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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« Yogurt on the Brain! | Main | The Ingredients Game »

When The Less Nutritious Choice Is Right

Sometimes giving your kids less nutritious food makes sense -- from a habits perspective.

For instance, it makes more sense to give your kids Birds Eye Carrots and Cranberries, which the folks at NuVal give a score of 22 (out of 100 for top nutrition), than it does to feed your kids Kashi TLC Tasty Little Chewy Oatmeal Cookies, which scores a 40.

Why? The mediocre vegetables get your kids used to vegetables.  The cookies, which in this case, are healthier?  They teach your kids to eat… well, cookies. 

If you want to get your kids to eat vegetables, even mediocre ones trumps those pretty good grains. 

Hoping to expand your kids’ palates beyond the old staples? Or introduce them to a wider variety of vegetables? Some of the foods you find in the market (or the local diner) are ridiculously bad nutritionally but they’re fantastic vehicles for teaching your kids to eat right.

  • Your kids will probably eat the Birds Eye Carrots and Cranberries because it’s made with 3 kinds of sugar, butter and oil: the processed food flavors your kids are used to.

 Get adventurous. Here are some other "losers" worth trying:

  • Aunt Nellie’s Ruby Red Sweet & Sour Harvard Beets (canned) only scores an 8 (because it’s loaded with high fructose corn syrup) but if it introduces your kids to beets, who cares?
  • The creamed spinach at Boston Market has more calories, more fat, and more sodium than the corn.  It even has more calories and more fat than the macaroni and cheese, but give the spinach to your kids and you’ll be getting them used to the idea that spinach is tasty – something they already know about the corn and the pasta.

Don't fear the inferior stuff.  You can always move your kids to healthier versions later.

See Boston Market nutrition information.

Think of your kids as little creatures of habit.  They want to eat the tastes, textures, aromas and appearances they are used to.  And they want to eat them over and over.

The more you expose your kids to the kinds of foods you want them to eat – even if you start with inferior versions of those foods – the better they'll eat in the long run.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~


Sources: accessed 2/4/2010; accessed 2/4/2010


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Reader Comments (8)

I agree. Start with any vegetable in order to get your child used to the idea of eating vegetebles. I started giving my kids canned vegetables as soon as they could eat solid foods. We've slowly migrated from canned green beans to no-salt canned green beans to fresh. This week I made chicken soup loaded with escarole, carrots & celery. My daughter used to pick out the escarole, but now she devours the whole bowl and all the vegetables in it (even the escarole). As for my son, well, this time he didn't say, "Oh gross!" He eats the chicken and the carrots. I'm holding out hope for the escarole!

Great topic, Dina and one that I love to blog about. Here's a link to a post that I wrote about getting your kids to eat their veggies.

February 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

This is a fantastic point. So many parents try straight-up "good for you" veggies and then give up when their kids reject them. Planting the idea that spinach can be tasty (and it is!) is so important for your kids' future eating habits. Sad to say, I have some friends from college who still won't eat their veggies! Teach early that veggies are tasty, or it may never be learned.

February 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterS. Lane

I got forced into exactly this, by my child not taking to any home made food early on and so, I had to give box cereals instead. And then we switched slowly to the healthy home made stuff. It was a battle but finally, worked out ok this way.

May 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRao

I am not a parent yet but I have four adorable "nieces" (quotes because they're really my cousin's daughters) who love fruits and veggies and when I myself was tiny, my mom and nans (grandmother) taught me that veggies and fruits were tasty and I have been partial to produce ever since (just finished a fresh cooked artichoke. Delish!)
Great site and full of good advice for when I am a parent.

October 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSparki

Dina, I love your site. It is SO helpful to me, in my *new improved* attitude toward feeding my family. I only found your site a couple weeks ago, and I'm crazy about it. I've always felt like I should be doing a better job presenting my kids with *real* food, but not sure how to go about it, and with getting flack about what I don't want them to eat from family/friends--it's so hard to counter all the marketing and general perception that processed, packaged, sugary food is ok because it's made especially for kids. Now I feel so empowered with your solid information and a PLAN. My husband and I have always enjoyed home cooking and now I'm so inspired to keep it up. I went home the other day and had my girls (1 and 3.5) do a "carrot experiment" -- they helped me prepare steamed carrots and then doctor them up with different toppings and tell me which they liked best (parmesan cheese won hands down). Score one for carrots! We also made peachy yogurt with pureed peaches and plain yogurt, and they loved mixing it themselves! So thank you ever so much.
Just FYI, the link for Center for Science in the Public Interest on the "Ingredients game" page didn't work for me - I did a search and the web address is

July 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah


Thanks so much for the kind words about the blog. It really is a labor of love!

Your carrot experiment sounds fantastic. I might borrow it for a blog idea one day.

And thanks for pointing out that the link the CSPI didn't work. It's now fixed.


July 13, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

I'm so glad I found your site! I started eating spinach at 16 or 17 because the first time I tried and liked it was in spinach and artichoke dip. Then I graduated to spinach on my sandwiches (I used to be a meat,cheese, and lots of mayo girl!) and spinach salads. It's never to late to start!

January 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

Hi Rachel,

I'm so glad you've found my site too! You're right that it's never too late to start. I hope there are mothers and fathers out there who find inspiration in your story. Thanks for sharing it.


February 3, 2014 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

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