Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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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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You're Caught in a Control Struggle over Food. Now What?

Want to know why kids play out their control issues around food? 

Control is like beauty, it's in the eye of the beholder.

  • You have to eat your peas before your pie.
  • You have to eat your peas if you want to have any pie.
  • If you want seconds of pasta you have to eat more of your peas.
  • You have to eat 4 more spoonfuls of peas before you can leave the table.
  • You have must at least try a bite of peas.
  • If you don't at least try one bite of peas then you won't be able to watch television later.
  • I'll make you your chicken nuggets but you have to eat your peas first.

You get my point.

We can't try to control our kids around food and then act surprised when they try to control us back. It's a lesson well learned.

Read Raising Lawyers.

I'm not suggesting that you let your kids rule the roost, or in this case, the kitchen.

There's a fine line between structure and control. Structure is good. It's necessary. It's what makes the whole system work. Control? Not so much.

Everytime you control what your kids do--or do not--eat, you are teaching your kids that food is arena for control. It's like deliberately showing your kids when and how to be the most difficult.

Don't think you're being controlling? Guess again. When a team of Pennsylvania State University researchers asked a group of parents and their five-year-old daughters about pressure (which, I think we can all agree is a form of control):

  • Only 26% of parents said they pressured their daugthers to eat
  • 61% of the girls said their parents used pressure tactics to get them to eat

That's a huge divide.

What you can do instead: Kids...

  • Won't eat their veggies? Use the Happy Bite Rule.
  • Want seconds of pasta before they've had their peas? Teach them One-One.
  • Want to leave the table before you think they're done? Implement Eating Zones.
  • Won't try the peas? Teach them how to be good tasters.
  • Want to eat chicken nuggets every night? Use the Rotation Rule.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Should You Healthify the Holidays? Or, How to Make a Skinny Thanksgiving

I don't think I'm the only one who doesn't really want to make Thanksgiving skinny.

Actually, I know I'm not. Sally, of Real Mom Nutrition, and my Happy Bite podcast co-host, copped to some strong feelings about how important it is that her favorite holiday stuffing stay full strength.

Listen to that podcast here.

For my part, I not only think it's OK to eat unhealthy foods over the holidays. I think you can teach your kids the right eating habits by doing so. You just have to rethink the lessons you want your kids to learn.

Here are some ideas from an post that originally appeared in 2011. My thoughts haven't evolved...

I’d like to suggest that, rather than worrying about having a skinny Thanksigivng that you teach your kids three things:

  • Have fun.
  • Enjoy the food.
  • Don’t throw up.

I’m only partially joking.  An incredibly important holiday survival strategy is learning to indulge without grossly overeating, i.e. without throwing up. 

So much attention is placed on one or two celebratory days.  When really, if you have developed the right eating habits, you should be able to go wild—if that’s what you want—for each and every holiday of the year.

Here are some ways to make this happen:

Strategy 1: Eat What You Want

Give up on getting your kids to eat the healthy stuff first.  It might make you feel better, but it won't teach your kids the healthy eating habits you're shooting for. Instead, it will teach your kids to overeat.

Let’s be honest here.  Nobody passes up the pie—even kids who’ve filled up on healthy foods—unless they don’t really like pie (in which case they’ll go for the ice cream, or the cookies…) And if you trade peas for pie (you know…make your kids eat the peas as a condition for getting to the pie) you’ll make the sweet reward even more valuable.

Instead, teach your children to browse the buffet and to fill up on their favorites. 

  1. Tell your children that you want them to eat only the items they really like. 
  2. Then, to help your kids figure out what they really want to eat—assuming that some of the food is unfamiliar to your young children—give them a plate with one bite of everything on offer. 
  3. Finally, tell your kids that after the taste test they can help themselves to anything they want.

For more on teaching kids to be browsers read But What Are You Going to Do with All That Halloween Candy?

Strategy 2: Pace Yourself

One reason that Thanksgiving is a challenging eating environment is that the meal is frequently served at an odd hour, often in the middle of the afternoon.  Families gather earlier in the day and  (It's important not to starve before feasting!) Your kids are going to be tempted by the endless supply of snacks (pretzels, nuts, chips, cheese) and you've got to let them eat. 

However, you can help your children pace themselves.

  1. Offer your children a small meal at an appropriate time (breakfast, lunch and/or dinner if Thanksgiving is late by your children’s standards). 
  2. Tell your children what kinds of foods are coming and when. You know this but your kids probably don’t.
  3. Encourage your kids to save room for favorites that won't show up until later.
  4. Remind your kids to pay attention to their tummies.

Strategy 3: Bookend the Holidays with Healthy Eating

Eating right is a big picture mission. What matters more than how your kids eat on Thanksgiving is how they eat in general. Teach your kids to bookend Thanksgiving with a couple of no-treat days before and after their holiday feast.  Even if Thanksgiving is outrageous, this strategy will even things out.  

Don't think your kids will put up with a couple of no-treat days without a fuss? Stick to your guns. Remember that teaching kids to delay gratification is a good thing.  It’s been shown to lead to healthy eating habits.  Read Healthy Eating for the Holidays.

Still want to healthify the holiday? 

Here are two articles worth reading: 

  • This Huffington Post piece that tells you how to cut calories in your Thanksgiving feast.
  • This USA Today article tells you how to cut sodium.

The skills and habits your children need for a lifetime of healthy holiday eating are the same ones they need to survive the holidays today.

Become your children’s ally, not their food monitor, by teaching your tots a routine for handling the holidays they can use forever.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


The New York Times: "Obesity Rises Despite Efforts to Fight It" 

When will we decide that the way we have been fighting obesity isn't working?  

The New York Times reported today that health officials are surprised and disheartened that the news about obesity is still so grim. About 38% of American adults were obese in 2013 and 2014. That's up from 35% in 2011 and 2012. Read the NYT article.

Sugar consumption is down. Soda consumption is down. Calorie consumption is down. And yet, obesity is up. 

Nutrition education doesn't impact habits as much as health officials hope.

Nutrition education is predicated on the belief that "you do better when you know better." As much as I like that philosophy, it just isn't true when it comes to eating. Indeed, the more we push healthy eating, the more we medicalize the meal. Everyone knows that medicine can make you better, but nobody actually enjoys "eating" it.

People eat for hedonic reasons. Here's one study that proves the point.

It's time to change the conversation from nutrition to habits.

When it comes to nutrition education, we've done an excellent public messaging job. Not so when it comes to habits.

The more you know about nutrition, the more you know about food. Habits tell you how to translate nutrition into behavior. And there are only three habits people need to know.

  • Proportion: Eat the healthiest foods the most frequently
  • Variety: Eat different food from meal-to-meal and from day-to-day
  • Moderation: Eat when youo're hungry, stop when you're full and don't eat because you're bored, sad, or lonely.

Sadly, most people I encounter can name the food groups but they can't name the healthy eating habits. When we don't know how we ought to eat, it's almost impossible to eat the right way.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~