Consider this blog a “book report” of sorts. As I have continued my learning journey in all things health and wellness, including nutrition, I have become more aware of the struggles of fellow parents in raising healthy children.
I recently participated in a webinar given by Dina Rose, PhD. Dr. Rose’s experience as a sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert was enlightening for me as someone trying to help coach patients and other parents to make lifestyle changes.
I want to bring together a synopsis of her book, It’s not About the Broccoli, to help other parents help transition their family to eating healthy foods. It’s an important step. You may not think you or your children are sick, but if you stop for a moment to look at the food you eat, you inherently know it isn’t the best. If it isn’t the best, then what does that make it? Is it promoting health?
I have spent a lot of time attempting to be a bit more gentle in my sharing of information with fellow parents and colleagues. Yet, in doing so, I have seen people grab onto the idea that its ok to be “imperfect”. By no means am I arguing that perfection is possible, but a habit of consistency of eating well does equate to mental and physical health today and tomorrow. However, this only works if it is CONSISTENT.
Yet, many of us weren’t raised on a healthy lifestyle and furthermore, we are ill prepared to raise kids with healthy lifestyle habits.
What Dr Dina Rose book has done is narrow down how to help transition the kids to more healthy eating habits…consistently. To be clear, this does not mean the absence of treats. These habits she describes allow one to raise a “super taster”; a child willing to try a variety of foods, able to discern the value of that food to support health and a skill in enjoyment of real food.
What I will list and describe below are Dr Rose’s 10 Messages for parents of which includes the 3 habits to teach your kids for a lifetime of healthy eating.
***My only caveat here is that the research supports that healthy eating is to promote exclusion of wheat/gluten, refined vegetable oils, and refined sugar given their impact on gut integrity, immune health and cardiovascular health. Please re-read past blogs(here, here, here, here) if you need the data or science behind those recommendations.***
These 10 tips are summarized by Dr Rose from her webinar and covered at length in her book. I personally used many of these tips when I transitioned our family even without having a formal plan. Here is a starting point:
10 Messages for Parents to transition Kids for a Lifetime of Healthy Eating:
1. One meal, one family.
Children do not need “child friendly” foods beyond 2 years old.
Yes, it’s true. Despite their resistance to new foods, there is no developmental need for foods different than what you eat as a parent unless there is a medical condition (for example their first day of braces it may be easiest to eat unsweetened applesauce for dinner or if your child unfortunately has a neurological problem that would require special assistance).
2. Focus on proportion, variety and moderation.
Avoid stressing specific nutrients and portions. Breaking whole food down into a specific nutrient and shaming food with portion has the opposite effect in developing lifelong habits. Instead focus on these 3 habits:
3. Eating on demand is unnecessary once weaned.
This also means that there is likely less need for snacking than what we actually thought. Your child will not starve to death without food every 2 hours. In fact, there are many studies demonstrating that intermittent fasting (periods of time without food) is healthful and helps regulate cellular repair and turnover. There may be emotional reasons that we feel the need to feed our children every 2 hours, but the fact remains, that it is unnecessary from a growth and developmental standpoint.
Dr Rose recommends developing “Eating Zones” based on your own family’s schedule. I used something similar but responded to pleas for food throughout the day outside of the Eating Zone with, “The Kitchen is Closed.”
4. Your activity as a parent shapes your child’s habits.
This. Is. Critical.
As a clinician, I have always felt that the reason for my patient’s success has as much to do with the fact that I live much of what I recommend or have at least experienced. The personalized approach comes from focusing in on the client’s problems. The ingredients are the same for all of us, but the recipe is different.
If you want your kids to eat well, then you must eat well. You can not say, “Do as I say, not as I do.” It simply does NOT work.
5. Early exposure to a wide variety of foods will develop children into super tasters.
Although this is important, do not let this discourage you if you have older children. The key is that the older your children are, the more you need to involve them in the process and model the appropriate behavior. There may be resistance, but if you continue to model what you hope to achieve then even as they resist they will come along more and more. Even as the children age it is still about consistency and testing the boundaries. Continue to be clear about the boundaries and provide choices to allow your children to have some control. Yet, all children or all ages need lessons not a free for all or punishment.
6. Fruits and vegetables don’t need to be boring.
Using seasonings and even “sugar” to help kids transition over to the 3 main habits is a great stepping stone for transition. If your child doesn’t eat peaches because they are yucky, then try some “tastings” of canned peaches in syrup. Then the next week move to peaches in juice, then a fresh peach with a sprinkle of sugar and finally a raw whole peach. Obviously, fruit in juice or syrup is not overall the best choice, but used as a tool to transition is acceptable if not necessary.
7. Skip the juice, soda, and Gatorade. Drink water.
There was a study that demonstrated on days children drank sugary juice or Gatorade or punch, they were less likely to eat whole fruits or vegetables compared to the days they drank only water. It has to do with the hyper palatability (aka sugar) that keeps you from eating another food outside of sugary drinks. 1 Simply stick to the fresh water if your goal is to develop a "super taster."
8. Rotation Rule: don’t serve the same food 2 days in a row.
If your child eats a limited diet, then buy multiple varieties of the similar food that you know your child will eat. For example, buy the same brand of cereal but 3 different flavors. Or purchase the same favorite brand of yogurt, but three different flavors. The goal of the rotation is to not eat the same food every day and ultimately to get off the “treat” foods like cereal and sweetened yogurt or pasta and replaced with more wholesome foods. The first step, is to get your child used to the Rotation Rule. In the case of gluten items, then shift over to “gluten-free” pasta for a while until you continue to phase it out using them occasionally as per fitting with the rotation rule and the 3 main habits.
Practically speaking, once you start cooking healthy meals from scratch, then please re-use leftovers or freeze them. For example, left over dinner is entirely appropriate for lunch the next day. Initially however, be clear about the Rotation Rule until the tides start to shift. If you have food sensitivities, then food rotation is a great way to keep from developing new sensitivities
9. Use the habit of proportion to help push your kid’s taste buds in the right direction.
Foods can be put into 3 Tiers:
Whole fat, Organic Dairy
***(NO, protein shakes DO NOT belong in this category)***
Make a list of the commonly eaten family foods and work towards putting them into the 3 categories. The proportion of foods eaten at every meal is growing >fun>treat. You want to eat mostly growing foods more than the fun or treat foods. Let your child make a choice based on this rule.
10. Teaching kids to be good TASTERS is the first step in teaching good eaters.
You do not need to bribe or force kids to eat everything that you make. The key is focus on the long term goal of developing a lifetime of healthy eating. The only requirement is to “taste” a new food. Even if they “gag” or spit is out or yell “I don’t like it”, studies have shown that it takes at least 10 or more presentations of a new food to develop a taste for it. Even kids who repeatedly spit out food at a young age, later in life, have developed a taste for it. This may even work for adults too;)
It’s important to discuss a few questions after tasting:
“What did it taste like?”
“What was the texture?”
“Was it crunchy or soft?”
Refrain from asking, “Did you like it?” Get involved in the senses of a particular food, not like or dislike.
This book was very helpful for me. We are working more on “variety” at our house and getting more into the “tasting” habit. I wish I would have had access to this when we transitioned and it would have saved me a lot of trial and error.
One of the key points in Dr Rose book is she discusses how to take the control battle out of eating. Provide adequate choices for your child within the boundaries and they will be able to follow the guidelines. She also discourages bribing with treat or fun foods. Should you need a safe food that is available at any time if your child chooses not to eat what family dinner is available, then choose something consistently available yet bland but agreed upon by parent and child. Say plain unsweetened yogurt that can be purchased in small containers or the like. Something that is nutritious enough that you don’t worry about nutrients, yet not so appealing that they would enjoy choosing it over trying a new food.
For more specific tips, you should grab her book and read. Getting everyone on board with the habits is the first step to transitioning. It will take time and consistency, but it will be successful in producing kids who eat well that supports health.
Time to move on to the best way to eat in order for you and your children to be the best!
Remove. Replace. Restore.
Remove the control battle at the dinner table.
Replace with choices that fit into the proportion, variety, and moderation habits. Get everyone used to the Rotation Rule first and then work on transitioning to growing foods. Get the kids involved in making a choice. Use fun foods as a means to help train taste buds and remove sick promoting foods like refined wheat/gluten products.
Restore family dinners.
Eat Well. Move Well. Sleep Well. Soar On….with super tasters.
Dr Dina Rose ROSE, PhD is a sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert empowering parents to raise kids who eat right.
1. Cornwell TB, McAllister A. Contingent choice: Exploring the relationship between sweetened beverages and vegetable consumption . 2012.
Holistic Health Coach