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 Sugar (62)


The Power of "Fruit"

Q1: Which contains more fruit, Strawberry Pop-Tarts or Mott's Apple Juice?

Think that's a trick quesiton? Tempted to say, "neither?" Well here's the shocker: the Strawberry Pop-Tarts win because they have trace amounts of dried strawberries, dried pears, and dried apples. The Motts Apple Juice? Nada.

Source: depositphotos

  • Of course, the Pop-Tarts are loaded with sugar. My quick count reveals at least 4 different kinds of sugar. 
  • But here's the thing: the Mott's Apple Juice contains only water, sugar and Vitamic C. In other words, it's vitamin-fortified sugar water. Read Water vs Punch and Soda.

Q2: Which is healthier, Strawberry Pop-Tarts or Mott's Apple Juice?

If you're like most people, you'll say it's the juice. And on some dimensions, you'd be right. After all, the Pop-Tarts are loaded down with preservatives.

But here's something else....

Research shows people think products that contain "fruit sugar" otherwise known as "fruit concentrate," are healthier than products that contain plain old sugar. It's the power of symbolic wording.

Here's one study.

Participants were asked to evaluate two children's cereals that were identical in every way except:

  • One label said "sugar." 
  • The other label said, "fruit sugar." 

(The study was conducted in a German-speaking part of Switzerland where they call fruit concentrate fruit sugar.)

Participants consistently evaluated the "fruit sugar" cereal as healthier than the "sugar" cereal. Even people who were rated as being health conscious were just as susceptible to this belief.

You know the power of marketing. And that marginal foods can benefit from the health halo emanating from healthy foods.

The health halo isn't limited to fruit. For instance, adding yogurt to raisins, nuts or pretzels can make them seem healthier. In reality, though, that yogurt coating is some combination of partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, whey powder, yogurt powder and sugar. YUM! Read Is "Yogurt-Covered" Really Yogurt?

But consider this...

One reason consumers are swayed by the fruit health halo is the pressure to get fruit into our kids makes us do crazy things.

Use "Fruit" To Teach Your Kids Healthy Eating Habits

1. Talk to your children about food in terms of the kinds of food they are and the habits they produce, not what ingredients they contain.

In this model, muffins are cake, juices are sugary beverages, fruit strips are candy.

2. Don't ban muffins (or cakes), juices (or sugary beverages) or fruit strips (or candy).

Think about proportion (how often your kids eat different kinds of food). Teach your kids to eat these treats infrequently. (Yes, that daily muffin habit has got to go.)

3. Stop talking "up" fruit. Just start eating it.

The real stuff. And the more often, the better.If you must talk it up, talk about how tasty it is, not how healthy it is. Read Fruits and Vegetables at Every Meal and Every Snack--Every Darned Day.

4. Educate your kids about the health halo marketing strategy.

Research shows that parents can disrupt (though not eliminate) the influence marketers have on our kids. Read Revealing the Truth in Advertising.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Sutterlin, B. and M. Siegrist. 2015. “Simply Adding the Word "Fruit" Makes Sugar Healthier: the Misleading Effect of Symbolic Information on the Perceived Healthiness of Food.” Appetite 95: 252-61.


Halloween Candy

The essential question about Halloween is, What to do with all that candy?

But here's a better question: Shouldn't parents just prevent the candy problem in the first place? 

(Rest assured, I'm not going to suggest that your prevent your children from trick-or-treating.)

There are three easy ways parents could lighten the candy load.

With regard to trick-or-treating, you could:

  1. Limit the amount of time 
  2. Limit the number of houses
  3. Limit the size of the bag

I gently proposed this on my Facebook page yesterday to one reader. She replied that Halloween is a social time and she didn't want to rain her her kids' parade.

I get it. And I think this reader's thoughts represent mainstream opinion. I really appreciate that she shared it. Moreover, this exchange got me thinking.

Here, in no particular order, is a look into my brain:

1) As a culture, we're psycho. Think Jekyll and Hyde. We glorify and then villify sweets and treats. Just look at how people ooh and ahh over cake and cookie pictures/recipes on the Internet. Then listen to the chatter about how sugar is the devil. Halloween is just one representation of this dynamic.

2) Another mixed message: Bigger is better; Don't eat too much. There's no question that in America we value BIG and Halloween is no exception. There is a lot of excitement promoted about getting as much candy as you can score. But then...after the fact we tell kids they can't eat it all.

3) Not setting collection limits subtly teaches gluttony. "Get as much as you can, regardless of whether or not you like that particular candy, and regardless of whether you'll actually be able to eat it all," is an unintended lesson of Halloween.

4) The Halloween Culture also teaches kids that it's more important to preserve fun than it is to prevent waste. This teaches a cavalier attitude towards food (even if we can all agree that candy isn't really food). Even sending excess candy to the troops sends a mixed message: you can't eat too much candy, but the troops can.

5) What would happen if we taught kids to collect enough? I think of this as "greed" vs "plenty." Collection limits might teach children to collect only the candy they really wanted, giving the stuff they don't love a pass. Now that's a life lesson we should all learn!

6) Why do we think kids can't have fun on Halloween if they're not trick-or-treating the entire time? Consumption limits don't automatically mean that kids have to go home when they hit their limit. The social part of Halloween remains. So why would we want to teach our children that the only way to have fun is to get more candy? Especially when more is the problem.

 7) Why doesn't our national dialogue include a discussion on consumption limits as a viable way to control candy consumption? Put another way: why does preventing the problem feel so un-American, but controlling candy consumption feel so right?

8) We already set limits in ways that can "ruin" our kids' fun. Take bedtime, for instance. Why does setting limits on candy collection, then, feel so bad? (This is kind of the same question as #6, I know. But that's how my brain works!)

I've written a lot about what to do about Halloween candy after the fact.

Most recently I wrote about this in a post on Psychology Today: 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Dump Your Kids' Halloween Candy.

My essential point, which I think you can tell from the title, is that dumping your kids' candy teaches the wrong lessons. What's more, you can actually use Halloween to teach your kids healthy eating.

But now, I'm thinking in a more complex way.

Candy is the Purpose. Candy is the Problem.

And it's this dynamic that makes Halloween a tinderbox for teaching eating habits. Halloween is a one-day event, but the lessons our kids learn are enduring.  

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Nutella vs Cake Frosting!

If you give your kids Nutella for breakfast, you'd be better off giving them Cake Frosting instead!

  • From a nutrition perspective, Nutella is a disaster. 
  • From a habits perspective, Nutella could be a disaster. It depends on how you use it.

Check this out:

I know that Nutella is anything but healthy.

And yet, I see people acting as if it's healthy.

I was at an event with kids recently and Nutella was provided, presumably instead of peanut butter (due to potential allergies). Everyone acted as if eating Nutellas was equivalent to eating peanut butter. It's not.

(There were also yogurt tubes, as another "healthy" option...don't get me started on the difference between healthy foods and treats.)

For me, the issue is about HABITS.

The folks at Nutella want you to think that Nutella is great for breakfast. Have you seen their ad? 

"It's a quick and easy way to give my family a breakfast they'll want to eat," the actress says.
"And Nutella is made with simple quality ingredients like hazelnuts, skim milk and a hint of cocoa."

Here are the REAL Ingredients:


No wonder "Breakfast never tasted this good." 

Read about the mom who won the class action suit againt Nutella for false advertising. 

I can hear the objections now. At least Nutella has...

  • Hazelnuts—Over 50 per 13 ounce jar! That amounts to about 4 hazelnuts per serving. Throw a couple of hazelnuts on your kids' chocolate frosting.
  • Protein: 2 grams per serving! 


  • Two tablespoons of peanut butter has 7 grams of protein. And...
  • Your kids can pick up 2 grams of protein by eating 1/4 cup of green peas.

I'm not seriously suggesting that you give your kids cake frosting for breakfast.

But if you did, it would be more honest. 

  • Use Nutella as a substitute for chocolate sauce if you like the flavor of hazelnuts.
  • Don't use Nutella to "get" your kids to eat breakfast, as the ad suggests. It's a compromise that could ruin your kids' habits.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~