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

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Why I Gave My Daughter Chocolate Cake for Breakfast

I gave my daughter chocolate cake for breakfast this morning and I had some very good reasons!

Reason #1: We broke our Yom Kippur fast last night with a feast, and when we got to the end of the meal my daughter said she wanted some chocolate babka but she was too full.

So I said I'd save it for her.

My message: It is safe for you to forgo the babka tonight because it will be waiting for you whenever you want it.

Have you ever thought about Dessert Insecurity? It's not believing that your piece of the pie will still be there when you're ready for it.

And so we eat dessert, whether or not we want it, and whether or not we're full.

I grew up with a couple of brothers who would devour everything in sight, so I know a thing or two about dessert insecurity.

By the way, I made up the term dessert insecurity, at least as far as I know.

Kids need to know that what is theirs is theirs.

Think of this as Dessert Security.

I highly recommend thinking about Dessert Security anytime you suspect that your kids are eating simply because they need to make sure they get their share of the goodies.

Dessert Security is a useful tool for teaching the habit Moderation. (The other two habits that translate nutrition into behavior are proportion and variety.)

Moderation: Eating when you are hungry, stopping when you are full, and not eating because you are bored, sad or lonely—or worried that your favorite cake will be gone before you get a piece!

This is why I recommend a candy drawer. Read:

In case you're worried about how unhealthy the babka is, it compares pretty well to other common breakfast foods.

Yes it has a lot of sugar, but not more than pancakes with syrup. On the other hand, it has way fewer calories and lots less fat than a bagel with cream cheese. And the babka has as much protein as Honey Nut Cheerios.

By the way, I served the babka with a glass of milk.

Let me be clear: I'm not saying that cake is a healthy breakfast. I am saying that it isn't much worse than some of the standard stuff. You can see the comparisons below.

Most importantly, my daughter knows that cake for breakfast is a treat.

Most kids don't think of marginal breakfast fare as treats. Yes, I'm talking about pancakes, waffles, sugary cereal, muffins or even a bagel with cream cheese.

One serving (1.5 oz) of Green's Babka, Chocolate, Original

  • Calories=160
  • Fat=5g
  • Protein=2g
  • Fiber=1g
  • Sugar=18g

I didn't serve this brand, but the cake I bought didn't have a nutrition facts label.

(For those of you who aren't familiar with chocolate babka, it's kind of like a coffee cake, or a bread, made with sweet yeast dough and, usually, either chocolate or cinnamon. For some funny about babka watch this Seinfeld Episode.)

A plain bagel and cream cheese from a place like Panera Bread:

  • Calories=490
  • Fat=19.5g
  • Protein=13g
  • Fiber=2g
  • Sugar=3g

Honey Nut Cheerios 

  • Calories=110
  • Fat=1.5g
  • Protein=2g
  • Fiber=2g
  • Sugar=9g

Two Eggo Blueberry pancakes without any syrup deliver about 7grams of sugar.  Add the syrup and you’re up in Coke territory.  Two ounces of syrup– I know it sounds like a lot but those small fast food packets contain-- has approximately 32g of sugar. Read Cookies for Breakfast.

My other reasons for dishing up cake for breakfast...

Reason #2: New braces=sore mouth.

Reason #3: The desire to make my daugther happy...but I've confessed before. Read Hot Chocolate to Soothe the Soul. Then read Falafel for Breakfast.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Let's Stop Growing a Nation of Guilty Eaters

What's your guilty pleasure? Translation: What's the thing you enjoy even though you know you shouldn't?


Admittedly, your first answer may have nothing to do with food. But food always makes the list. Brownies. Ice cream. Gummy Bears.

It's time to stop growing a nation of guilty eaters. If you enjoy something, shouldn't you just enjoy it?

Healthy eating doesn't mean banning sweets and treats—or eating them secretly—or eating them alongside a sizable serving of guilt. Healthy eating means building sweets and treats into the diet in a healthy way. And teaching kids to enjoy healthy food. There's a list of things you can do at the end of this post.

Guilty eating is a consequences of a phenomenon I call, "The Medicalization of the Meal," i.e. thinking of food like medicine.

Eat spinach, we are told, because it is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, magnesium, folate, manganese, iron...

In this model, there is no legitimate space for unhealthy food. Honestly, I just saw a post on how to put vegetables in a chocolate dessert smoothie and a recipe for kale chocolate chip ice cream. The only thing that drives this trend is our belief that every bite can and should be healthy.

Is guilt really the lesson you want to pass on to your children? Read Cookies and the Cycle of Guilty Eating.

In America, the food world is divided into good and evil. 

  • Apples? Good. 
  • Brownies? Evil. 
  • Brownies with ice cream?

This would be OK if we thought evil foods tasted bad, but we don't. We think they're awesome. This also is an outgrowth of medicalizing the meal.

By medicalizing the meal we have inadvertently reserved all the good-tasting descriptors for sweets and treats. As a consequence we have come to believe that healthy food tastes bad and junky food tastes GREAT.

 When we talk about healthy food we stress nutrition. 

  • Eat an apple. It's good for you.
  • Eat an apple. It is full of vitamin C.
  • Eat an apple a day. It'll keep the doctor away!

When we talk about sweets and treats we talk about how good they taste.

  • These brownies are soooo chocolatey.
  • These brownies are rich and creamy.
  • These brownies are delicious. 

And the sad news is that even if you think healthy food tastes good, the research shows you subconsciously think junk food tastes better. Read Junk Food=Yum, Healthy Food=Yuk.

One way parents teach kids to be guilty eaters is by making the dessert deal: "Eat your peas and then you can have some pie."

We know we shouldn't do this, but most of us do it anyway. The pressure to get kids to eat vegetables is enormous and nothing gets peas down a kid's gullet faster than dessert.

As you probably know, making vegetables the price your kids have to pay in order to get to dessert makes your kids—shall we say appreciate?— dessert more than they already do. It also reinforces the idea that vegetables are necessary, but eating them is a chore. Yuk.

If this is news to you, or if you want a refresher, read Wheelin' & Dealin': 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Trade Peas for Pie.

5 things you can do to grow a healthy, not a guilty, eater.

1. Teach your kids about proportion. Then teach them to eat their sweets and treats with gusto, to enjoy every morsel. Read Have Your Cake and Eat It Too! and Mark Bittman's Dream Food Label (or how Bittman stole my ideas)

2. Never make kids earn dessert. Read Should My Child Get Dessert If He Doesn't Eat Dinner?

3. Don't talk about "good" and "bad" foods. Read "The Look": How Your Emotions Shape Your Kids' Eating.

4. Increase vegetable consumption by serving veggies more frequently. Read 10 Ways Improving Your Kids' Snacking will Improve YOUR Life and Fruits and Vegetables at Every Meal and Snack -- Every Darn Day

5. With veggies, implement The Happy Bite. Read The Happy Bite.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Does Your Preschool Have a Beverage Policy?

The simplest change preschools can make to improve kids' eating habits is this: Stop serving juice.

I don't mean stop serving juice drinks, like Hawaiian Punch. That's a no-brainer. And everyone knows to eliminate soda. I mean stop serving 100% fruit juice.

  • Hydrating with juice increases total calorie consumption
  • Regularly drinking juice, which is sweet, reinforces the sweet-taste habit. In this way, beverages are related to overall habits.

1) Kids don't compensate for juice calories at snack by eating less food.

In one study: 

  • Serving juice instead of water increased snack calorie consumption by 67%.
  • The bigger the juice box, the more kids drank. When the kids got a bigger water, they drank more water too, but they didn't drink as much MORE as when they drank juice. 
  • The children in this study reported liking the water and the juice equally.

Here are some other reasons to eliminate juice from the preschool snack:

2) In general, kids drink too much 100% fruit juice. And they're not just drinking juice at school.

The AAP recommends that children drink no more than 4-6 ounces of 100% juice each day. However, research shows that children who drink juice consume an average of 10 ounces each day. 

Eliminating juice at school would help bring our kids' juice consumption down to the recommended level.

3) Kids consume too many of their daily calories from snack. Eliminating juice is an easy fix.

Research shows that kids 2-6 years old snack more frequently than they used to, that they consume more calories from snacks than they used to and that more of those snack calories come from beverages, especially juice.

The typical preschool snack, such as a small pouch of Goldfish crackers, delivers a little over 200 calories. Add in a small, 4 ounce juice box, and you add 60 calories. Combined, this snack delivers close to 20% of the average preschoolers' daily caloric needs.

Eliminating juice is the easiest way to reduce calories from snack. And unlike the challenges preschools face when it comes to changing the kind of food served at snack (cost, storage, refrigeration, taste preferences, etc), eliminating juice has no downside.

4) Drinking juice isn't the same as eating fruit. 

Research shows:

  • Eating whole fruit may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, while drinking fruit juice may raise the risk.
  • Whole fruit curbs appetite better than juice.

Read The Juice Generation.

5) Juice consumption can actually reduce vegetable consumption.

In one study, when children were given a sweet juice drink with a vegetable snack they consumed fewer vegetables than when they drank water with their snack.

Read Water vs Punch and Soda.

6) Ounce for ounce, juice often has more sugar than soda.

This graph is hard to read, but click on the image and you can see the original from the Harvard School of Public Health.

  • Cola: 12 ounces = 10 teaspoons of sugar, 150 calories
  • OJ: 12 ounces = 10 teaspoons of sugar, 170 calories
  • Welch’s Grape Juice (not shown): 12 ounces = 13.5 teaspoons of sugar, 210 calories 



~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Sources: Norton, E. M., S. A. Poole, and H. A. Raynor. 2015. “Impact of Fruit Juice and Beverage Portion Size on Snack Intake in Preschoolers.” Appetite 95: 334-40

Piernas, C. and B. M. Popkin. 2010. “Trends in Snacking Among U.S. Children.” Health Affairs 29(3): 398-404.

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.

Center for Science in the Public Interest. 2013. “Fruit 2, Juice 0” Nutrition Action Healthletter,40(9): 8; Wojcicki and Heyman, 2012, American Journal of Public Health, 102 (9): 1630-1633. 

Cornwell, T. B. and A. R. McAlister. 2012. “Contingent Choice: Exploring the Relationship Between Sweetened Beverages and Vegetable Consumption.” Appetite  doi: