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 Proportion (60)


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.~


Revealing The Truth in Advertising

You can offset the negative effect of advertising on your kids' eating habits.

In my experience, parents often think that the only way to prevent advertising from ruining their kids' eating habits is to get ads off TV (and all the other places where food manufacturers target ads at kids).

I'm not against advocacy. If you work to change the system, I say, "thank you," and "thank you again." Someone's got to do it.

But you don't have to wait for advertisers to get the message in order to change the outcome for your kids.

Research shows that telling kids the truth about advertising works better than either restricting access to advertising or restricting access to junky food.

How often do you tell your children the following?

  • Advertising depicts products as better than they really are.
  • Advertising does not always tell the truth.
  • The purpose of advertising is to sell products.
  • Not all advertised products are of good quality.
  • Some advertised products are not good for children.

Share these thoughts frequently. It matters and it works.

When my daughter was about 4 or 5 she asked, "What's that?" pointing to some fruit strip-type product. "That's candy that the manufacturers want you to think is fruit," I replied.

Research also shows...

1) Actively talking to your kids about advertising works even with young kids.

They understand a lot more than you think.

2) Restricing access to ads only affects eating habits when kids are young. 

Presumably restriction stops working with older kids because they don't live in a bubble. Kids are exposed to the effects of advertising in lots of different ways: Friends. School. The Internet.

And, think about this: If you restrict but don't talk to your kids about the truth behind advertising, you'll launch your kids into the world unprepared to be savvy consumers.

So, by all means restrict access to TV, but talk to your kids as well.

3) Be careful: Restricting your kids' access to junk can actually increase consumption...

...especially once your kids are old enough to make their own food choices. So instead of restricting, I recommend you consider teaching. Read The How-to-Control-Your-Kids' Candy-Consumption Con.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Buijzen, M., J. Schuurman, and E. Bomhof. 2008. “Associations Between Children's Television Advertising Exposure and Their Food Consumption Patterns: a Household Diary-Survey Study.” Appetite 50: 231-39.


"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.