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 Snacks (53)


Are You Sweet or Are You Salty?

Among the many lessons kids need to learn in order to eat right:

  • Liking something (or even, really, really liking something) is not a good enough reason to eat it all the time.
  • There are lots of good tasting flavors out there.

I bring this up now because a new study just came out that "discovered" some obvious findings:

  1. Children enjoy sweet and salty flavors.
  2. Children tend to enjoy sweeter and saltier flavors than do adults.

This study also reported a less obvious finding:

  • People who prefer intensely sweet foods also prefer intensely salty foods.
  • This goes for children and for adults.

In other words, the idea that you're either a sweet or a salty snacker might just be a myth.

It's tempting to think that if it's natural for children to enjoy very sweet and very salty foods, there's nothing you can do except wait it out. After all, over time, these preferences do change (usually).

Waiting it out is a mistake.

Understanding your children from a developmental perspective is not the same thing as knowing how to parent your children through their developmental phases.

  1. Most "child-friendly" foods are very high in sugar, salt and fat. Read The Truth About "Child-Friendly" Foods.
  2. Feeding to your children's taste preferences only reinforces them.
  3. The more your children get used to eating these "flavor hit" foods, the less likely they are to enjoy fruits and vegetables. Read My Toddler Used to Eat Vegetables.

In other words, feeding to your children's taste preferences makes their eating habits horrible and makes your life...hell.

This is important stuff. According to this study:

  • Over 90% of American children 2-8 years of age are getting more than half of their discretionary calorie allowance from added sugars. For more on discretionary calories, read When Calories Don't Count.
  • Sodium intake is approximately 3200mg per day, well above the recommended level of 1,200-1,500mg per day for children 4-13.

The researchers conclude:

"Because children naturally prefer higher levels of sweet and salty tastes than do adults, they are vulnerable to the modern diet, which differs from the diet of our past, when salt and sugars were once rare and expensive commodities."

The researchers go on to say:

"Having children eat diets low in sodium and added sugars requires a social, political, and economic food environment that supports and promotes this behavior change."

And, I would add:

Parents can teach their children a style of eating that takes taste preferences into account, but which isn't dominated by preferred foods. 

It's all in the lessons....

Which brings us right back to the beginning. Teach your kids:

  • Liking something (or even, reallyreally liking something) is not a good enough reason to eat it.
  • There are lots of good tasting flavors out there.

How? Talk about Proportion, and implement The Rotation Rule.

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


 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


The Outsized Problem of Pizza: It Takes Up Too Much of the Pie

I'm getting a lot of flak for saying that pizza—not Valentine's Day candy—could single-handedly ruin our kids' eating habits.

In response to my last post—Valentine's Day Candy vs Pizza—one friend even accused me of hating pizza. (The only other post that stirred up this much animosity was Donuts vs. Muffins.)

So let me clarify: All I meant to say is that our diets are out of whack. Not because of Valentine's Candy—or because of candy in general—but because of pizza. And other grain products.

To meet current dietary recommendations, Americans would have to reduce our total grain consumption by 27%. 

Imagine reducing your grain intake by 27%. We're a grain-crazy country.

Add up all the bread, bagels, cereals, crackers, pretzels, granola bars, cookies, pasta, pizza, tacos, rice, popcorn and other grain-stuff your kids load up. Then comopare this group to everything else your kids eat. See what I mean?

I have nothing against pizza. I was making an argument about proportion.

Proportion is one of the three habits of healthy eating. (Variety and moderation are the other two.)  

  • If 1 in every 6 kids between the ages of 2 and 5 is eating pizza on any given day, then we're a country of people who eat too much pizza.
  • A healthy diet is not one that is dominated by one kind of food. Particularly if that food is a huge source of saturated fat and sodium. But even if you're diet were dominated by peas it would not be considered a healthy diet.

You know most people are eating a distorted diet when pizza is the second largest source of refined grains.

And since most people eat refined, not whole grains, I think it is safe to say that pizza is the second largest source of grains in the American diet. Not cereal. Not rice. Pizza.

Source: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 | Chapter Three 

From the habits perspective, a diet that is dominated by pizza is bad news.

One study found that pizza was the #5 source of calories for kids between the ages of 4-8. It was the #2 source of calories for kids between the ages of 9-13.

More proof that habits earned early in life tend to stick around.

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


 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Additional Source: Possible Implications for U.S. Agriculture from Adoption of Select Dietary Guidelines; Reedy, J. and S. Krebs-Smith. 2010. “Dietary Sources of Energy, Solid Fats, and Added Sugars Among Children and Adolescents in the United States.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 110(10): 1477-84.


Valentine's Day Candy vs Pizza

Today is Valentine's Day, and if the Internet and my inbox are tapping into the pulse of the nation at all accurately, there are a lot of parents out there who hate this holiday.

I exaggerate. These parents don't hate Valentine's Day, per se. What they hate is all that candy.

Pizza—not Valentine's Day candy—could single-handedly ruin our kids' eating habits.

I'm not a big fan of the tons of candy that is associated with this holiday, but it doesn't stress me out. Why? It's one day.

Even your kids end up lugging home so much candy that it hangs around your house for a few months, the solution is easy. Read Coping with Party Favor Candy Bags for Kids. It'll give you lots of ideas.

In the long run, how well your kids eat will have a lot more to do with how you handle pizza than how you handle Valentine's Day candy.

Most parents have thought a lot about candy and soda, cupcakes and ice cream. Pizza slides under the radar. After all, it's kinda nutritious.

For the record, I LOVE pizza. If I were ever on a desert island, it's the one food I would want to have with me.

However, the USDA just released a new report, Consumption of Pizza: What We Eat in America. Prepare to be shocked.

Look around you. Who is going to eat pizza today?

  • 1 in every 8 people
  • 1 in every 4 boys between 6 and 19
  • 1 in every 6 kids between the ages of 2 and 5

If there are 18 kids in the average preschool classroom, 3 of them will eat pizza today. Three of them will eat pizza tomorrow. And the next day.

Think of the habits this teaches! Especially when you consider that many (if not most) of these preschoolers are eating pizza-like foods (grilled cheese, cheese quesadillas, pasta with cheese) on all the other days. Read Pizza. Pizza. Pizza.

How many kids eat this much Valentine's Day candy this frequently?

The problem with pizza is that it has just enough of the "good" nutrients to give it a pass.

Pizza has protein, calcium, potassium. Eat pizza and you're likely to get more than half your daily dose of lycopene!! However...

According to The Harvard School of Public Health, pizza is now the leading source of saturated fat in the American diet. 

  • Pizza accounts for 33% of daily saturated fat intake for kids.
  • Pizza also has a ton of sodium: 33% of kids' daily intake.
  • And, when you (or your kids) eat pizza, it accounts for about 27% of your (or your kids') daily calories.

That's from the nutrition perspective.

From the habits perspective, regularly eating pizza has never taught anyone to eat broccoli.

Particularly if your kids eat their pizza as a snack. 

  • Kids are most likely to eat pizza at lunch or dinner.
  • However, 10% of all the pizza kids consume occurs as a snack.

Pizza for snack? That's one hefty (and unhealthy) snack. For the record, this is why it's a mistake to think of snack as a mini-meal.

Eating is really a matter of math.

The kinds of foods your kids get used to eating are the kinds of foods they'll keep eating. Think of taste, texture, experience...

(And by the way, the habits argument is true even if you make your own, home-made, über-healthy pizza. When it cmes to shaping what your kids eat, habits always trump nutrition.)

Does this mean you should never serve pizza?

Not at all. It just means we should put as much (if not more) effort into teaching our kids how to handle pizza as we do into curtailing their candy.

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


 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~