This is a guest blog post by Dr. Dina R. Rose
I’ve always suspected that I feed my daughter inferior food, and now I have proof.
But you know what? I don’t care.
Because sometimes serving inferior fare is the healthy way to go.
Over the summer I finally downloaded the Fooducate App and I’m having a ton of fun. Of course, grocery shopping takes a lot longer now—I’ve yet to meet a barcode I didn’t want to scan!—but I don’t mind. It’s incredibly satisfying to find out that we’re basically a family of A- eaters: the bread, the cereal, the peanut butter … all get an A-. And when you add in all the fresh fruit and veggies we eat (but which I haven’t scanned), we’re doing all right.
Scoring healthy food isn’t the only thing that makes me happy though. I love finding out that the nut bar I regularly buy my daughter gets a B-, am delighted to discover that the yogurt she enjoys rates a C, and I am positively giddy that the cereal variety pack I bought my daughter over the summer scores a D+. (Yup, a D+.) It proves I’m doing something right.
You see, I’m not interested in maximizing the nutritional value of every bite my daughter eats. I’m interested in teaching her how to eat right. And that means showing her how to eat food—even the junk she loves—in the right ratios.
In my book, teaching my daughter to get the ratios right is, hands down, the most important thing I can teach her.
Proportion—eating different items in relation to their healthy benefits— is the mechanism that translates nutrition into action. It’s essential for kids to learn.
I don’t care what my daughter eats. I care how often she eats it.
I’m glad my daughter has a large and varied palate, and that the foods she adores score widely across the board. Her diet is dominated by As, augmented by Bs and sprinkled with Cs and Ds. That’s the way it ought to be.
Upgrading treats is a waste of time. It’s also counterproductive.
Here’s some logic that’s counterintuitive but true:
1) You can never really upgrade treats enough. If, for instance, you could somehow miraculously transform a D+ cereal into an A cereal, you’d ruin the cereal (at least as far as my daughter is concerned). The revised cereal would lose all the characteristics that make it special. It would not be as sweet, as syrupy, as downright lovable. In other words, the improved cereal would no longer be so desirable.
2) If, on the other hand, I simply compromised and traded a D+ cereal up to a C cereal, I would lose too. The exchange wouldn’t yield enough of a nutritional gain. Worse, I would risk wrecking my daughter’s habits. You see, if I upgraded to a C+, or even to a B, I would be hard pressed to contain my daughter’s crappy cereal consumption to our annual summer vacation. The Bs and Cs would begin to infiltrate on a fairly regular basis. After all, how do you argue against a B? To me, though, eating B and/or C cereals on a regular basis produces a dumbed-down diet compared to one that is punctuated by Ds but dominated by As.
Ironically, feeding kids foods that score as Bs and Cs make it harder to teach them to eat As.
I can hear the protests now: Your kid eats As. That is why you can tolerate Ds. But if your kid only eats Cs, aren’t you’re better off “selling” them Bs?
Again, I would say no. Go straight to As.
Marginally healthy foods—you know the kind that look and feel like treats but which are made with just enough quality ingredients (or added nutrients) to pass the “sniff test”—move your kids’ taste preferences away from fruits, vegetables and other healthy fare. Indeed, research shows that the more kids eat foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat, the more they look to replicate that “flavor hit.” Maybe that’s why kids like French fries more than broccoli.
In the end, slightly upgraded foods bring the overall diet down because eating lots of Bs and Cs keep your kids’ taste buds trained towards Ds. If you want to earn an A, sometimes you’ve got to go straight there.
I’m probably not using the Fooducate App in an approved way, but I love it.
In order for proportion to work you have to know which foods are healthy and which are not. And that requires a little truth in advertising. The Fooducate App provides the truth; food manufacturers do not.
What I do with the facts, however, might be a little unconventional. I rarely seek out a healthier alternative. Instead, I rearrange my daughter’s diet until we get the ratios right. More fresh fruits, fewer fruit strips.
Of course, if your child’s diet is in the dumps you need to make a change. Start thinking about proportion. It won’t just make the challenge doable—you don’t have to upgrade everything—but proportion puts you to the path to guilt-free eating. You can “have your cake and eat it too!”
In our house, there are only 2 rules about junk:
1) Only eat the junk you love. (If you can take it or leave it, I say leave it.)
2) Make sure your diet is dominated by really healthy stuff. In other words, think about proportion.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~
Dina R. Rose, PhD, is the author of the popular blog It’s Not About Nutrition. For parents who want to feed their kids right, Dina leverages a unique combination of expertise as a sociologist and mother to help parents solve their kids’ eating problems by focusing on the root of the problem—eating habits, not nutrition. Dina has a PhD in sociology from Duke University and more than fifteen years’ experience in teaching and research. After her mother’s premature death from obesity-related illnesses at the age of 65, Dina knew she wanted to give her daughter a better—and happier— food-life. Now she makes helping parents solve their kids’ eating problems her life work. Most parents know what their children should eat, but have trouble putting this knowledge into practice. Dina offers parents the relief they need: practical, research-based strategies so they can stop struggling and start succeeding.