Eating Right is Not About the Broccoli

It's Not About the Broccoli by Dina Rose

Diet books are written by one of three types: a dietitian, a chef, or a celebrity. But every once in a while, a book is published by an outsider, bringing a new and refreshing angle to one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century.

Dr. Dina Rose is a sociologist who has spent the last 10 years working with parents and children to improve their eating habits. Her focus is not nutrition, but rather habits. She has been a frequent guest blogger on Fooducate, and we always find her posts on spot. That’s why we were delighted to learn of Dr. Rose’s new book: It’s Not About the Broccoli: Three Habits to Teach Your Kids for a Lifetime of Healthy Eating.

Dr. Rose sat down with us for a discussion about the book and its objectives.

Fooducate: What led you to write this book?

Rose: When I was five months pregnant, my mother died. She was sixty-five years old and weighed just over three hundred pounds. Although she had not been obese for her entire life, she had struggled with her weight ever since I could remember. When my daughter was born I was painfully aware that I wanted my child to have a better “food life.” I wanted her to be able to nourish herself and have a happy relationship with food. I became consumed with answering the question, how do you teach children to eat right?

Because I’m a sociologist, I was naturally oriented to thinking more about how parents shape their children’s behavior than about nutrition. But when I started studying the question, I discovered something I wasn’t prepared for, something surprising. In fact, it was completely counter-intuitive: The more parents focus on nutrition, the worse their kids are likely to eat. This was a message I had to tell the world.

Fooducate: You are quite bold stating that “it’s not about nutrition”. How do dietitians react?

Rose: Some dietitians are surprised by my claim, It’s not about nutrition, but only initially. Anyone who has ever tried to feed a child, or who has worked with a parent trying to feed a child, knows that figuring out what kids ought to eat is the easy part. It’s getting kids to eat what parents serve that causes so many problems. Other dietitians are already on board: they know that focusing on the big picture–i.e. the principles of proportion, variety and moderation–is the ticket to shaping lifelong healthy eating habits. In fact, some have even called this approach, “the future” for all dietitians.

Fooducate: What age children is this book relevant for?

Rose: Although the book is primarily written for parents of toddlers and preschoolers, the information is relevant to children—and adults—of all ages. After all, we all eat!

Fooducate: What can a parent do if their 12 year old child has already adopted bad habits? How can they change?
Rose: The older your children are, the more you have to talk to them: to explain your goals, your reasons for wanting them to change and to strategize together.  Remember, though, your kids don’t have to agree with you (after all, parents frequently teach their kids skills and habits–like teeth brushing– they don’t want to learn), but your kids do have to understand where you’re going and why you’re going there!

Then, create a structure for deciding when meals and snacks will be served and what food will be offered. Structure eliminates the discussion/fighting and eliminates the pressure.

Bring your kids on board by collaborating with them on the steps they’ll take for change. Make those steps easy to achieve so success comes early and often.

Fooducate: What can parents do when one child eats well (good habits) but the other does not?

Rose: Parents need to make some executive decisions about what and when food will be served, and then figure out what each child needs to learn in order to become a better eater.

Parents often worry that one child’s food preferences or picky eating will spread like a virus to other children. You can prevent this contagion from occurring by identifying the specific lessons that siblings need to learn. These include:

  • Sometimes your brother gets to eat his favorite food and you don’t.
  • Fair doesn’t mean that everyone gets to eat the same thing at the same time, especially when it comes to sweets and treats. Fair means people get treats when the time is right for them.
  • You don’t have to like what I serve, but you do have to be polite.
  • Difference rocks.
  • Preferences can change.

Fooducate: Any final piece of advice?

Rose: Teaching kids to eat right is a process, not something you do once and then you’re done. If the techniques you’ve tried haven’t worked it’s either because you’re asking your child to take a step that is too big or because your structure is inconsistent. Scale back your expectations to a more manageable level. Let’s say you want your child to start eating more vegetables (and to do it without always having to be nudged). Before he can do that, he’ll have to learn the principle of proportion and learn to eat a wider variety of flavors and textures. Before he can do that, he’ll have to learn to taste new food. And before he can learn that, he’ll have to trust that he’ll never be forced to eat anything he doesn’t want to eat. Remember, baby steps are always easier to master than giant steps and mastery builds confidence, which leads to more success.

(Disclosure: Fooducate received a complimentary copy of this book for review)

  • Chris


    But, Dr. Rose is a person?

    Therefore, I would humbly suggest that “Dr. Dina Rose is a sociologist that has spent the last 10 years working with parents and children to improve their eating habits” should be “…who has spent…”.

    • Fooducate

      Thanks for filling in the place of our copyeditor who is on vacation :-)

      • Chris

        They also serve who stand and correct :-)

  • Tiger Dad

    Tiger Mom wouldn’t have this problem. Kids eat what parents tell them, end of story.

  • jere14

    I see Dr. Rose’s advice as coercive and manipulative, in sugar-coated form.. Dr. Jon Robison discusses how such a parental attitude creates a higher chance of obesity and eating disorders when these children become adults,

  • Cathy smith

    I have a family member that will not eat veggies and only occasionally will eat fruit. Are the new vegetable vitamins/supplements a good replacement?

  • Laura

    Breastfeeding has been shown to increase the variety of healthy foods children will eat after weaning. The flavor of breast milk changes with the mothers diet. Formula has one flavor.

    Ellyn Satter, Registered Dietian and Clinical Social Worker, is well known for her work in common sense nutrition advice for parents: Offer a variety of healthy foods and offer foods repeatedly, even if the food is not accepted initially. Eventually your child will try the food if no stress and coercion is involved. Also remember that the parents are the role model. Parents control what food is brought into the house.