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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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 


Kids and Eating Habits

If you want to change how your kids eat you have to change their habits.

That sounds like the most obvious statement in history. But it's surprising how little we talk about habits—automatic, repetitive behavior that bypasses intention—when we talk about how kids eat.

It's pointless to reason with your kids about eating because they're not operating from their reasonable brain. They're operating from their emotions. 

  • That's why, "Spinach is good for you." fails.
  • As does, "I know you'll like this, if you'll only taste it. Come on, just taste it."

There are three habits that translate nutrition into behavior: Proportion, Variety, Moderation.

But there are lots of habits that happen in the feeding dynamic.

Kids are on autopilot when it comes to eating. They interact with you around food by habit. What your child says may reflect her habit more than her hunger.

That's how they can say they don't like something before they've even sat down at the table. 

Or whine for food...but then not really touch it. Even when kids do eat the snack they've whined to get, it doesn't mean they're hungry. Young kids eat (and whine) out of habit.

When behavior is habitual: 1) people require little information to make decisions 2) intentions are poor predictors of behavior, and 3) behavior is triggered by situational cues.

Habits become stronger when the behavior is repeatedly reinforced by satisfactory experiences.  

In other words, if you want to know why your kids continue to do something...even if it always produces a fight...look for what satisfies. The fight is just the "cost." The "win" is the gain.

The win could be something as simple as not having to eat something. It could be getting you off their backs by taking the tiniest taste (that they don't even really taste). The win could be attention.

The way to establish new habits is to interrupt the old habits.

Almost every strategy I recommend starts with a way to break the old habit.

  • Serving tiny portions stops the back-and-forth about how much your kids need to eat.
  • Being clear that you won't make your kids eat anything they don't want to eat--and focusing on tasting instead--disrupts the pattern of rejection.
  • Scheduling meals and snacks gives parents a way to respond to the begging/whining.
  • The Rotation Rule stops the habit of choosing the same breakfast every day.
  • etc

Strong habits are less responsive to relevant information than weak habits.

In other words, the more entrenched your kids are, the less talking to them about why they should change really works. Behave in a changing way instead.

Ever wondered why kids sometimes say they'll try a new food later, but then they don't?

Intentions predict behavior for people with weak habits, but not for people with strong habits. 

Habits are cued by physical environment (the kitchen or the dining room) but also by social or psychological environments (such as specific moods) too.

Think of this as the popcorn in the movie theater—or snacks in the car…or even the snack before bedtime—phenomenon. 

Keep habits in mind. Then foster the ones you want and disrupt the ones you don't want. 

Habits are created by repetition—how you act, how your child acts—in a stable context. This fosters the development of automaticity.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits~

Source: van't Riet, J., S. J. Sijtsema, H. Dagevos, and G.-J. De Bruijn. 2011. “The Importance of Habits in Eating Behavior. an Overview and Recommendations for Future Research.” Appetite 57: 585-96.


Introducing New Foods: Where to Go From Here?

You've come a long way, baby.

But maybe not as long a way as you would like.

  • The good news is that if you follow this step-by-step, blow-by-blow guide to introducing new foods, it's guaranteed to change how your kids eat.
  • The bad news is that no matter how much progress you make, at some point, your child will slide back.

This is the last installment in my series The Step-by-Step, Blow-by-Blow Guide to Introducing New Foods that's Guaranteed to Change How Your Kids Eat. If you're new, start here.

Here's my last piece of advice...and I'm sorry, it might feel like a downer, but it's meant to be an upper.

You've got to plan for future!

In my experience, kids will "play along" for some amount of time...until they stop. (I hate to be the one to break it to you.)

The thing to remember is that these setbacks are just that...setbacks.

If you have a plan then the setback won't throw you off-track. It will just be a pause. A deep breath. A moment of reflection.

What can you do when your children—who have been doing a really good job tasting new foods— suddenly stop tasting new foods?

  1. Talk to your kids about what is going on in a non-judgmental way.
  2. Take a mini-vacation from tasting.
  3. Take a few steps back. Reverting to an easier step will bring your child back onboard. Instead of tasting, offer a smell, a touch, or just a look.
  4. Pull out the heavy hitters: start offering tastes of ice cream, cookies, etc. This reminds your children that tasting can be fun. Read Take a Walk on the Wild Side.
  5. Remember those shampoo instructions: rinse and repeat.
  6. Have a class of wine!

Got questions? Ask.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


What Do You "Do" with Hungry?

How comfortable are you with hunger? Or more specifically, your child's hunger?

Not real hunger, as in starvation. Temporary hunger. Your answer to this question will determine a lot about how successfully you can introduce new foods at meals.

Quick Catch-Up

  • You've grown a good taster. This might have taken a few weeks. It might also take a few months.
  • You're ready to introduce new foods at meals, with the idea that possibly...just possibly, your child will actually eat what you serve.
  • Still, you ask your child to taste the new food...not with the proviso that "if you don't like it you don't have to eat it." That assumes eating and that assumption is pressure. Rather, you provide a teeny, tiny taste and say, "What do you think? Is it crunchy? Salty? Sweet? Ask anything but, "Do you like it?"
  • You have put something on the table that your child can be reasonably expected to eat. This ensures he won't starve.
  • You have used a backup. This really ensures that your child won't starve.

(If you're new to this series on introducing new foods, start here.)

Now, if your child doesn't eat...or doesn't eat enough...what do you do?

Nothing. This is why you have to be comfortable with your child's temporary hunger.

If you do anything—say, provide another alternative or beg, cajole or even bribe your child into eating more—you'll undermine your efforts. The message: Your hunger is powerful. Your hunger makes me jump. You don't really have to eat anything I've prepared because if I think you're hungry I'll prepare something else. 

When hunger is power the normal parent-child relationship is reversed: the kids hold the keys.

Set a schedule for meals and snacks. I call this the Eating Zones Rule.

And then stick to it. Your child has to have the freedom to choose not to eat before he'll have the power to choose to eat. 

This is different than starving out your kid. This is authoritative parenting in action.

You've put sufficient food down, and have created a reasonable meal and snack schedule, to know that your child has enough access to food—and food that she normally eats—to eat if she wants to.

For more, read The Upside of Hunger and Hunger vs Appetite.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Read the next installment in the series.