Recently I stumbled across the most amazing blog. Really, really great. It’s called It’s Not About Nutrition, and the topic is “The art and science of teaching kids to eat right.” Dina Rose, the mom who writes this blog is a sociologist who wrote a book and leads workshops on strategic ways parents can influence their childrens’ palates and food choices, and I’m pretty sure she’s brilliant. The first time I came across this site I probably spent about an hour reading through as many previous posts that I could find. Some of her advice I have heard before, but a lot of it is completely new to me.
The title of the website raises questions because, duh, isn’t the point that we’re supposed to feed our kids nutritious food? And while a great deal of emphasis is given to the importance of eating whole foods, reading labels, avoiding empty calories, limiting sugar, etc… we all know that already, right? OK, well some of us don’t… but most parents are somewhat aware that the goal is to somehow (how?!!) get healthy food into our children and influence them to make their own good food choices. Sounds simple, huh? After all, don’t you just make them do what you say? (“Eat it!!!”) Don’t you just cram that food down their sweet little throats? Not so much. I’m pretty sure that the majority of parents have dealt with the frustration of their children refusing to eat what they serve and the worry that the little dears are going to waste away into nothingness if they don’t get the exact right balance of nutrients. Because it’s not always simple… in fact, I would say that for most of us, it’s rarely simple when it comes to getting our kids to eat the way we want them to. And it can be an infuriating experience, to be honest!
On her website, Dina Rose not only gives information about what’s actually in much of the food that typical American children eat and what to look for when you read labels, but she goes a really giant leap beyond that. She gives strategies. Practical suggestions for how to teach your children to make wise food choices beyond the usual ideas: Bribery, coercion, threats, hiding the nutrition in decadent tasting food…. “It’s not about nutrition” because the point is not to do anything we can short of violence to make sure that our kid has eaten his vegetables…. and it’s not about feeling guilty because you allow treats. And it’s certainly not about hiding the spinach in a brownie. It IS about habits. That we eat all different sorts of food and not just a few kinds over and over. That our food is supposed to be all different colors, and green is a yummy color. It’s about teaching kids what actual food is and what it isn’t. That chicken and green beans and cheese and apples are the kind of food that we eat on a regular basis…. that dessert is ok, but it’s a treat, not a staple. Here’s an excerpt with a good example of what I’m talking about concerning breakfast:
Yes, breakfast is important nutritionally, but it is also the biggest missed opportunity for teaching your kids to eat right…..
….But you probably haven’t thought about breakfast from the habits perspective.
Used correctly, breakfast can teach kids to eat new foods. Used incorrectly… well, you probably know what happens.
Here are three ways to get the most out of breakfast:
1) Use breakfast to get kids used to the idea that they eat different foods on different days and they’ll be more open to new foods.
Most parents settle on the same 1 or 2 things to feed kids in the morning. It’s a busy time, and we want our kids to eat breakfast (after all, we know how important this meal is).
But feeding kids the same stuff all the time gets them used to eating the same stuff all the time. No wonder they balk when different stuff comes around – even if different comes later in the day.
Read Make “New” Work For You.
Tip 1: Rotate the breakfast foods you serve. You don’t need to introduce foods your kids have never eaten. Simply establish the procedure of not serving the same food two days in a row. If you must serve cereal every day, at least switch up the brands and the flavors.
2) Use breakfast to expand the taste, texture, appearance, aroma and temperature of foods your kids will eat and they’ll be more open to new foods.
Most parents think they are providing a variety of foods, but they’re not. Breakfast foods tend to all have basically the same taste, texture, aroma, appearance and temperature.
Toast, cereal, bagels, muffins, French toast, pancakes … they’re all relatively bland, bready products. Some offer a little more sweet, or a little more crunch, but the variation is minimal. That’s because the main ingredient is the same: refined flour.
Read The Ingredients Game.
Tip 2: Pay attention to which tastes your kids gravitate towards and then slowly introduce them to other flavors. Do the same thing with texture (do they only like crunchy?), appearances (are they white or beige eaters?), aromas and temperatures…….. Breakfast: The Most Important Meal of the Day
She also gives practical tips for teaching your child how to taste his food and rate it on a scale from yucky to yummy…. and watch that rating go up and up upon each exposure. I learned several things that I’ve been doing wrong with Evelyne, and a lot of it is simply not offering enough variety. Who cares if what she eats is relatively nutritious, the fact that she wants to eat it every single day is building a bad habit in her that will keep her from having a more open mind toward new food. I’m workin’ on it. I’ll stop here because really, you should just go to her website and read it for yourself rather than me trying to tell you about it! I started making changes in our diet a few months ago, and Evelyne has definitely made some big steps in being more open to new foods, but this website has given me a few more tools and ideas and a new way to approach teaching her about food that I really appreciate. Go check it out!