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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Dinner Together Building Healthy Families One Meal at a Time.

Food Politics Marion Nestle's intelligent take on the politics of food and nutrition.

Fooducate Like Having a Dietician on Speed dial.

Hoboken Family Alliance A terrific resource for people living in the great city of Hoboken, NJ.

The Lunch Tray Everything you need to know about improving school lunches.

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Raise Healthy Eaters One of the best blogs (other than my own) for learning to raise healthy eaters.

Real Mom Nutrition Tales from the Trenches. Advice for the Real World. From a mom-nutritionist who knows!

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Entries in Refusing Food (68)

Tuesday
Feb102015

It's Crazy to Ask Kids to Eat New Foods Until They Already Like It

It can take toddlers 10-14 times of tasting a new food before they'll like it.

Everyone knows this, right? And it can take picky eaters even longer.

Getting to the magic number can be a real challenge. That's why most parents give up on a new food after serving it 4 times.

So here's the question: If it's pretty much guaranteed that your child won't like a new food until the 10th time he has tasted it, why would he eat the food on tries 1, 2, 3, 4...?

Kids won't eat food they don't like.So this is straight math/logic. 

  • Taste 1: Food rejected. Don't like. Won't eat it.
  • Taste 2: Food rejected. Don't like. Won't eat it.
  • Taste 3: Food rejected. Don't like. Won't eat it.
  • Taste 4: Food rejected. Don't like. Won't eat it.
  • Parent gives up.

Expecting kids to eat a food during the phase where they're just getting used to it is crazy. And the crazy is on us.

Mixing up tasting and eating is the problem.

During the "getting used to it" phase, kids should only be asked to taste a new food. One bite. One tiny bite. With NO expectation that they'll eat it.

In the research that investigates how long it takes before kids will accept new foods, they rarely (if ever) ask the children to EAT the food. They simply give them a pea-sized sample to taste. And that's what parents have to do.

Say, "If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it," or the modern equivalent, "Just take a 'no thank you bite'" and you'll be dead in the water.

"If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it," sets up the expectation that your child will have to eat it if he likes it. This is implied pressure and it makes reluctant kids reject the new food even before they've tasted it. 

I know this doesn't make sense to parents, who think "Kids will want to eat food they like," but it doesn't work that way. Kids have lots of reasons for refusing food. Making your life miserable is one of them!

And a "No thank you bite" just primes kids to politely say "no thank you" when they reject the food. In fact, it primes them to think, "No thank you" before they even take that bite.

The problem is that we don't know which taste will be the magic taste. Is it taste #5, taste #8, or taste #42?

Some kids like a new food earlier than other kids. And some foods are easier to like than others. But since you can't know which tasting attempt will produce the winner, the only thing you can do is continue to offer tastes.

And the only way to offer tastes without making yourself crazy is to completely separate tasting from eating.

In other words, unless you have already grown a good taster, never push the issue of eating a new food. Otherwise you'll end up in a control struggle. And you'll probably end up throwing out a lot of food.

  • Always put something on the table you can reasonably expect your child to eat.
  • Offer tastes of food on a separate plate if your child is overly protective and scared.
  • Find opportunities away from the table to encourage exploration: At the grocery store, when you're cooking, when you're eating, when you're at the park!

When parents lower their expectations around new foods, kids do better.

Learning to taste new food is a skill children have to learn. For more on this topic read Unleash Your Toddler's Inner Food Critic and Nix the Negativity.

~Changing the conversation from Nutrition to Habits.~

Monday
Feb022015

Kid Eats Q&A: What to Do When Your Undereater Misbehaves at the Table

Feeding an undereater can be unnerving. 

And I understand. Our job is to nourish our kids.

Add in a little pediatrician pressure—"Do whatever you have to to get your child to eat more"—and feeding an undereater can be downright frightening.

So, here's the question: What should you do when your undereater misbehaves at the table?

Toni wrote:

"I would love to hear your thoughts on how to handle the misbehaving underweight child at the table who needs disciplining for their actions - time outs? (taking them away from those calories during that crucial hunger window) reprimand them? (negative emotions decrease appetite) other?"

1: Let me say, as with so many parenting issues, the problem here is...competing goals.

We need to nourish and civilize our little monsters. And while keeping a child well nourished certainly seems more important...here's the good news: It turns out, the two goals are really inter-related. Solve one and you'll solve the other. 

And solving the behavior problem has to come first.

2: Worrying that a child won't eat enough food during meals may be one of the most common parenting concerns.

Parents of undereaters have reason to worry, but still...one study found that 85% of all parents of young children want their children to eat more. Pushing more food into any child is a strategy that backfires.

However, pushing food:

  • Sets up a control struggle.
  • Disconnects kids from their own hunger and satiety. (And yes, this happens even for undereaters—just not in the way you'd expect. Keep reading.)
  • Reverses the parental/child power structure. 

3: The only solution to a mealtime misbehavior is discipline.

In other words, be firm about the rules—and the consequences for breaching the rules.

A few points of clarification:

  • Discipline is NOT synonymous with punishment. I like to think of discipline as being consistent, as in, "It takes discipline to train for a marathon."
  • Ask yourself, What does my child need to learn? The answer is usually not, "What behavior is acceptable." Most kids already know that. The answer is usually, "My parents mean business." That's the importance of consistency.

4: Reluctance to set and enforce boundaries encourages both bad behavior and poor eating.

Inconsistency encourages kids to do as they please. Their thinking: "I never know when I will get my way. But, since there's always a chance, I might as well go for it." (Think of this as intermittent reinforcement.)

The only way to encourage an undereater to eat is to serve small, structured meals.

5: Use the Eating Zones Rule: Make sure there are times when food is available and times when food is not available

The Eating Zones Rule doesn't just teach kids to eat at the right time. Eating Zones give undereaters secure times when they know they won't have to think about eating.

For more on Eating Zones read, Hunger vs. Appetite.

6) Serve very small meals.

The research shows that undereaters eat less food when they're presented with too much food. How much is too much? You'd be surprised. For some children, it's serving more than a couple of bites at a time.

Read, The Portion Size Problem: A Matter of Trust.

7) Recognize that doing anything to get your child to eat is a strategy that will always backfire.

Kids don't eat better when parents do anything. The only thing that happens when parents do anything is that power shifts from parent to child.

For more on this, read, What's Holding You Hostage.

By the way...if you think I'm immune to forcing food, read, You Have to Eat. Or Else...

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Tuesday
Sep232014

The Curse of the Broken Pretzel

Broken pretzels are cursed.

How else can we explain why some kids absolutely refuse to eat them?

Source: Mommy Shorts.com

Last week, Mommy Shorts.com published a hilarious sequence of photos depicting picky eaters and their food hangups.  

Check it out here.

One of my readers asked if I could suggest what parents can do to combat these problem (other than give in). Here you go, a plan to exorcise the curse!

1) Recognize that what looks like a food issue is really a behavior issue.

Behavior issues are impacted by the interactions you have with your child. That's good news. The way to change your child's behavior is to change how you react.

2) You can't care whether or not your child eats the broken pretzel or granola bar.

Things to say: 

  • "A broken pretzel tastes exactly like an unbroken one."
  • "You don't have to eat it if you don't want it."
  • "I'll try to give you unbroken pretzels when I can, because I know you prefer them, but when I grab a handful of pretzels to give you, there are usually going to be some broken ones."
  • "I'm happy to hear how you feel about the pretzels, but not when you're having a fit (tantrum)."
  • "We can talk about how you feel about the pretzels for 1 (or 5) minutes, but I will not talk to you about this any longer (because that's a fit...especially if there's whining).

The only reason for parents to give in to their children's demands to eat only unbroken pretzels, or toast that has not been perfectly toasted, or sandwiches that are not cut exactly the right way is to avoid a fight.

But establishing firm boundaries is the other way to avoid the fight. 

The key, then, is to make sure you distinguish between food problems and behavioral problems. Behavioral problems (tantruming in response to being given a broken pretzel, for instance) has to be solved with a behavioral solution. Do whatever you do (like use a time out?) to correct your child's behavior.

If you need your child to eat the pretzels, your child holds all the power.

But you might want to ask yourself why you care whether or not your child eats the pretzels. And if your child's food refusal comes at meals, then remember that your child has to have the freedom NOT to eat before she'll be able to willingly choose to eat.

End a meal rather than give in to this kind of irrational demand. (Then, remind yourself that the next snack or meal is not that far away. Read The Upside of Hunger.)

Here's how giving in to broken pretzels curses YOU:

Curse 1: When children express their need for control by restricting (or even eliminating) the food they'll eat, there's only one direction this can go: downhill.

The terrific feeling of control your child gets from successfully controlling the shape and size of the pretzel or the granola bars he'll eat lasts about 10 seconds. Then, the next time he wants to feel control, the only thing he can do is restrict something else.

This is how children who eat a large variety of foods end up eating a smaller and smaller range of items.

Curse 2: Giving in to your children's quirky demands disempowers them.

Kids learn that they really can't cope with food in different forms. That they need to eat only unbroken pretzels.

Source: Mommy Shorts.com

Teaching children that they can cope with broken pretzels does the opposite: it empowers them. And if your child is refusing to eat a banana that has a bit of string or a sandwich that has crusts, teach your child to solve the problem herself. That's real power.

For more on this read The Power of the Imperfect Pretzel

Curse 3: Giving in to your children's quirky demands disempowers you...

...and turns the entire parenting relationship on its head.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~