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.
Links

Dinner Together Building Healthy Families One Meal at a Time.

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

Fooducate Like Having a Dietician on Speed dial.

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.

Parent Hacks Forehead-Smackingly Smart Tips

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

Real Mom Nutrition Tales from the Trenches. Advice for the Real World. From a mom-nutritionist who knows!

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

weelicious Great Recipes for Kids 

Tuesday
Aug252015

My Kid is a Super Eater at School but Not at Home

I'm always glad when parents tell me their children are adventurous eaters at school but not at home.

OK, maybe we're not talking adventurous. Maybe your kids are just willing to try something when it is presented by the teacher...or the nanny...or the grandparents...or...well, anyone but you.

It's frustrating. But it can also be a cause for celebration.

When children are willing to eat for someone else, it means:

  • There is no oral-motor issue to resolve.
  • No extreme sensory sensitivites.
  • No medical condition.
  • No psychological condition.
When a child eats one way with one person and another way with another person you're dealing with a plain old, garden variety, control struggle.

You can never win a control struggle by out-controlling your kid.

You might think you've won a control struggle -- your child will eat another bite of broccoli in order to get to the pie - -but this is a false win...you'll have to use the big guns again tomorrow. Read Wheelin' and Dealin': 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Trade Peas for Pie.

Control struggles often look like a game of catch: first I have the ball (control) and then you have the ball (control). We need a new model: shared control.

It doesn't mean the solution will be easy. It does mean that the path is clear.

Here is my 6 Step Plan for Turning Super School Eaters into Super Home Eaters.

This plan is authoritative parenting in action. It combines structure with warmth and compassion. It also teaches the three eating habits: proportion, variety, moderation. 

1. Discuss the situation with your child, in a non-threatening, non-accusatory, non-pressure way: "I have noticed that you are willing to eat mashed potatoes at school but you don't want to eat mashed potatoes at home. Can you tell me why?

2. Don't try to reason with your child. Don't try to talk your child out of eating this way. Don't try to talk your child into eating another way. When kids eat this way, they're not operating with their rational brain. Anything you say to "argue" your point will be met with resistence.

3. Implement the Rotation Rule and the Eating Zones Rule at home.

  • The Rotation Rule, not serving the same food two days in a row, will set a foundation for new food acceptance. It will also provide structure for making eating decisions that go beyond, "This is what I want to eat right now." The Rotation Rule makes eating decisions predictable, not arbitrary, and that cuts down on the fighting.

   If you aren't familiar with the Rotation Rule, read End Picky Eating with the Rotation Rule.

  • The Eating Zones Rule sets a structure for when food is available and when food is not available. This helps children learn the natural consequences of not eating -- they get hungry -- and that they can live with temporary hunger. Both are extremely valuable lessons for kids to learn. The Eating Zones Rule will help YOU remember that a meal or snack is always around the corner. 

   If you aren't familiar with the Eating Zones Rule, read Hunger vs. Appetite.

4. Turn your picky eater into a Food Critic. Explore the sensory properties of food with no expectation that your child will eat food that is being sampled. Read: Unleash Your Toddler's Inner Food Critic.

5. Start serving whatever you want at meals. But be nice, make sure there is always something familiar on the table.  

  • Make sure you rotate through familair foods. In other words, don't put bread on the table every day.
  • Don't make the familiar food a favorite food, such as pasta, except occasionally.
  • It's OK if the familiar food is boring, such as broccoli and/or rice.
  • Consider using a backup. Read How Cottage Cheese Changed My Life.

6. Keep the conversation going. Authoritative parenting combines structure and warmth/compassion. It is a model of shared control, that's all about teaching.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Tuesday
Aug182015

The Parents' Guide to Packing Successful School Lunches Part 3: The Four Packing Rules that Make Lunch Work

You can use lunch to raise kids who:

  1. Eat a wide variety of healthy foods
  2. Know how to put junk into their diets in the right proportion
  3. Don't soothe their souls with sweets and treats

Unfortunately, school lunches often reinforce the wrong habits.

For instance, sending the same lunch every day teaches kids to expect monotony, not variety. You can teach variety without adding new foods to your children's diets. Keep reading.

It's time to switch tactics to the Habits Approach.

This is the third and final post in the series. I laid out the general idea in my first post

The recipe for success: Combine equal parts CONVERSATION and STRUCTURE. Mix and Serve!

Research shows that parents need to strike the right balance between compassion/warmth and structure. In the next two posts I'm going to give you

  • 4 rules that set the Structure that leads to good eating habits
  • 4 rules that set the Conversation that shares control and produces the right amount of compassion/warmth

In my last post I talked about the CONVERSATION you need to have with your kids. Here we're going to talk STRUCTURE: the rules/guidelines that determine what you pack.

The Four Packing Rules that Make Lunch Work 

1. Practice the Rotation Rule: Pack a different lunch everyday.

Serving the same food day-after-day makes lunch easy, but it teaches children to expect monotony, not variety. And while it's tempting to think, it's only lunch, lunch habits play out at other meals and snacks.

The Rotation Rule lays the foundation for new food acceptance.

Put as much variety into the lunch box as your children can tolerate. For some children different means a sandwich one day and a cup of soup and salad the next. For other kids, different means a turkey sandwich one day and a tuna sandwich the next. And for other kids different means the same sandwich cut into different shapes. 

Although a 5-day rotation is ideal, you only need 2 different lunches to implement a minimal version of the Rotation Rule! 

  • Day 1: Turkey Sandwich
  • Day 2: Tuna Sandwich
  • Day 3: Turkey Sandwich

2. Don't pack unfamiliar foods.

School lunch is not the time to experiment with new foods, even if you're children are adventurous eaters. Unless that is, you've let your kids taste test the new food and given it their stamp of approval.

3. Make fruits and vegetables a daily practice. But, honor the Happy Bite.

The more you expose your kids to fruits and vegetables, the more familiar these foods will be and the more willingly your kids will eat them. (It's circular logic, but it's true.) But...

Honor the Happy Bite! What's that? The two or three bites your kids will willingly eat.

You'll get better buy-in for fruits and vegetables (and your kids won't "seek and destroy") if the "challenge" seems "doable." Don't send 1/2 cup of broccoli if your children will eat 3 bites. Send 3 bites.

4. Limit the number of different items you pack to 3 or 4.

Packing too many choices backfires. It's the reason children can't finish their lunches. Or the reason they eat the chips but not the sandwich. Too many choices also scare away kids with small appetites. These kids eat more when they're given less. Think of this as the more is less principle.

Too many choices also encourages picky eaters to be picky. How? By encouraging kids to Seek and Destroy!

Limiting the number of different items you pack probably means you'll have to skip the chips—or chip substitutes such as Goldfish Crackers, pretzels or veggie chips—on a daily basis. And that's a good thing because eating salty-crunchy-snacks on a daily basis teaches kids a daily chip-eating habit.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Tuesday
Aug112015

The Parents' Guide to Packing Successful School Lunches 2: The Conversations You've Gotta Have with Your Kids

If you "listen" to the Internet, you've got to pack super-cute lunches in super-cute lunch boxes.

I've ranted before about how I hate all those fabulous photos of things like quinoa crusted pizzettes and kale salad with lentil sprouts. Too much perfection (and my daugther eats happily eats all those foods). Read Don't Worry About Packing the Perfect Back-to-School Lunch.

Unless your children are already good eaters, those picture-perfect lunchboxes are going to bomb.

It's time to switch tactics to the Habits Approach. In my last post I said: 

The recipe for success: Combine equal parts CONVERSATION and STRUCTURE. Mix and Serve!

Research shows that parents need to strike the right balance between compassion/warmth and structure. In the next two posts I'm going to give you

  • 4 rules that set the Structure that leads to good eating habits
  • 4 rules that set the Conversation that shares control and produces the right amount of compassion/warmth
The Conversation: Authoritative Parenting in Action

Learning to eat right is a process—like learning to walk—that takes time. And just like your kids had to learn the mechanics of walking, they have to learn the mechanics of eating habits, so hang in there.

Here are the rules:

1. Always talk to your children about what you pack in their lunch boxes.

It's easy to forget to talk to kids about what we're packing. Getting pre-approval, though, cuts down on the amount of uneaten (i.e. wasted) food that comes back in the bag.

More importantly, including your kids in the decision-making process, no matter how old they are, is a way of sharing control. Control is what most kids crave.

Set the parameters, then give your kids some input.

  • Tomorrow I can send you with leftover mac 'n' cheese in the thermos or I can send you with a turkey sandwich. Which would you prefer?
  • Will you eat these apple slices if I pack them in your lunch? Or would you prefer grapes?

It's OK to send surprises now and then. Just make sure that any surprise is a welcome surprise—I think you know what I mean.

2. Never pack food that you know your children won't eat, even if that food is healthy.

This is really rule 1A.

Sending food that you know your kids won't eat is one way parents don't listen. It send the message: Your food preferences don't matter. It also means the only way your kids can participate in the decision-making is by not eating. 

If your kids won't eat carrots then sending carrot sticks every day is counterproductive.

And let's be honest, no kid ever saw carrot sticks in his lunch for the 25th time and thought, "Hmmm, today I think I'll give those carrots a nibble!" (Those carrot sticks are there because they make us feel better.)

Repeatedly sending unwanted items gets kids get into the practice of looking for, and setting aside, the food they know they won't eat. I call this practice Seek and Destroy.

It's better to send a slightly junkier lunch that gets eaten than a super healthy lunch that doesn't. (Follow the structure rules that I will give you in the next post, though, and the quality of lunch will change too.)

3. Always talk to your children about how much food you pack in their lunch boxes. 

Send too little food and your kids will get hungry well before the end of the school day. Send too much food, though, and your kids will eat the good stuff (ie the pretzels and the Goldfish) but not the good stuff (the sandwich and the fruit).

Figuring out how much food to send is tricky, but your kids are better at judging this than you are. After all, it's their tummies you're trying to fill. Plus, talking to your kids about how much food they need at lunch is one of the ways they'll master the problem of portion size.

Worried your kids will get it wrong?

  1. Remind yourself that getting it wrong is the way kids learn to get it right, and that we're only talking about temporary hunger here. 
  2. Pack one emergency ration, such as an apple or a nut bar. Tell your kids that this is just a backup if they are still hungry after they've finished the rest of their food.

The solution to a super-short lunch time is to send less food, so eating is manageable. Then, "beef up" snacks. This might seem scary, but sending more food than a child can eat in the alloted time (even if that seems like the right amount of food) produces pressure. It also wastes food.

4. At the end of the day, check in with your children about how things went.

Think of this as your feedback loop, the time when you get to find out why your kids ate the way they did!

  • Did you like the noodles I sent? Would you like them again sometime?
  • I see that you didn't eat your grapes. Why not?
  • Did you have enough (or too much) food? 

Use the information you collect to tweak what and how much you send. Doing this won't only help you pack a lunch that gets eaten, it will help you teach your kids the principles of healthy eating: proportion, variety, moderation.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~