what your kids eat the most, influences the kinds of foods they want to eat the most.

Do your children start the day with toast, cereal, bagels, waffles, scones or other kinds of bread?

And then move onto a...

  • Mid-morning snack of Goldfish crackers?
  • Grilled cheese sandwich for lunch?
  • Cookies or a granola bar in the afternoon?
  • Pizza for dinner?

One bagel is the equivalent of 4 slices of Wonder Bread.

What would happen if you removed all the bread from your children's diet? 

If you can't imagine how your child would survive, you're definitely raising a bread addict.

But don't worry, you don't have to get rid of all the bread....Think Proportion. (It's one of the three habits of healthy eating. Variety and Moderation are the other two.)

There's a place in your children's diet for bread. Just don't let bread dominate your children's diet.

I know...grains/bread made up the bottom rung of the Food Pyramid, but that was BAD ADVICE. In the new My Plate icon, grains make up only a quarter of the plate. But that's from a nutrition perspective.

From a habits perspective, it would be good to start thinking about all grains as bread-equivalents...and minimize their appearance -- as a category -- in your children's overall diets.

Bread masquerades in lots of different forms.

Toast, bagels, muffins, pancakes, cereal, waffles, English muffins, sandwiches, pizza, tortillas, croissants, crescent rolls, quesadillas, scones, pretzel rolls, corn bread, banana bread, and then there are crackers, crackers crackers.

Add up all the bread and other grain-stuff your kids load up on. Then compare this group to everything else your kids eat. See what I mean?

For more on BREAD, read: 

For other BREAKFAST options, read:

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Talk is Cheap...But It Can Change How Your Kids Eat!

Want to change how your kids eat? Here's the simplest advice I have: Let your kids in on the game plan.

In my experience, talking to your kids about how to eat is one of the most effective, and most overlooked, parenting strategies out there.  

  • Talk to your toddlers often.
  • Talk to your toddlers as specifically as you can.

But don’t talk to your toddlers about:

The good news is that there are only 3 things you need to talk to toddlers about.

These principles translate everything anyone needs to know about nutrition into behavior. 

Proportion, variety and moderation create the structure—a set of stable rules—you need for eating/feeding success.

I’ve written a lot about the importance of creating a durable structure.  Read:

Proportion, variety and moderation are easy for toddlers to understand.

  • Proportion: We eat more fresh, natural foods than anything else (including crackers, hot dogs, sugary yogurts, candy, cookies...) 
  • Variety: We eat different things on different days. 
  • Moderation: We only eat when we're hungry. We stop eating when we're full.

How easy is that?

Try boiling everything you want your kids to know about nutrition into 3 easy-to-understand statements. You couldn't do it.  

If knowing about nutrition produced healthy eating habits we would be a nation of stellar eaters. 

Educating your kids about food only teaches them more about food.  You want to teach your toddlers how to eat, that means teaching them how to make eating decisions.

Never before has a nation known so much about nutrition, yet eaten so poorly. 

It’s time to give up our obsession with nutrition (or should I say addiction to nutrition?) and start talking about habits instead.

Don't underestimate how much toddlers understand. 

The beauty of proportion, variety and moderation is that they are specific and action-oriented. They tell your kids exactly how you want them to eat.

All too often parents know what they mean when they say something, but their kids interpret things differently. 

  • Don't go too far? (Across the room? Across the street?)
  • Don't eat too many sweets? (2? 10? A bagful?)

If you think about it, one reason the “2 more bites” tactic works (at least in the short run) is because it’s incredibly specific. Both you and your kids know exactly what you expect.

Specific statements that produce good eating include directions about how to choose what to eat, nothow much to eat.

In this regard, I’m totally with Ellyn Satter who says that you decide what food you’re going to provide and your kids decide how much of it they’re going to eat.  Satter calls this the Division of Responsibility and you can read more about it on her site: Also, read To Restrict or Not, That is the Question.

In my experience, many parents end up focusing on how much their toddlers eat because parents feel at a loss to shape what their kids eat. Parents don't make the switch from what to how much intentionally, and there are lots of good reasons to try to get kids to eat more—like you don't want to whip up a meal in the middle of the night. But if you want  your toddlers to choose the right foods, you have to give them some governing guidelines.

Here are a few things you should be very specific about.

Tell your toddlers you want them to eat:

There are other guidelines such as when it's time to eat (and when it's not) and how many sweets to eat in a day. I won't list them here, but they all flow from the three primary principles: proportion, variety and moderation.

Talk may be cheap...

But when it comes to teaching kids to eat right, what you say can really influence what your kids do. And doing (not knowing) is the key to teaching kids to eat right.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~