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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« Breakfast: The Most Important Meal of the Day | Main | When The Less Nutritious Choice Is Right »
Tuesday
Feb092010

Yogurt on the Brain!

"My child would never eat plain yogurt!"

A lot of parents won’t give their children plain yogurt.  They think it won’t appeal to their kids’ taste buds.

If you had to guess, which taste bud – sweet, sour, bitter, salty or savory (umami) – would you say plays the most important role in determining whether or not your kids will eat plain yogurt?

You probably think sweet is the most important bud; it certainly gets the most use.  But the question is really a trick, because your children’s most important taste bud is the brain.

The brain controls the game. Try this exercise out.

1) Tell you child you’ve got a yummy new treat for her and plunk down a bowl of plain yogurt.

2) Give your child a bowl of plain yogurt and a bowl of brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup. Tell your kid to go wild.

Which strategy is most likely to succeed?

You don’t have to eat plain yogurt plain to reap the benefits.

Now you’re probably thinking that a kid will like anything she can cover in sugar.  But that’s the point.  You aren’t the only one who knows your child likes things coated with sugar.  Your child knows it too. 

(The food manufacturers also know how much kids love sugar which is why they load their yogurts up with the stuff.  Read Yogurt vs. Coke.)

Your child knows she likes sugar.  She also knows she likes the idea of putting as much as she wants in her yogurt.  Put these two facts together and, presto, your kid will eat plain yogurt!

“But what about the sugar?” I hear you asking. “How can this concoction be a step above the sweet stuff they sell in the market? 

Well, believe it or not, your child probably won’t put in as much sugar as you think.  But even if she does, there’s no need to panic: you can always reduce the sugar in time – after your child accepts the idea that she likes plain yogurt.

There are other advantages to doctoring up plain yogurt.

1) It teaches your child what yogurt really is.

2) It gives your child control (which is all she is probably after anyway).

3) Each time your child prepares her brew, it will be different (even if only slightly) and that provides variety. It is variety which opens the door to new foods. (Read How Brands Bite You in the Butt.)

4) Once your child will readily eat the yogurt – no matter the condition – you can start altering the add-ins and your child will still eat it because she knows she likes it.

Here’s how to move your child away from ultra sweet to more healthy:

  • Give your child a smaller spoon to shovel the sugar.
  • Put the sugar in a smaller bowl.  The psychology of portion size will kick in and your child will automatically spoon up a smaller scoop.
  • Give your child a few small bowls of add-ins. Put sugar in one of the bowls and other stuff like fruit, sprinkles, jelly in the others.
  • Put the yogurt on top of fruit instead of putting the fruit into the yogurt. This will make the yogurt flavor more dominant.

Read When the Less Nutritious Choice is Right.

Our kids’ brains set the stage for their taste experiences -- that’s how they can declare they don’t like a dish before they’ve even sampled it.  Use this to your advantage.

By now you’ve probably figured out, this isn’t just about yogurt.

It applies to plain oatmeal (think of letting your kid adding brown sugar, cinnamon, raisins), broccoli (how about some parmesan cheese for sprinkling?) or any of the other real foods you’re sure your kids will reject.

Convince your kids’ brains that they’re going to like something, and chances are they will. 

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~

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Reader Comments (6)

Excellent analysis and suggestions Dina!

I find that my children love plain yogurt the most when I'm eating it. They always ask for a spoonful and another and another until I serve them their own portion. Almost instantly their appetite vanishes ;-)
Same with other foods.
But I guess that's a topic for another blog post.

Your blog is fast becoming one of my favs - great work here.

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHemi Weingarten

Hemi,

Isn't it the case that kids like what's yours, more than what's theirs! And you're right, that is a topic for another post. Hmmm.

Thanks for the kind words.

Dina

February 9, 2010 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

How do I do this with a 15 month old? Previously I've given him Yo Baby, as it took me a while to hear about the major SUGAR issue. I just bought a large Stonyfield Organic Plain thinking I would do as you said, serving it with fruit, et al. I first started with unsweetened applesauce and cinnamon, knowing how much he loves these when added to his cereal, but he gagged. I then tried a combo of pureed rasberries and a bit of honey, again he nearly threw up. What now? He loves applesauce and he loves rasberries....help please, my son is an EXCELLENT eater and I never had to introduce foods 10 times before he ate them and he certainly never gagged before.
Thank you.

August 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoanna

Joanna,

Sorry to hear that your son gagged when you tried to make the yogurt switch. I think it's a sign that you made the switch too fast, or gave him too big a taste.

There are 2 techniques I would try. 1) I would slowly add plain yogurt (maybe even 1 teaspoon or less at a time) to the YoBaby that your son already eats until it is mostly plain. 2) I would slowly add some plain yogurt to the applesauce that your son likes. Once you are at a point where the mixture is mostly yogurt, I would slowly start adding other ingredients.

I hate to break it to you, but your son is just coming into the phase where he'll probably try to exert some more control over his food, so don't be concerned if it takes some time to make the switch.

Good luck and let me know how it goes.

Dina

August 3, 2010 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

Thank you so much for your reply Dina. I am taking it very slowly; went out and bought more Yo Baby/Toddler, and am doing the slow mix process with the Plain Whole Milk Yogurt I bought. Today, for the first time, he ate it without gagging! Yeah, progress! I think it also helped to feed it to him from the Yo Baby container so he didn't realize it was something new. I may have to keep some if those conatiners for a while even after I make the switch entirely.

Again, thank you and take care.
-Joanna

August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoanna

Joanna,

Congratulations on your progress It's hard to keep going when change happens slowly.

I suggest you also try to break the association between the yogurt and the container it comes in. Do this by letting your son see you take the yogurt out of its container and put it into a bowl. (You can accomplish the mix you're using either by mixing it into the original container before you start feeding or by mixing a spoonful or two of plain yogurt into the bowl when your son isn't really paying attention.)

I would also start adding something your son likes into the yogurt, even if it's something like chocolate chips (although raisins or other fruit would be better). Let your son see you do this. Better yet, let him throw in a few add-ins. This will break the association between the container and the exact taste of the yogurt too. Once your son accepts add-ins, expand what you mix in to include healthier options.

Good luck. And remember, this isn't just about yogurt. Once you expand the yogurt your son eats, he'll be more open to other new foods too.

Let me know how it goes.

Dina

August 11, 2010 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

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