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.

Dinner Together Building Healthy Families One Meal at a Time.

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Entries in Shaping Behavior (24)


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.~


The Power of the Imperfect Pretzel

Imperfect pretzels are so powerful they can turn normal kids into "crazies." But they can also turn your kids into empowered eaters.

But there's a twist: if you want to empower your kids you can't give in to their demands to be presented only with perfect pretzels. (I know, not giving in goes against the grain. Stick with me for a minute here.)

Some kids go absolutely nuts in the presence of Imperfect Pretzels.

"Ahhhhh. Take them away. Take them away!" 

You know what I'm talking about: Imperfect pretzels are cracked, not whole. As a result, they're totally offensive.

  • Maybe your "imperfect pretzel" is a waffle that hasn't been cut correctly.
  • Or it's a sandwich served with the crusts on. The horror!

It seems so easy to satisfy your child's eating idiosyncracies, and perhaps it feels a tad coercive not to. But serving only perfect pretzels teaches the wrong lessons.

Serving imperfect pretzels teaches kids that they're in charge of their own eating.

It's an effective way of saying, "You can choose whether or not to eat the pretzels."

Empowering kids by serving imperfect pretzels is counterintuitive.

It feels like giving in to your child's demands will empower her, but it doesn't. It simply reinforces a control struggle. It sends the message that you need her to eat. Therefore, you will provide food in whatever way she wishes.

In the process, it also limits your child by reinforcing the idea that he can (and should) only eat foods when they're presented in a certain way.

Think about how liberating choices are to children.

  • You can choose to eat only the whole pretzels if that's what you want to do.
  • You can tear the crusts off the sandwich, eat around them, or eat them. The choice is yours.
  • You can pick the mushrooms out of the stew, if you would like.

You can do this. You are able to do this. You are competent to do this.

Imperfect pretzels teach another very valuable lesson: foods that look different often taste the same.

Serving imperfect pretzels reduces the control struggle by setting a reasonable and appropriate boundary.

And it enables parents to be warm and compassionate at the same time.

Boundaries+compassion=authoritative parenting. Authoritative parenting has been shown over and over to produce kids with healthy eating habits.

Does this mean you should never serve perfect pretzels? 

Absolutely not. Sometimes serving perfect pretzels— because you know your child likes them— is a great way to show respect. It's the difference between wanting to and having to.

For more on this topic read Cutting Toast Triangles & Cucumber Squares?


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

 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Monkey See, Monkey Do

Imagine you're a Wild Vervet monkey family living in South Africa. 

One day you come across two tubs of corn. One tub contains pink corn. The other tub contains blue corn. New York Times

  • You taste the pink corn. It's goooood.
  • You taste the blue corn. It's baaaaad.

You chow down on the pink corn.

The next day you stumble upon the corn again. 

  • You taste the pink corn. It's goooood.
  • You taste the blue corn. It's baaaaad.

You chow down on the pink corn again!

After awhile, you stop tasting the blue corn.

Your baby monkeys avoid the blue corn too. In fact, they never even try it!

Then, one day, you find yourself into another part of the forest. Here, the monkeys are eating the blue corn and avoiding the pink corn.

Oh No!!! The world has been turned upside down. Do you panic? Run back to your part of the forest? No way. Instead:

  • You eat the blue corn. It's goooood.
  • You don't even taste the pink corn.

You don't even taste the pink corn. Why? You think, "These monkeys must know a thing or two!" So, when in Rome, do as the Romans... 

This is a REAL Study.

Researchers alternated between soaking either the pink or the blue corn with aloe to make it taste bitter. Read Monkeys Are Adept at Picking Up Social Cues, Research Shows.

But here's the catch: After the monkeys discovered which color was bitter, the researchers stopped treating it.

That meant that both the blue and the pink corn tasted like, well, corn. And the monkeys could have eaten from either tub.

But it didn't matter. 

  • Once the monkeys learned which color tasted bad, they avoided it. Makes sense. Right?
  • Until, that is, the monkeys traveled to another neighborhood and saw other monkeys enjoying the "bad" colored corn. Then, they relinquished their color convictions.

What's the takeaway? Context matters.

If your monkeys see you avoiding certain foods, they'll avoid them too. That's why modeling matters. But it also explains why modeling isn't always enough. Read The Modeling Muddle.

Culture matters.

Taste preferencs are formed, not found. Change the environment and you can change how your monkeys eat. (And you can do this without traveling.)

This is one reason your monkeys will sometimes eat a hated food at someone else's home. Read Food Culture and What it Means to be "Child-Friendly" and Not All Children LOVE Sugary, Salty, Fatty Foods.

Habits matter.

It's the rare monkey who will taste something after it's been deemed "disgusting." Read 10 Ways to Add Variety to Your Children's Diets.

Monkeys are smarter than we think!

And children are a lot like monkeys!

It's something to think about.

Maybe even to read about!

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

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~