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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Dinner Together Building Healthy Families One Meal at a Time.

Food Politics Marion Nestle's intelligent take on the politics of food and nutrition.

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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.

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Raise Healthy Eaters One of the best blogs (other than my own) for learning to raise healthy eaters.

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Entries in Snacks (58)

Tuesday
Jan132015

Cognitive Scripts: How Kids Learn When and What to Eat

When you go to the movies, do you always get popcorn?

If you do, that's probably because you have what's called an cognitive script for going to the movies. Congitive scripts tell you what normally happens in different situations--and in what order.

  • Buy movie ticket.
  • Buy popcorn.
  • Watch movie and eat popcorn!

Cognitive scripts work because they simplify decision-making and guide behavior. 

Kids have congitive scripts too.

And guess what: they develop those scripts early on. Maybe even by the age of 2. Certainly by the age of 3.

Maybe you know where I'm going with this...

Every time you serve food in a given situation, you're helping your children write a cognitive script.

My infant daugther cried every time she was in the car. It didn't take long for me to learn that if I fed her in the car she didn't cry. It didn't take long for my daughter to learn that every time she was in the car she got a snack.Talk about a bad eating habit!

Here's the study: Kids between 4 and 6 years old were asked to tell researchers about what usually occurs during playdates, when they go to the movies, or when they attend a sporting event.

The children were asked to name four things that occured on each of these occasions. And this is what the reseachers learned. 

  • 54% of the children mentioned eating on playdates
  • 74% of the chidlren mentioned eating at the movies.
  • 54% of the children mentioned eating at sporting events.

When researchers asked kids who didn't mention food if they ever ate during these events, the numbers jumped. For instance, now 71% said they normally ate on playdates.

This was a small study, but it makes perfect sense, especially when you think about how habits form...and how hard they are to break.

I know what you're thinking: what's wrong with eating on a playdate?

My answer: nothing. Unless your children develop a cognitive script which makes them think that playdates and food always go hand-in-hand.

  • Or a cognitive script that tells them that playdates mean cookies.
  • Or a cognitive script that tells your children that tantrums are followed by food. 
  • Or a cognitive script that dinner=pizza. (I know kids like this.)

Cognitive scripts shape people's behavior and expectations in the long run.

That's something to consider. Especially because research shows: 

  • Children today consume more calories and eat more frequently than children did 30 years ago.
  • One study found that, for school-age children, snacks account for 27% of total daily calories. In comparison, breakast=18% and lunch=24% of total calories.

And while it's tempting to thing that snacking is a healthy habit, the research shows that most kids snack on pretty bad stuff. Read The Snack Attack and Snacks: The Gifts That Keep on Giving, and Change How Your Kids Snack.

What cognitive scripts are you writing with your kids?

And how are these scripts shaping your kids' eating habits? Now that's food for thought.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Musher-Eizenman, D. R., J. M. Marx, and M. B. Taylor. 2015. “It's Always Snack Time: an Investigation of Events Scripts in Young Children.” Appetite 85: 66-69.

Tuesday
Oct212014

Hunger vs Appetite

We have an almost-pathological fear of kids being hungry in this country.

I'm not talking about real hunger. I'm talking about the kind of hunger that people naturally develop in between meals. You know, the old grumbling-in-the-tummy kind of hunger.

So here's the question: "Should I feed my toddler on demand or on a schedule?"

The answer is a hybrid. Feed your child on a flexible schedule that imposes some structure but which is responsive to your child's hunger.

For many parents, helping their children avoid hunger seems like a rational strategy. 

  • Hungry children are prone to meltdowns (and, for some reason, this usually happens when in public)
  • Hungry children don't do well in school
  • Hungry children are sometimes harder to feed

But avoiding hunger is the wrong habit to teach children.

Sometimes a little hunger goes a long way. Read The Upside of Hunger to find out why. Here's one reason:

Toddlers need to learn to connect the feeling (pangs in their tummies) with the problem (hunger) and the solution (eating).  If they never feel hungry, they’ll never learn this connection. 

Help your children build an appetite: Implement the Eating Zones Rule

Eating Zones are regular blocks of time that you create—one for each daily meal and snack. On any given day you can choose one time during each Eating Zone when you will offer something to eat.

Eating Zones help you avoid constant on-demand grazing, but they do not snap you into a rigid schedule.

  • Look at your typical day to see when you normally provide meals and snacks.
  • Account for variables, such as naps, outings, school, or your work schedule.
  • Evaluate when your child is usually hungry, when she is too tired, too hungry, or too distracted to eat. 
  • Use this information to create blocks of time each day when you can serve a meal or a snack.

The importance of Eating Zones is that they designate some times as eating times and other times as NO-EATING times.

You create opportunities for eating, but let your children choose whether and how much to eat.

And if your child wants to eat during a no-eating zone, respond compassionately, but help her wait. And remember...

  • You can always move the next Eating Zone up so the wait isn't too long
  • The wait is where the learning happens

The structure of Eating Zones:

  1. Creates a predictable parenting dynamic. Read You Can't Make Me Eat It! to find out why predictability is important.
  2. Constructively shares control with your child. Read The Hunger Dilemma.
  3. Prevents unnecessary snacking. Read What to Do About Snacks

In the perfect world, children would be taught to eat when (and only when) they were hungry. That's not the world we live in.

But in the world we live in, children are usually required to eat at meal times—regardless of how much or how often they've eaten throughout the day. That is a lesson in overeating.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Wednesday
Aug132014

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.