When Feeding Children, Teach Habits Not Nutrition

Dina Rose Health Guide
  • If you have a newborn, you have it easy.  At least when it comes to food and eating issues.


    Babies are basically a blank slate.  Yes, they come out of the chute with a personality. With a set of needs. With their own quirky behaviors. 


    And yes, the parenting-a-newborn phase is difficult.  It’s rife with anxieties.  (I was so overwhelmed I set the bar extremely low for myself. “Keep the kid alive for one week” I told myself that first day home.”)


    In the beginning, though, Baby’s relationship with food is simple; it’s pure.  Neither Baby, nor parents have had a chance to develop a slew of bad habits.  But the bad habits are surely coming.

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    Not because you’re a bad parent, and not because your intentions aren’t in the right place. But because our cultural obsession with nutrition is going to make you nuts.  It’s going to make you do things you never thought you’d do such as:


    ·    Rationalize feeding your child a diet dominated by chicken nuggets and hot dogs because at least they have protein, and chocolate milk because it’s got calcium. Read The (Chocolate) Milk Mistake.

    ·    Bribe your child with brownies to get her to eat some broccoli. Read Wheelin’ and Dealin’: 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Trade Peas for Pie.

    ·    Regulate how many bites your child should eat. Raising Lawyers

    ·    Push your child to finish his food.  Read The “Clean Your Plate” Club.


    It’s one of the great paradoxes of parenting that if you focus on nutrition, you’ll probably teach your children a host of bad eating habits.  If you focus on habits, however, you’ll teach your kids to eat nutritiously.


    When parents focus on nutrition…


    ·    They are tempted to use any behavioral trick in the book to get their kids to eat, even though this tactic produces unhealthy interactions (or bad behavioral habits).

    ·    They are swayed to serve foods that offer up just enough nutrition to pass the sniff test, even though this tactic pushes their kids’ taste buds in the wrong direction. 


    These family and food habits are the two factors that shape how kids eat.


    At it’s core, eating isn’t about food, it’s about behavior: what, when, why, where and how much someone chooses to eat.  Nutritional considerations only partially influence these choices, especially for children.


    Pay more attention to when, why, and how much your children eat, and the what will take care of itself.  Why?  Because you won’t be tempted to use tactics that will undermine your efforts.


    ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


    Dina R. Rose, has a PhD in sociology from Duke University. She has over 15 years experience in teaching and research.  Just as importantly, she is also a mother.  Dina has been studying how parents teach their children to eat since her daughter was little and she offers lectures, workshops and individual coaching on this topic.  She is also the author of the popular blog It’s Not About Nutrition.com.


Published On: May 25, 2011