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 Refusing Food (61)


How Young is Too Young?

"I don't think my 2 year old understands. I've tried to implement The Rotation Rule, but when I ask her if she wants yogurt or cereal for breakfast she always says pancakes. How young is too young?"

Sound familiar? I get this kind of question all the time. The answer is: No child is too young to learn how to eat right.

Before you think I'm nuts, consider two things: 

  • Babies learn from an early age that their parents will come when they cry.
  • Research shows that children often learn bad eating habits, like emotional eating, as young as 2 or 3. (Read Using Sweets to Soothe the Soul.) If kids can learn bad habits at age 2, how can they be too young to learn good eating habits at age 2?

But here's the real reason that kids can't be too young to learn good eating habits...

Implementing techniques like the Rotation Rule shapes how PARENTS interact with their kids.

And it's shaping your interactions that ultimately teaches kids how to eat. (Even those who are pre-verbal or too young to have a conversation!)

Let's take a look at some interactions. You'll see what I mean.

When you have trouble getting your kids to accept the Rotation Rule, parents are thinking some version of the following:

  • "I've explained the Rotation Rule: We're not going to eat the same food two days in a row."
  • "My child doesn't go along with the rule. She must not be able to understand it."
  • "If she's too young, I should stop trying."

(Don't know what the Rotation Rule is? Click here.)

Here's the child's version of events:

  • "Mom explained something called The Rotation Rule."
  • "Mom offered me two choices for breakfast: yogurt or cereal."
  • "I said I want pancakes."
  • "Mom said I need to choose either yogurt or cereal."
  • "I said I want pancakes."
  • "Mom is getting irritated. She offered me yogurt or cereal...again."
  • "I said I still want pancakes. I started whining."
  • "Mom gave me pancakes."
  • "Yum! Hurray!"

I say, this child understands exactly what's going on. 

 It's just that she's learned a different lesson then the one mom intended. The child has learned:

  1. Hold out. 
  2. Make a fuss. 
  3. Wait long enough and you'lll your pancakes!

The disconnect between the lesson you think you're teaching and the lesson your kids are actually learning is the space where feeding problems crop up. 

For more on this topic, read Eating, Seen Through Your Child's Eyes.

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


 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


"You Have to Eat. Or Else..."

"You must eat at least a few bites of breakfast. Otherwise, we're not going shopping."

This was so not my finest parenting moment. Ever find yourself similarly threatening your child?

Here are the facts: 

  • My daughter woke up cranky.
  • I knew that part of the reason she was cranky was because she was hungry.
  • Before I pulled out the big guns (No Shopping!), I had tried a reasonable, "Let's go get some breakfast." 
  • I also had tried, "You know, sometimes when you feel cranky it's because you're hungry."
  • Nothing had worked and now I was looking at a morning (maybe even an entire day) of dealing with my darling daughter.
  • I couldn't realistically cancel the shopping trip because we were traveling, and if I did, we'd be stuck staring at each other in our hotel room. (OK, I could have canceled the trip, but what would I have done: replaced it with a trip to a museum?)

You're with me, right? I had to do what I did!

Pressure doesn't work.

So there we were at the cafe where we had eaten breakfast every day during our trip. I'd bought my daughter a glass of milk—That's a good compromise, right?— and myself a bowl of oatmeal. I was eating. She was crying. Through her tears she said:

I thought you aren't supposed to make kids eat when they aren't hungry. 

I was busted.  (Be glad you didn't just write a book on this topic.)

The natural physiologiclal response to being upset is to lose your appetite.

Here are the facts:

  • My daughter wasn't in touch with her feelings of hunger because she was cranky and upset.
  • The more conflict I created, the more likely it was that my daughter wouldn't feel hungry.
  • If I had successfully pressured my daughter into eating I would have taught her to override her internal feelings and to eat for emotional regulation.

For more on this read Using Sweets to Soothe the Soul

My daughter, rightfully, "won."

  • I finished my meal.
  • We threw out the milk. 
  • And off we went. Both of us sulking.

Eventually our moods improved. We shopped and then we ate lunch.

What should I have done instead?

  1. Corrected my daughter's behavior. Feeling cranky doesn't give anyone a free pass to act anyway they want. (And someday it won't be me dealing with her cranky attitude; it might be her boss.)
  2. Suggested to my daughter that she might like to eat. Then, I should have left it alone. 

In moments like this it is extremely difficult to think long term. 

But you have to. Teaching kids to stay in stay in touch with their internal hunger and satiation cues and with their own emotions is a big part of teaching them the habits they need for a lifetime of healthy eating.

It's something to think about. Maybe even something to read about!

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


 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Everyone Knows That Healthy Food Tastes Bad

Try this experiment: 

  • Ask your child to taste a new beverage. Say it's healthy.
  • Ask how much your child likes the beverage and whether he would like you to buy it again.

Repeat the procedure a few days later using the same beverage. Only this time, don't say the beverage is healthy. Just say it's new.

Which beverage do you think will get the better rating?

Healthy Doesn't Sell

If you listened to our national dialogue you would think that eaters are rational people, that we make decisions about what to eat based on how healthy it is. Wrong.

People—especially those people known as children— make decisions about what to eat based on how the items taste. And on our habits (or what we're used to eating).

Have you ever noticed that when people talk about healthy food they describe its nutritional value, but when they talk about sweets and treats they talk about how yummy it is?

Imagine giving your kids the Chocolate Cake Look when you bring out a bowl of broccoli!

Telling kids something is good for them kills the mood.

In fact, it's a guaranteed way to make your kids hate whatever you're serving. Read How to Help Your Kids Hate Spinach.

When researchers in England performed the beverage experiment:

  • 55% said they would like their parents to buy the "health" beverage; 85% said they'd like their parents to buy the "new" beverage.
  • 45% predicted their friends would like the "health" beverage; 55% predicted their friends would like the "new" beverage.

(I know this is an old study, but, sadly, it's still as relevant today as it ever was.)

Emphasize taste over health.

Kids aren't the only ones who feel that healthy foods taste bad. Read Junk Food=Yum, Healthy Food=Yuk and see discover one reason why the French have healthier eating habits than we do.

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


 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Wardle, J. and G. Huon. 2000. “An Experimental Investigation of the Influence of Health Information on Children's Taste Preferences.” Health Education Research 15 (1): 39-44.