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 (55)


Self-Control, Kids and Candy

By now, I'm assuming, you've read—or heard about—the recent New York Times article, The Lure of Forbidden Food by Tara Parker-Pope.

Source: The New York TimesI posted it on my Facebook Page.

If you don't know about this article, here's the gist: Forbidding foods makes them more appealing to your kids.

In other words, forbidding candy is a great way to make your kids crave it. (Would this work for broccoli? And has anyone tested this yet?)

According to Brandi Rollins, a Penn State postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the study:

“Restriction just increases a child’s focus and intake of the food that the parent is trying to restrict.”

Personally, I'm surprised that restriction is something researchers are still researching. I've never read a study that shows anything other than the fact that making any food completely off limits is a mistake. Still...

In my experience, the place where parents need help is figuring out what to do instead of restricting undesirable foods.

So here's the help you crave! (Does this mean that help was previously restricted??)

1) Instead of focusing on one bad food, focus on teaching your children proportion.

Proportion is one of the three habits that translates everything you need to know about nutrition into behavior. (Variety and moderation are the other two habits.)

Proportion: Eating foods in relation to their healthy benefits. In other words, "We eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables more frequently than we eat cookies." It's as simple as that.

The reason proportion works with kids (and with adults too) is that it's like an umbrella: all foods fit under it. That way you don't have to remember different "rules" for different foods.

For more on proportion read The Outsized Problem of Pizza: It Takes Up Too Much of the Pie.

2) Give your children concrete guidelines about which foods you consider to be regular treats, and which ones you consider to be occasional treats.

For a good description of this read, Have Your Cake and Eat It Too!

Regular treats might be something like juice or sweetened yogurt, which kids can have in limited quantities on a daily basis.

Occasional treats are things like candy and ice cream.

The more specific you can be with these guidelines the more easily your kids will be able to comply.

I recommend telling kids they can have one treat per day. That means, if they're having the occasional treat, they cannot have the regular treat. It's a trade off.

3) Don't get hung up on when your kids eat their treats. If you give them control over when, they're much less likely to fight you on how much.

Parents make the big decisions; kids make the small decisions. Sharing control is the key to happiness.

This is the idea behind the candy drawer. If you don't think you can trust your child to live within the rules, you have a self-control issue, or an honesty issue. You don't have an eating issue.

Read Lollypops Whenever They Want? and Coping with Party Favor Candy for Kids.

4) Remember that your kids are kids.

  • Given a choice between a treat now and a treat later, most children will choose, "now." That's not a reason to NOT give them a choice. Giving kids the choice shares control, and helps children develop self-control. Read Marshmallows Make You Smart!
  • Most children, even those who want to live within the rules, will forget what they've already eaten. So don't be surprised if a child who has had a treat earlier in the day still asks for one in the evening. Gently remind your child that she's had her treat. Better yet, use a visual marker--like a magnet on the fridge--that signals when the treat has been eaten. 

5) Don't be authoritarian about proportion.

There will be days when your child has a treat in the morning and then you go to a playdate and is offered another treat. Some days it might make sense to remind your child that he's already had his treat. Other days, it might make sense to let your child have a second one.

And that thought brings me to...

6) Remember that this is a learning process.

  • Keep your eye on the longterm prize of teaching proportion and candy-management.
  • Don't worry when your kids make mistakes—just like you don't worry when they put their shoes on backwards or don't brush every tooth just right. Mistakes are learning opportunities in progress.

If you have a specific question about how to teach proportion, how to manage sweets and treats, or alternatives to restriction, leave a comment and I'll respond as quickly as I can.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Are You Sweet or Are You Salty?

Among the many lessons kids need to learn in order to eat right:

  • Liking something (or even, really, really liking something) is not a good enough reason to eat it all the time.
  • There are lots of good tasting flavors out there.

I bring this up now because a new study just came out that "discovered" some obvious findings:

  1. Children enjoy sweet and salty flavors.
  2. Children tend to enjoy sweeter and saltier flavors than do adults.

This study also reported a less obvious finding:

  • People who prefer intensely sweet foods also prefer intensely salty foods.
  • This goes for children and for adults.

In other words, the idea that you're either a sweet or a salty snacker might just be a myth.

It's tempting to think that if it's natural for children to enjoy very sweet and very salty foods, there's nothing you can do except wait it out. After all, over time, these preferences do change (usually).

Waiting it out is a mistake.

Understanding your children from a developmental perspective is not the same thing as knowing how to parent your children through their developmental phases.

  1. Most "child-friendly" foods are very high in sugar, salt and fat. Read The Truth About "Child-Friendly" Foods.
  2. Feeding to your children's taste preferences only reinforces them.
  3. The more your children get used to eating these "flavor hit" foods, the less likely they are to enjoy fruits and vegetables. Read My Toddler Used to Eat Vegetables.

In other words, feeding to your children's taste preferences makes their eating habits horrible and makes your life...hell.

This is important stuff. According to this study:

  • Over 90% of American children 2-8 years of age are getting more than half of their discretionary calorie allowance from added sugars. For more on discretionary calories, read When Calories Don't Count.
  • Sodium intake is approximately 3200mg per day, well above the recommended level of 1,200-1,500mg per day for children 4-13.

The researchers conclude:

"Because children naturally prefer higher levels of sweet and salty tastes than do adults, they are vulnerable to the modern diet, which differs from the diet of our past, when salt and sugars were once rare and expensive commodities."

The researchers go on to say:

"Having children eat diets low in sodium and added sugars requires a social, political, and economic food environment that supports and promotes this behavior change."

And, I would add:

Parents can teach their children a style of eating that takes taste preferences into account, but which isn't dominated by preferred foods. 

It's all in the lessons....

Which brings us right back to the beginning. Teach your kids:

  • Liking something (or even, reallyreally liking something) is not a good enough reason to eat it.
  • There are lots of good tasting flavors out there.

How? Talk about Proportion, and implement The Rotation Rule.

I discuss all these ideas in It's Not About the Broccoli.


 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


The Outsized Problem of Pizza: It Takes Up Too Much of the Pie

I'm getting a lot of flak for saying that pizza—not Valentine's Day candy—could single-handedly ruin our kids' eating habits.

In response to my last post—Valentine's Day Candy vs Pizza—one friend even accused me of hating pizza. (The only other post that stirred up this much animosity was Donuts vs. Muffins.)

So let me clarify: All I meant to say is that our diets are out of whack. Not because of Valentine's Candy—or because of candy in general—but because of pizza. And other grain products.

To meet current dietary recommendations, Americans would have to reduce our total grain consumption by 27%. 

Imagine reducing your grain intake by 27%. We're a grain-crazy country.

Add up all the bread, bagels, cereals, crackers, pretzels, granola bars, cookies, pasta, pizza, tacos, rice, popcorn and other grain-stuff your kids load up. Then comopare this group to everything else your kids eat. See what I mean?

I have nothing against pizza. I was making an argument about proportion.

Proportion is one of the three habits of healthy eating. (Variety and moderation are the other two.)  

  • If 1 in every 6 kids between the ages of 2 and 5 is eating pizza on any given day, then we're a country of people who eat too much pizza.
  • A healthy diet is not one that is dominated by one kind of food. Particularly if that food is a huge source of saturated fat and sodium. But even if you're diet were dominated by peas it would not be considered a healthy diet.

You know most people are eating a distorted diet when pizza is the second largest source of refined grains.

And since most people eat refined, not whole grains, I think it is safe to say that pizza is the second largest source of grains in the American diet. Not cereal. Not rice. Pizza.

Source: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 | Chapter Three 

From the habits perspective, a diet that is dominated by pizza is bad news.

One study found that pizza was the #5 source of calories for kids between the ages of 4-8. It was the #2 source of calories for kids between the ages of 9-13.

More proof that habits earned early in life tend to stick around.

I discuss all these ideas in It's Not About the Broccoli.


 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Additional Source: Possible Implications for U.S. Agriculture from Adoption of Select Dietary Guidelines; Reedy, J. and S. Krebs-Smith. 2010. “Dietary Sources of Energy, Solid Fats, and Added Sugars Among Children and Adolescents in the United States.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 110(10): 1477-84.