Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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Entries in Restaurants (3)


When Parents "Pack": Eating Out Without a Major Meltdown

Ever have someone you've invited over for dinner bring a separate meal for their children?

Or better yet, ever have guests ask to borrow your stove so they can whip up something special for their kids? 

We've all be in the place where we think, "My child won't eat that."  Come to think of it, we've all be in that place where we think, "I won't eat that!"

Believe me, I understand the rationale for always being ready with your own rations.

It's better to be safe than sorry.  And, when used as an occasional strategy to get through a strange situation—kept in your bag and used only as a backup (what if turns out your kids like chicken tandoori?)—it's not a bad thing.  But "packing" on a regular basis teaches kids the wrong lessons.  

Bringing your own MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat) undermines your objectives and makes the problems of parenting a picky eater worse.

"Packing" on a regular basis:

  1. Deprives children of the opportunity to sit, ponder, consider and (perhaps even) consume something new.
  2. Reinforces your children's delusion that they should be able to eat their favorite foods every time they eat. 
  3. Doesn't prepare your children for the real world.

Parents who "pack" probably think they'll never have a peaceful moment; that made-to-order macaroni and cheese is all that stands between them and mayhem.

And really, when you think about it that way, bringing a meal for your kids doesn't seem like a big deal. Everyone deserves a quiet dinner out.  (And no one wants to parent a picky eater in public.)

On the other hand, there are other, better, ways to feed the family and to avoid a scene. Trust me, you don't need to pull up to your host's house carting a cooler full of consumables.  Just change your goals.

Shift your goals from getting your kids fed (peacefully) to teaching them how to handle food-related social situations.

The pickier your kids are the more they need to learn this. (Even if they're 2.)

Lessons kids need to learn:

1) Different moms, different restaurants, different countries (you do want to travel some day, don't you?) sometimes cook different food.

2) There are ways to cope when confronted with foreign foods.  (Never mind that the foreign food we're talking about here is probably something as simple as grilled chicken. Your kids still gotta learn.) 

Talk with your children about what food will probably be on the menu. 

Then, brainstorm things your children can do to get through the situation, without starving, sulking or stomping. I suggest you consider the following:

  • Let your kids eat before going out, and then maybe again, after you get home.
  • Find something (anything) palatable on the menu being served.
  • Taste unfamiliar foods with NO PRESSURE or EXPECTATION to eat them.
  • Always be polite. 

When you think about it, aren't these the techniques you use when you go out? You can teach them to your kids, too.

Most kids don't spontaneously start eating differently

They need practice and opportunity.  Read Let Your Kids Sit With Their Own Struggles.

And most kids don't automatically know how to be polite when confronted with an eating disaster.

They need practice and opportunity for this too.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


When You're Too Tired to Cook...

I know what it’s like to be too tired to cook.

Sometimes I walk into the kitchen and all I want to do is walk right out again.  Honestly, if I didn’t have a hungry family expecting me to keep them alive, I’d pack it all in.

Sound familiar?

If you rely on professional help to get meals on the table — whether from Stouffers or from Chan’s Chinese — you’re in good company.

Many a mother has confessed her sins to me, and it breaks my heart to hear how guilty these fine women feel. Not only because I regularly engage in the same kind of food prep myself — just last night I served a completely pre-packaged meal care of the chefs at Trader Joe’s — but also because there’s nothing wrong with serving your family this kind of food.

Prepared foods aren’t going to kill your kids.  What’s more, they can actually be used to teach your tykes some excellent eating habits.

Think about it this way: how else can you expose your children to a wide range of culinary creations so easily?  I know I can’t put together a Mexican meal one night and a Chinese one the next.  At least not without devoting my entire life to cooking.  Yuk.

Read Using Restaurants Right! and When the Less Nutritious Choice is Right

There are only 2 rules to follow if you want to use the freezer or the phone to get dinner on the table: 

1) Make sure that whatever you purchase looks as much like real food as possible.

These days it’s just as easy to get a rotisserie chicken as it to buy some chicken nuggets.  Rotisserie chicken might not always be a nutritional winner but it does a decent job teaching kids to eat right because it looks like what it is. It tastes like what it is too.  You can’t say the same thing for nuggets, which don’t have the taste, texture, appearance or aroma of something that once clucked.

Remember this too: Gorton’s doesn’t just sell fish sticks. They also sell grilled fish fillets. 

2) Rotate what you serve.

Variety isn’t just the spice of life; it’s also the key to teaching kids to eat right.  I know it’s easy to get into a rut when you’re tired and worn out, but if the delivery guy knows your name (or knows your standard order), take that as a cue to call around to someplace new.

Establishing variety as a foundation for meals is the key to expanding your kids’ culinary repertoires.   You don’t have to use new foods to build variety.  In fact, it works best if you start by rotating through a selection of old standards.  Just keep the set of offerings spinning.  Read House Building 101 for more on this topic.

If you’re worried about the nutritional quality of packaged foods …

1) Remember that anything you buy is probably as “good” as pizza or Chinese food.

  • One slice of pizza might seem like a deal, coming in at around 200 calories, but most pies deliver a hefty dose of salt and fat too.  More importantly, pizza does not have any real nutritional value and it reinforces your children’s desire for similarly stodgy stuff.  Read Pizza and Peas: The Untold Story.
  • One serving of Kids’ Lo Mein from P.F. Chang’s has 360 mg of sodium – a big chunk of your kid’s daily intake.  Read Salt: The New Fat.

2) Everyone knows that nutritionists recommend people eat a wide range of foods to maximize the assortment of nutrients they take in -- Vitamin A here, protein there.  Well, no one should make packaged food the main staple, but when you do go down that road, eating a wide range of prepared foods minimizes the amount of "bad" stuff you consume too -- fat one night, sodium another.  Read It Doesn't Matter WHAT Your Kids Eat!

3) You can always augment packaged foods to dilute the bad stuff.

Throw a bag of frozen vegetables into canned soup to cut the sodium per serving.  Or do what I did last night: mix a bag of lettuce leaves with a bag of cole slaw mix to make a salad in under 5 minutes.  Don’t think salad will cut it with your kids?  Read Salad Days.

You might not think your kids will eat black bean tacos, but the ones from Trader Joe's are so good your kids will clamor for more.

Remember, kids eat what they're exposed to the most.  The more you reinforce chicken nuggets, hot dogs and other standard "kids' fare," the more your kids will prefer that stuff.  But shift over to real food, and your kids will eat that too.  At least they will in time.  

You might have to serve grilled chicken as often as you've served up the nuggets before you're kids will tuck in without complaint, so don't give up.  (Just in case the going is tough, read: The Upside of Hunger.)

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~

P.S. I'm not on the payroll at Trader Joe's. I'm just a grateful fan.


 Sources: accessed 5/2010


Using Restaurants Right!

Restaurants and kids - what a combination!

On one hand, kids can learn so much from eating in restaurants.  They offer up fun, interesting, tasty, and unusual food; dishes that most home chefs don't have time to prepare.  Used correctly, restaurants can expose your kids to a host of new flavors, spark their interest in food and even teach them about different cultures.

On the other hand, bringing kids to restaurants is a potentially perilous endeavor. Who wants to have their kids melt down in the middle of a crowded dining room? That's public parenting at its worst!  It's hard to enjoy restaurant time when the prospect of doom is lurking in the background.

If you want to get through a night out without experiencing a nightmare, check out the article: Taking the Adorables to Restaurants.

I know it may seem like a shameless plug because I contributed to the article, but this Good Stuff Guide post really is packed with terrific ideas for parents who want to step out without stepping on a land mine! There are tips on what to bring in a Go-Bag, what games you can play at the table, and a host of other useful suggestions.

But good behavior won't help you get the most out of the restaurant experience.  For that, you have to think of dining out, not as a restful evening for you (although it certainly can be that), but as a laboratory for training kids to eat right.

The number one way to use restaurants right is to avoid the Children's Menu.

I realize this might be the most controversial thing I've ever posted -- more controversial even than Coke Beats Juice (and boy, did that elicit a big reaction) but the Children's Menu isn't just a nutritional wasteland. It also promotes every bad habit in the book.

OK. Give your kids food from the Children's Menu if you never (or almost never) give them that stuff at home. Then eating from the Children's Menu will genuinely be a treat.  But watch out, the Children's Menu usually spells disaster.

Use the Children's Menu and you'll feed the fire that rejects vegetables, that refuses foods that look funny, and that always wants things the same, same, same.

  • The Children's Menu reinforces your kids' love affair with chicken nuggets, fries, burgers, hot dogs and spaghetti. 
  • The Children's Menu reinforces your kids' idea of what foods they are supposed to eat, what foods they will like, and by extension, which foods they will dislike.  This is particularly true in ethnic restaurants. Giving your children chicken nuggets when you're in an India restaurant sends a pretty strong message. Since the mind is a child's most important taste bud, this kind of brainwashing is a perilous. Read Mind Over Matter.

Encourage your child to experiment by looking to the appetizer menu for child-sized portions of child-friendly food.

Appetizers work because they are often versions of things your kids already like; they're different, but not totally foreign. Who doesn't like potato skins, dumplings, meatballs, quesadillas, nachos, wings?

I know appetizers aren't usually the most nutritious items on the menu, but it's new, not nutrition that we're after. When you're trying to excite your kids about food, get the adventure going first and sort out the nutrition later. Read When the Less Nutritious Choice is Right.

If your children are really reluctant to move beyond the Children's Menu try this trick: feed them dinner at home and let them order dessert when you're out.

There's one caveat: the dessert your kids order has to be something they've never tried before!

The possibilities are endless: cheesecake, chocolate mousse, apple pie.  You're sure to find something new that will delight your little ones (and keep them quiet long enough for you to enjoy your meal).

Using desserts to expand your children's comfort level with new foods works for the obvious reason - they're desserts! But it also changes your kids' idea of what new foods are like.

Once your kids are in the habit of trying new desserts, they'll know there's nothing to fear about new. Eventually they'll start looking to other parts of the menu and that's when you can work on getting the good stuff in.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~