Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


The Podcast

Listen Now!

Hire Dina Bring Dina to your community Schedule a Professional Development Seminar

DINA ROSE, PhD is a sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert empowering parents to raise kids who eat right.

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.

Parent Hacks Forehead-Smackingly Smart Tips

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!

Stay and Play The best indoor playspace on the East Coast. Oh yeah, and it happens to be owned by my brother.

weelicious Great Recipes for Kids 

Entries in Self-Control (4)


Healthy Eating Holiday Food Rules: Why You've Got to Have Them!

This holiday season, do your kids a favor. Set some rules.

Then trust your kids to work out the details.

Even young kids can do this. (And if yours can't...ask yourself, how are they ever going to learn?)

It's the only way to teach your kids the right habits for a lifetime of holiday eating.

New research confirms:

  1. Children as young as two can (and must!) learn to self-regulate.
  2. Even children who can self regulate need their parents to set some rules about food/eating.

And here's the kicker: knowing how to self-regulate isn't enough. Kids also need those rules.

Here's what the study found:

  • Preschoolers who were able to self-regulate at 2 had healthy eating habits by the time they were 4, so long as their parents also set rules about the right types of foods to eat.
  • On the other hand, self-regulation by itself, without parental food rules, made little difference in childrens' later eating habits.

Soda is a particular problem.

The researchers are quoted as saying:

  • "We found that preschoolers whose parents had no food rules drink soda about 25 percent more than children whose parents had food rules."
  • "We found that soda is pretty attractive to preschoolers, but soda cannot kill their hunger. It doesn't fill them up."

This study, conducted by researchers at the University at Buffalo, analyzed data for 8,850 children that were originally collected as part of a larger study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education.

Read more about the study here.

Some things you need to know: 

  • In this study, self-regulation at age 2=parental assessment of the child's ability to wait for something as well as general of irritability, fussiness and whimpering. There might be other, and even better measures of self-regulation. The point here, though, is that self-regulation isn't tied specifically to food and it still matters.
  • There is mounting evidence that parenting style matters. And the parenting style here is called authoritative. It's a blend of structure and warmth/compassion.

Parenting style matters so much that focusing on parenting style alone can improve how your kids eat.

Read more about the importance of parenting styles here.

On the other hand, just implementing rules probably won't work. That parenting style is called authoritarian and it has been shown to produce a few problems.

Think rules plus choices. Or rules plus autonomy. Or rules plus trust.

The rules you set for consumption should focus on the habits you want your kids to learn.

And the good news is that there are only 3 habits that translate everything you need to know about nutrition into behavior. They're easy for kids to learn too.

  • Proportion: We eat really healthy foods the most. (And by really healthy I don't mean chicken nuggets.) 
  • Variety: We eat different foods from meal-to-meal and from day-to-day.
  • Moderation: We eat when we're hungry, and stop when we're full. And we don't eat because we're bored, sad or lonely.

Here are some rules you might consider to get you through the holidays:

  • On days when there are no parties, there are no treats. (Discuss this as the principle of proportion.)
  • When you're at a party, you can eat whatever you want, but it's always better to eat the treats you love, rather than the treats that happen to be available. (You'll have to tell your kids what foods are going to be available and when.) OR...
  • You can have X number of treats at the party. You choose which ones and when you'll have them.
  • Pay attention to your tummy. (Discuss this in terms of hunger/fullness...i.e. moderation.)

For more on this topic, read Healthy Eating for the Holidays.

Happy Holidays!!!

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Healthy Eating for the Holidays

Here’s a healthy eating tip to get you and your toddlers through the holidays:

Teach your kids to problem solve.  And while you’re at it, teach them to plan ahead, self-soothe and delay gratification too.

I know it sounds far-fetched, but studies show these skills are related to healthy eating because they lead to what researchers call “effortful control.”  That’s a mouthful, right?

Effortful control: the ability to thoughtfully process information, to systematically make decisions and to regulate impulse and emotion.  Sounds like your toddler.  No?

Actually, toddlers are hard-wired—literally—to be impulsive.  They want what they want NOW. I’m sure you won’t be surprised that research shows that impulsivity doesn’t lead to healthy eating.  Rather, it leads to snack and junk-food consumption.

Now you understand why toddlers—and maybe even spouses— want to eat the way they do! But you can teach them—kids, maybe not spouses— to do better.

Teaching your kids to do better might just save your sanity. OK, since Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away it might be a tall order for this year. But teach your kids these skills and next year will definitely go a lot smoother. (It's good to have a goal!)

Impulsivity and reasoning come from two different places in the brain.

Although children develop their reactive impulse during infancy, their ability to reason starts to develop during the preschool years.  That’s why 4 year olds make so much more sense than 3 year olds. 

But—and here’s a big but—researchers have discovered that you can help children develop their reasoning and self-regulation skills as early as age 3. 

Why bother? 

  • One study recently found that children with poor delay of gratification at age 4 had an increased risk of becoming overweight by the time they were 11. 
  • Another study found that children with lower self-regulation skills gained weight more rapidly between 3-11 than children who had better regulatory skills.

In other words, the more self-control your young children exhibit, the better off they’ll be in later years. Read Marshmallows Make You Smart!

The more you transfer decision-making to your children, the more ably they’ll make decisions, and the better they'll eat. 

Toddlers aren’t known for patience, thinking ahead, planning for the future.  But it’s only through the exercise of having to consider future consequences that children learn to delay gratification and to be forward thinkers.

Consider this: The next time your children demand cookies and it’s the day before a big party, instead of telling them “no” explain your rationale.  Then, start giving your children choices between getting that goodie now and indulging in a (potentially better) treat later.  This will teach your kids how to plan ahead and the benefits of delayed gratification.

You can teach your kids other important skills too.  Think like a researcher! Start giving your children plenty of opportunities for problem solving, and exposure to tasks with increasingly complex rules. (Consider asking your children to sort cards based on color, then to sort them based on color and shape, etc.) In other words, you don't have to dumb everything down. On the contrary, expect your kids to rise to the occasion. They will—especially with practice.

Believe it or not, these skills will translate into better eating because they teach your kids better self-regulation.

The holidays are a perfect time to start teaching your kids skills like self-control and delayed gratification.

You know there will be plenty of opportunities! You might as well use them to your advantage.

 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~



Isasi, C. R. and T. A. Wills. 2011. “Behavioral Self-Regulation and Weight-Related Behaviors in Inner-City Adolescents: a Model of Direct and Indirect Effects.” Childhood Obesity 7(4): 306-15.

Dowsett, S. M. and D. J. Livesey. 2000. “The Development of Inhibitory Control in Preschool Children: Effects of "Executive Skills" Training.” Developmental Psychobiology 36: 161-74.

Riggs, N. R., M. T. Greenberg, C. A. Kusche, and M. A. Pentz. 2006. “The Mediational Role of Neurocognition in the Behavioral Outcomes of a Social-Emotional Prevention Program in Elementary School Students: Effects of the Paths Curriculum.” Prevention Science 7(1): 91-102.


The Dinner Dance: When is Enough Enough?

When to end dinner?  The answer seems like it should be simple: you end dinner when everyone has eaten enough.

If you have a dawdler, the kind of kid who can spend 45 minutes eating, chatting, playing, and then eating some more, you know that deciding when to call it quits isn’t always so clear cut.

But even if you have a focused child, the kind who gets right down to business, figuring out when to end a meal can be tricky: your child says she’s done, but you’re not convinced that 2 bites of chicken and a swig of milk are going to do the trick.  And the last thing you want to deal with is a whiny, fussy, hungry kid 20 minutes after the dishes are done. 

That’s why parents say they are always pushing Two More Bites.  Recent research provides a different explanation.

Research shows that parents don't usually even ask their preschool kids if they are full. When they do ask, however, parents don’t believe what their children say.

When preschool children try to claim they are full, they are frequently met with the following kinds of responses:

  • Disbelief – “But you’ve only had a few bites. You can’t be full.”
  • Encouragement – “You can do it; finish a few more bites.”
  • Pleading – “Please just eat this much and you’re done.”
  • Bribing – “There are cookies waiting when you finish up.”

(And if you find yourself under the table trying to persuade your pumpkin to open up, you know you've moved beyond bribing!)

In fact, when it comes to reporting satiation, parents are more likely to believe their infants than their toddlers, even though toddlers are more capable of communicating. Read The 2-More-Bites-Tango: How YOU Can Take the Lead.

Your heart is in the right place—you want your kids to be nourished and you don’t want to operate like a restaurant— but pushing kids to eat more than they want doesn’t just risk teaching them to overeat.  It teaches them they don’t have the right to know when they are full.  And that’s a more serious problem.

Knowing when to end a meal is complicated.

Because you don’t actually know how much food your children need at any particular moment—a truth that’s tough to live with—and because as long as there is food or drink left on the plate the meal can still be “in play,” it’s hard to know what to do.

But how you end the meal matters.

  • If you are a person who can trace your after-dinner sweet “need” to childhood, you know what I mean.
  • And if you have a hard time putting your fork down as long as there is food on your plate, you also know what I mean. 

Mealtimes serve a variety of functions, only one of which is to keep your kids fed. 

When you think bigger than the food you realize that it’s during mealtimes that you are also:

  • Shaping your children's relationship to food and teaching about who controls their bodies. (Is it you, or is it them?)
  • Instructing your kids on the rules of eating. (You eat, you don’t play. You sit on a chair, you don’t stand on it. You put food in your mouth, not on the floor.)
  • Teaching your children how to engage in a structured conversation, where there are rules about who speaks and when it’s alright to interrupt.
  • Exposing your children to the wider culture through conversation with parents and siblings.

And the list goes on...

When mealtimes become centered on food problems—on getting kids to eat more, to eat less or to eat in a timelier manner—these other functions of the meal become subverted.  In other words, you’re not only shaping your child’s relationship to food, you are shaping your child’s relationship with you, with siblings, with the world…no pressure!

I’m not saying you shouldn’t hurry things along, or create an environment conducive to eating.

I am saying that you have to be conscious of the lessons (all the lessons) that your kids are learning and make sure that you teach the ones you intend.  About food  About rights. About interactions. About life.

For more on this topic read Raising Lawyers.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Additional source:  Laurier, E. and S. Wiggins. 2011. “Finishing the Family Meal. the Interactional Organisation of Satiety.” Appetite 56: 53-64.