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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Tuesday
Mar292011

Donuts vs. Muffins

If you give your monster a muffin in the morning, consider doling out a donut instead.

  • Donuts score better in the nutrition department. (Now that’s something I never thought I would say!)
  • Parents are also more honest about them.  We teach our kids that donuts are indulgences, not healthy foods.  I wish they would tell their children the same thing about muffins.

After reading the stats on muffins, you’ll be tempted to start searching for healthier muffins.  Don’t do it!  

The nutritional gain only seems good because the numbers start off so bad.  The effect on your kids’ eating habits, however, will always remain the same—even if they're eating super-de-duper, beefed-up, nutritional-gold-medal, powerhouse, mighty-muffins.

Regular muffin-eating doesn’t just teach your kids to like muffins, it teaches them:

  • What kinds of food people eat in the morning.
  • How often people should eat muffins compared to other foods.  Every muffin morning isn’t an egg morning, for instance.
  • To gravitate towards the taste and texture of baked goods, rather than towards the experience of fresh foods.

And the list of lessons goes on…  Read When is a cookie NOT a cookie?

Muffins have mistakenly acquired a halo of health.

Don’t be conned.  Think of muffins as the Lady Gaga of baked goods— they’ve acquired a better reputation than they deserve.  At Dunkin’ Donuts, though, even the cookies fare better than the muffins.  Check out the Dunkin’ Donuts Nutrition Guide, and you'll see what I mean.

Could the muffin-halo-hype really be about the bran (which muffins rarely contain anymore)?

Dunkin’ Donuts sells 70 different kinds of donuts and 7 different muffins.  Here are the numbers.

Donuts have FEWER CALORIES than muffins!

  • 50% of the donuts deliver 310 calories or less.  Only 3 donuts pack in more than 490 calories and the worst one has only 555 calories.
  • All of the muffins have 450 calories or more; 40% have more than 600 calories.

Donuts have LESS SUGAR than muffins!

  • 97% of the donuts contain less than 24 grams of sugar.
  • The muffins all have 35 grams or more.

Donuts have LESS FAT than muffins!

  • The average donut has 16 grams of fat.
  • The average muffin has 20 grams of fat.

Donuts have LESS SODIUM than muffins!

  • 50% of the donuts have 340 mg of sodium or less; 81% have less than 400 mg of sodium.
  • All the muffins exceed 400 mg of sodium (and the corn muffin tops out at 840 mg).

Wondering about the good nutrients?

Muffins WIN on protein!

  • Each muffin delivers 5 grams or more of protein.  In contrast, only 27% of the donuts pack the same protein punch.  Most donuts deliver between 3-4 grams of protein instead.

Donuts and muffins TIE on fiber.

  • Donuts and muffins average 2 grams of fiber each. 

“But my kid only eats half.”

Instead of thinking of half a muffin as portion control, think of half as a challenge.  It's like saying to your child, “You can only handle half now, but wait until you’re a little older. Then you’ll eat the whole thing.”  (Don't believe me? Think of the last time you saw a non-toddler-type person stop at 1/2 a muffin.)

But even full-grown adults don’t benefit from downing a gargantuan glob of baked goodness.  Does anyone really need to blow ¼ of their daily calories on a sugar-laden land mine?

Treat all baked goods as if they were donuts and you'll teach your kids how to fit them into their diet in the right way. 

Kids who eat muffins more often than they should become adults who do the same—unless they retrain their habits later in life.

 ~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

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Reader Comments (20)

Costco sells muffins that are huge! Bigger than Starbucks, and Starbucks muffins are already pretty big. We call Costco muffins cake and cut each muffin into 4 pieces for dessert for the whole family.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterM

We teach that unless we make it at home, it's a junk food. We are kind of hard core on the processed foods, especially those with flour (whole wheat even) and sugar. There is nothing good about manufactured foods, doesn't matter if it's a donut or muffin. At least in my book.

I make muffins at home and they have 1/2 cup of ground flax, use olive oil many times for the fat instead of butter and I add almond flour to increase the protein. I am starting to be a bit more Paleo and use maple syrup or honey as sweetener, which I usually halve the amount of, especially if adding bananas to the batter.

I wouldn't bake with any flour whatsoever but our toddler doesn't like the texture of almond flour muffins.

I do buy some cereal bars for the times I haven't baked. Life happens. We're not perfect, but our family food culture is that none of the processed stuff is healthy and it should not be a big part of our diets.

M

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPOP

The problem with making healthy muffins is that your kids won't always be so discerning, and you're not going to bake for them forever! That means one of these days they'll be satisfying their muffin-habit with the subpar variety, unless, as you say, they stay away from processed/restaurant food in general. Teaching kids that muffins are healthy, when most muffins are not, teaches them the wrong lesson. Better to teach them that muffins are a treat and then to give them the healthy kind you bake up - then they would learn the right lesson and get the right nutrients.

And, for kids who won't go near fruits and vegetables (I know that doesn't describe your kids), regular muffin-eating pulls their habits towards the cake, cookies, donuts, etc. which they already enjoy and away from the healthy foods we want them to eat.

In my book, muffins are an occasional treat no matter how they're made. It's not what you eat that matters; it's how often you eat it that is important. Sorry.

Dina

March 30, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

As with all habit changing things, the theory sounds good, and the practice seems impossible. My challenge is that my 2 year old won't eat his veg. I would do the hard sell "eat what's in front of you", except that I'm also still breastfeeding at bedtime, which means that he makes up for his hunger by drinking more for his night time feed. I bake muffins for him, with veggies in it (no sugar), and adding mung bean flour, oat flour & whole wheat flour, and this is one way that he at least gets some vitamins. He doesn't mind the taste of the veg - he doesn't even get that far.
Any suggestions?

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Chadwick.

Janet,

I don't think that you have to resort to the "hard sell," but you can't think of foods in isolation - How do I get my kid to eat vegetables? - because eating is a system and it's the overall set of foods that influence consumption of individual items. In other words, while you beef up the muffins to get some vitamin nutrients into your child you are feeding the kind of food that will move your child away from vegetables. The answer to your question is more complicated than I can provide here but getting kids to eat vegetables involves rotating through a selection of foods so your child doesn't get stuck on a small set, it involves stressing fresh food (any fresh food) over baked and/or processed and/or bready/crunchy food, not pressuring (or bribing) kids to eat vegetables and, above all, taking a deep breath. It would be better to sacrifice the few nutrients you get into your kid with the vegetable muffins for a short while and teach the right lifetime habit than to sacrifice the lifelong habit in favor of the few nutrients. How much can your child actually take in from the muffins? Not more than a vitamin pill could supplement for a few months while you get the other eating on track. If you want more specific tips, contact me and we can talk.

Best of luck,

Dina

March 31, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

Come on!!!! This post bums me out. I make mini muffins all the time and love having them on hand in the freezer. This is probably yet another example of how I want my kids to eat healthy in theory, but at the end of the day they eat like I do.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

Oh I'll be baking them my whole life. I can't eat the processed stuff, not if I want to live a healthy life. My toddler cooks with me and I fully anticipate handing the muffin operation over to her when she's about 10. She'll know why we do what we do. She'll be looking at nutrition labels with me, she will see my health issues and we have several great books that go through the health benefits of fruits and vegetables.

I am pretty sure she' s going to do a pretty good junk food binge during adolescence. I think that can be hard to avoid. By then, though, about 80% of us will be pre-diabetic according to scientists. So I expect the way my family eats will become more normal than not and it will, hopefully, make a positive impact on the junk or at least the perception of it.

M

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPOP

On the Veggie note... I started making veggie trays as appetizers for parties or when we had friends over and noticed that my kids were plowing through them. Mostly I think because they were hungry and the veges were what was available at the time. Now if I know that a dinner might not be a big hit, I put some veggies out on a plate without even saying anything- they always get eaten. At least then I know that if they haven't eaten their meal, they had something healthy.

On another note, we recently added fruit as a dessert "option" -as per one of your posts- trying to move toward a healthier model (dessert is a tradition in our house that is not going down without a fight). My kids were thrilled with it! They are so excited when we have fresh berries and they can have them for dessert. Now I just wish there was a less expensive and easier way to keep up with the demand!

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCLP

I get what you are saying and I do agree that muffins just don't have a spot on the breakfast table. They are a treat, regardless of how they came about and how much spelt and flax and grated carrots they might contain. I think the problem for me is that junk food is claiming more and more ground and I resent it. I can make a perfectly healthy and tasty pizza, a delicious and nutritiously well balanced hamburger and so on. How many foods are we going to avoid just because there are junk food labels on them? I mean there is "chicken noodle soup" in a freeze dried bag. I will not stop viewing "soup" as a healthy meal just because of that. Potatoes are more than french fries and apples are more than fruit leather.

So I get your point and I think you are right, but it frustrates me!

April 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThy

Thanks everyone for the comments. Let's remember that all foods have a place in the rotation, but even the healthiest ones only get a place. No food should be "overused" and that's the point about muffins.

And we should be honest about what we tell our kids about foods and their place in the rotation.

CLP: Glad to hear that the fruit dessert tip worked well for you. Your veggie tray sounds great too!

Dina

April 4, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

Hmmm, while I normally agree with most of what you say I have to take exception to this post. Perhaps you should clarify that comparing store-bought donuts and muffins maybe the numbers come out a bit more equal (if indded that is the comparison you're making which I'm guessing it is since you are using Dunkin' Donuts for the comparison) But how can I believe the that homemade muffin I make that includes whole wheat flour, (no sugar added) whole bran cereal, shredded carrots and apples, raisins and buttermilk with a quarter cup of sugar per recipe that my kids LOVE is worse than any donut? When I make muffins at home they nclude high quality ingredients like ground flax seeds, whole wheat flours, fresh fruits, oats, organic plain Greek yogurt and minimal sugar, etc. They are a protein and fiber filled and rarely the only thing on the plate. I'll take that over a sugary cereal or donut any day.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeal Plan Mom (Brenda)

Brenda,

I agree that your muffins are probably healthier than a donut, however, I don't think it matters it terms of teaching our kids how to put baked goods appropriately into their diets. Kids learn the same lessons about foods whether they're made "healthy" or not. In fact, making super healthy muffins can mislead kids into thinking that muffins -- all of them -- are healthy. But even healthy muffins shouldn't be eaten every day, and when parents serve them to kids too often, kids are more reluctant to eat the real deal -- fruits and vegetables. And no matter how healthy your muffins are, they're not apples, asparagus, etc.

I love muffins and other baked goods. It's just that muffins have somehow been honored with a reputation they don't deserve. Are yours top shelf? I'm sure they are. But it's the habits I'm after.

Dina

April 5, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

I'm another one who includes muffins as part of a breakfast rotation. BUT, they are home-made muffins. Probably one a month, I make a batch and until that batch is gone, it's part of breakfast (along with fruit, plain yogourt).

I do think they are an okay food to eat when made at home (I just made a batch with peanut butter, banana, ground flax and chia, and quinoa and buckwheat flours. Mine don't bear a large resemblance to the muffins sold elsewhere because they are like 1/3 the size! If I'm in a position where I need to grab a fast-food breakfast for my kid, I'm more likely to get a whole-wheat english muffin with peanut butter, or egg and cheese.

Like you say though, it's all about variety - with breakfast, some are sweeter (like muffins), some are more savoury (like eggs). Sometimes I'll make a big breakfast bake (http://www.cleaneatingmag.com/Recipes/Recipe/Lightened-Up-Mommas-Egg-Delight.aspx), which is super handy to grab first thing in the morning. Other times, it's toast and almond butter. And always fruit with breakfast (this morning it was canteloupe....other times, oranges, kiwi, berries, etc.).

I'm curious, what is your stance on milk? My kid doesn't really like it and I don't force it....but then I end up feeling a bit paranoid because kids her age (2.5) are apparently 'supposed to' drink like 2 cups/day. I don't think that's ever happened here.

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

Damn you Dina... you make such good sense, even though it pains me to hear it! Like many of the above posters, I also make my own muffins (1/8 cup sugar & 1/6 cup oil per 12 muffins, lots of whole grains & veges), although I serve mine as a snack or as part of lunch, not breakfast, to my 2 yr old. But you're so right... while MY muffins might be healthy, it's likely that once he grows up a bit, he'll be exposed to those "bad" muffins, but still be drawn to them because of the habit of eating muffins that I've instilled in him. I'm so glad I came across your blog while he's still young and the bad habits aren't totally ingrained (no pun intended!). I'll still keep making my muffins, but they might become a once-a-week snack, rather than the once-a-day snack they currently are.
Great blog by the way... I discovered it yesterday afternoon, and I've already read back as far as May 2011 (as well as many older posts, where they were linked)!! I implemented the soup course idea last night (huge success, and meant it didn't bother me so much that he didn't eat his peas at dinner), and today we talked about & tried the "no foods from yesterday" and "one-one" approaches, as well as allowing him to spit out some food if he didn't want to swallow it. So far today we've had no salty or sugary "kids snacks"... and he hasn't seemed to notice! I also made sure that I've been eating what he's eating today (I figure I need to practice what I preach, and that these lessons might teach me some healthier eating habits too... I think I'm more addicted to his animal crackers than he is!!).
I'm struggling with the veges for breakfast idea though. I'm think I'm gonna stick with traditional breakfast foods, but I'll change things up a bit for him - rotate between a couple of different (unsweetened) cereals, plain oatmeal, toast with peanut butter or marmite, plain yoghurt with fruit, etc - rather than the cereal that we currently eat almost every day (occasionally one of the others, but usually cereal). But I'll start giving fresh fruit with every breakfast, too. My husband & I make fresh-pressed juice every morning, which my son loves (the vege stuff too!), so I think I'll stick with that as the "veges" for breakfast, but make sure to introduce proper veges at every other snack & meal. I know you're not a big fan of drinking veges, but if we're drinking it ourselves, it seems hypocritical to not let him have any. I think we'll just start making more vege-heavy juice recipes, and explain to him that vege juice isn't a substitute for eating veges, it's a supplement.
Thanks again for all your great (sensible) advice! I look forward to reading future posts (and finishing reading the historic ones)!

September 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVestifarian

I think you've made the mind shift. Congratulations! Let me know how it all goes.

Thanks for your kind comments. (And don't worry about the veg at breakfast...you get the point.)

Dina

September 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

This is an example of a great post, folks are taught that junk food is food that tastes great, well true
to an extent,fatty foods may taste great, but they don't satisfy you, same with carbs. the media plays a role, its almost like religion or lent, you must be punished and put away your earthly desires,
but yes english muffings ok, bagels ok (not even counting the cream cheese"), bread ok , even though there is whole wheat and healthy bread , many artisan breads are not.

I do however, have a comment to make though, a healthy muffin in a smaller size, with fruits and fiber is probably better than a sugar bombed donuts, the trouble with muffins though is folks usually don't split it, its not really designed to be split into half, in part because it comes apart, let me take an international perspective here, south indian food for example is full of carbs, rice, flour products, breads, etc, eliminating the sweets and desserts of which some don't taste that sweet but are loaded with carbs, may not render scorn, similarly folks don;t focus on salt.

Having said that, a child is more likely to eat healthy food all the more over, even if it doesn't taste the best in exchange for 2-3 small cookies or one glazed dougnut, its more tasteful and a satisfying reward than a muffin even if that muffin has chocolate and banana and taste disgust

November 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKris

I have a very hard time with this post. Healthy homemade muffins are much better than a handful of crackers or pretzels. Mostly all crackers and pretzels available in stores are made with solely refined grains and they are all easy to overeat. I would much rather have my son eat a muffin than crackers or pretzels, which I never buy him. I agree with the others that the message you need to send is the difference between homemade and processed and knowing what is in the foods you are eating. Almost all processed foods need to be limited, not just muffins at Starbuck's.

August 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJaime

Jamie,

Many, many people serve their kids healthy, homemade muffins on a regular basis and then don't understand why their kids don't eat right, otherwise. My point, and I stand by it, is that we have to be honest about the food we serve and think about the habits we are producing. Of course, it's better to eat a healthy muffin than an unhealthy one, but regularly eating muffins isn't a healthy habit -- especially when children eat it instead of other kinds of foods. Muffins need to be built into the rotation, not served everyday.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

Dina

August 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

I understand your point and I know no one's going to type a comment here that's going to cause you to feel differently, but I personally am not buying it. The business about habits kids learn has some merit but when you live in a metropolitan area (especially) and/or your kids aren't hermits or don't live in a bubble, they are going to learn ways of living and ideas about eating not just from mom and/or dad and/or grandma/grandpa, but from their peers and from the relatives of their peers and from advertising that is ubiquitous that they cannot be shielded from. One of the first words my daughters learned was McDonald's, and believe me I didn't teach it to them. Therefore, in my opinion, a parent is not going to be able to stop a kid from thinking muffins and donuts are a way of life, actually, an entitlement. So, I believe, for kids to not end up with diabetes by age 18, it's not going to be because you rarely served them a muffin - they'll get it elsewhere - maybe not at 5 years old, but at 16 years old? You bet. - it will be more about (along with praying that on their own, at some point, they'll come to an appreciation of moderation in all things) teaching them to ask the question - what's in this thing? And to realize the answer to that question is going to vary potentially considerably from store to store, house to house, venue to venue. There are ways to make a muffin somewhat healthy, or perhaps, relatively less unhealthy. There is NO WAY to make a circle of dough that is DEEP FRIED healthy... or if there is a way, it's probably some sort of space-age technology that few people will encounter or be able to afford.

September 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEricTN

Erin,

Thanks for your comments. I understand where you're coming from. I live in an urban area with all the same bad eating influences you describe. That's why I believe the only solution is to teach our kids how to navigate the food world from the get-go. I know you agree on that general principle. Where we differ seems to be on what we think we need to educate kids about: I think habits (i.e. behavior -- when, why, and how much to eat) and you think nutrition.

But I think you have missed my point. I am not saying that donuts are healthy. I'm saying that at least we're honest with our kids about donuts when we give them donuts to eat. Most muffins aren't healthy (though, like you, I make healthy versions at home). However, when children get used to eating muffins on a regular basis, they eat muffins on a regular basis. And that's the problem. I defy you to find a nutrition/health professional who would advocate muffin-eating on a regular basis. So, that's my point: it's not what you eat, so much as how often you eat it.

And, by the way, my daughter also knew about McDonald's from the world. And I combated this potential problem by shaping her habits. If knowledge about nutrition were all it took to eat a healthy diet, Americans would be the healthiest citizenry in the world. Never before has a nation known so much about nutrition yet eaten so poorly. It's clear we need to new mindset. (Plus, the research shows that other countries like France, don't emphasize nutrition, yet they eat more healthily.)

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Dina

September 23, 2013 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

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