The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently released a report card on the America’s diet. We’re not doing very well.

Look closely at this graph and you can see how much more cheese we eat now compared to 1970. (Click here to see how America scored in other areas.)

In a recent column on The Huffington Post I argued that it was time for pediatricians to stop “pushing” so much cheese.

Read the post.

Of course, I don’t mean that pediatricians are doing anything wrong intentionally. Rather, I argue that, just like parents sometimes unintentionally teach their children bad eating habits, pediatricians sometimes also experience an unintentional outcome from their well-intentioned advice.

Here’s how it happens: Pediatricians casually mention that cheese is a good source of calcium, or that children usually like cheese and then, bam, parents do a really good job—you might say they do too good of a job—following through: cheese starts showing up every day, sometimes even at every meal.

Some might argue the health consequences of eating lots of cheese aren’t as dire as CSPI says.

But even if the nutrition consequences are in dispute, the habit consequences are clear: get your kids used to eating cheese and you’ll have trouble getting them to eat really healthy foods. Why?

There are two reasons:

  • Any time you overuse any one kind of food you are teaching your child to enjoy a limited, not an expansive range of foods.
  • The creamy mouthfeel of cheese makes other foods taste dull by comparison.

And so I ask: Do the short-term benefits of serving lots of cheese—protein and calcium consumption—warrant both the short-term and the long-term consequences?

I think the answer is no.

So what do I suggest?

  • Cycle cheese in an out of your child’s diet. This will help you teach both proportion and variety.
  • Pay attention to how you are shaping your child’s taste preferences. Contrary to popular belief, taste preferences are formed, not found.
  • Remember, habits learned early in life tend to stick around. Kids who eat a lot of cheese grow into adults who eat a lot of cheese.

For more on cheese, read What’s the Problem with Cheese?How Much Cheese Should You Eat?The Magic of Cheese