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 School Food (14)


When There's No Time for School Lunch

One problem when school lunch time shrinks? VEGGIES GET FORGOTTEN!

Of course, not having sufficient time to eat is a huge problem. As is not having enough "down time" to restore young attention spans.

But the veggies? That’s a relatively easy solution to solve (providing your children will eat vegetables under normal circumstances).

1) Talk to your children about the problem.

In my experience, many parents of young children try to manage the problem and the solution without talking to their kids.

This is a mistake.

  • It’s harder for kids to do what you want them to do when they don’t know what you want them to do.
  • Talking to your children about problems and solutions is a way to teach them to problem solve.
  • Problem-solving with your children builds the trusting rapport around food that many families lack.
  • Sometimes parents mis-identify the problem.

"Sometimes there's not enough time at lunch to eat everything. Right? I've noticed lately that you dig right into your sandwich but you don't eat the broccoli." 

  • "Is that because you don't like the broccoli?"

In this case, you'll know not to send broccoli because repeatedly sending food that doesn't get eaten in the hopes that one day it will (magically) get eaten is crazy. Read The Bad News ABout Healthy Lunches.

  • "Or is that because you don't have time for anything else if you eat your sandwich first?"

When children dig into their favorite food first (the sandwich, the pasta, the pizza) they don't have time—and they often don't have a lot of stomach space left—for anything else. That is the problem.

Solving the Sandwich-First Problem with One-One

Here's the lesson: "You need to eat a little bit of everything before you eat all of anything."

Children don't automatically know this.

Here's the technique: "Eat one bite of this and then one bite of that until you've had one bite of everything on your plate. Then take a second bite of this and a second bite of that..."

Read more about One-One here.

One-One isn't meant to be dogmatic—no need to count bites! Nonetheless, it's an important lesson for children to learn: 

"We never know when we are going to run out of time at school lunch. Therefore, it's important to eat a little of everything from the beginning of the lunch period."

One-One is the right habit in general. It's the right habit for this problem.

Let's fight for change at the school-level, but let's not WAIT for change to address the problem.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Are Packed Lunches Healthy? Research Says, "No."

By now you've probably heard about the research study which found that home-packed lunches are often nutritionally inferior to school lunches.

The study found:
  • Only 27% of home-packed lunches met at least 3 of 5 National School Lunch Program standards
  • Only 4% of snacks met 2 of 4 Child and Adult Care Food Program standards.

The Boston Globe wrote about this study, and I was thrilled that my thoughts were included in the article. Read At lunch, home-packed may not mean healthy.

Three things stand out from this study for me...

1) The easiest way to improve the quality of your child's diet is to improve snacks.

You could, if you wanted, forget about lunch. Snacks are where the action really is.

Desserts & sweetened beverages are the major source of calories children consume from snacks. But salty snacks are gaining ground! Read The Snack Attack.

Teach your kids that, from a habits perspective, snack is a time of day, not a type of food.

  • Make fruits and vegetables the go-to for snacks. You don't have to do this everyday, but most days would be the ideal goal.
  • Start off small. One or two bites of fruit or vegetable, combined with other "snack" foods would be a good start.
  • Talk to your children before you pack their snacks. Otherwise the fruits and vegetables will definitely come home uneaten!

When I wrote about this on my Facebook page, someone noted that her child got teased when he brought vegetables for lunch. While my general thought is, "Shame on those other children," my other thought is, "Children need to learn lots of life lessons and being different is one of them. This is actually a gentle way to begin that conversation with your kids.

2) It's easy to think we have only two choices: send a healthy lunch or send a junky one. This is a false dichotomy.

Baby steps change habits in the longterm, and that's what you're after. Consider using:

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

SourceHubbard, K. L., A. Must, M. Eliasziw, S. C. Folta, and J. Goldberg. 2014. “What's in Children's Backpacks: Foods Brought From Home.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics In press.


One Way to Improve School Lunches

Talk to your children about variety!

  • I'm not talking about sending broccoli today because you sent peas in yesterday and then asking your kids to eat the broccoli. That's secret variety.
  • I'm also not talking about telling your kids that they can't have chicken nuggets today because you know they ate nuggest yesterday. That's also secret variety.

State variety as a family-eating rule or guideline: "We don't eat the same food two days in a row."

I call this The Rotation Rule.

Your kids can't get on the variety "train" if they don't know the goal. (And hoping they'll figure it out themselves is kind of crazy.)

I know three year olds who put variety into practice on their own. But it took repeating the lesson a lot (just like it does when you're teaching manners). 

Think you can't implement variety when your children eat at school?  

If so, you're not alone. In response to my post last week, Tina wrote that her son has chosen the same sides at school— pickles, black olives and cucumbers—for three consecutive days. 

First, I want to say...

  1. Aren't you impressed that this school offers side dishes like this?
  2. Are you impressed that this young child chooses pickles, olives and cucumbers?
  3. I am!

Now, I know that Tina has variety covered at home, and, that she hasn't asked for my input. However, here are some ideas for how she could bring her child onboard with more variety at school.

How to talk to your kids about variety at school...

  • Parent: I'd like you to choose different food from day-to-day. Remember, we've talked about The Rotation Rule.
  • Child: But these are the sides that I like the most.
  • Parent: Well, we can't always eat the foods we like the most. I like chocolate cake a lot but I don't eat it every day. Are there other foods you like? 
  • Well, they do have tomatoes.
  • Why not switch between tomatoes and pickles? If you want, you can keep eating the olives and the cucumbers every day. (Note to parents: eventually you could put these foods into the rotation too.)

Here's another sample dialogue...

  • Parent: I'd like you to choose different food from day-to-day. Remember, we've talked about The Rotation Rule.
  • Child: All the other sides are disgusting.
  • Parent: Oh, that's awful. What if you have pickles and cucumbers today and then cucumbers and olives tomorrow?

You can use this strategy for coping with chocolate milk, pizza, nuggets and other "dailies" your kids are apt to choose.

The point is NOT to have an absolutely perfect rotation.

The point is to...

  1. Have variety become a habit using foods your children already happily eat. Remember, variety means different not new.
  2. Teach your children to implement variety themselves. This requires teaching and negotiation.

Negotiation isn't bad. In fact, it empowers your children by making them feel valued and part of the solution.

It also builds trust in your relationship. (Unless, of course, your children are chronic negotiators. Read Raising Lawyers.)

Reach an agreement about variety that your children agree to live with.

The key ingredient: Make sure your children know they will not, under any circumstances, get into trouble if they violate the variety rule.

This is crucial. You want your children to be honest.

If they don't implement the variety rule at school, find out why. Then problem-solve together.

By the way, I know that it's tempting to think that variety doesn't matter when the food being selected is healthy (or relatively healthy). 

But it does.

Variety doesn't just ensure that your kids get the range of nutrients they need. It also lays the foundation for new food acceptance because it keeps flavors and textures rotating. Plus, new foods stand out less in a rotating system than in a stagnant one.

Variety is a state of mind.

It is also one of the three principles of healthy eating. Proportion and moderation are the other two. Together, these habits are the only eating behaviors your kids need to learn to be healthy eaters.

 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~