By now, surely you’ve heard the advice to shop the perimeter of the grocery store because that’s where all the fresh, natural food is.

In general, this is pretty sound advice. Unless, of course, you need a little rice. Or olive oil. Or peanut butter. Then you’ll have to dip your toes into an aisle.

Also, there’s no guarantee that you’ll only find healthy food on the perimeter. Generally, that’s where the donuts are.

Walk wherever you like in the grocery store. Trust me, you’ll be safe. I’ve done it. I survived. And my healthy eating habits are still intact.

But, if you’re going to walk down the aisles, think proportion.

What part of your family’s diet is filled with processed foods? What part is filled with fresh, natural foods? This is a question of, how often?

From a nutrition perspective, proportion determines how healthy the overall diet is. From a habits perspective, however, proportion determines what your kids will and won’t eat.  Eating is really a matter of math. Kids are more willing to eat the foods they’re most accustomed to eating. Yes, it’s tautological.

Familiarity is important. But so are taste preferences. The proportional makeup of your kids’ diets reflects and shapes their taste preferences. Again, it’s tautological.

If you want to determine how often your children should eat something you only need to consider 3 things:

  • How natural or processed is the food?
  • How sweetened is it?
  • How much fat does it have?

These three factors act as proxies for everything you might want to know about nutrition. The more these guys show up, the more bad news there is for health and for habits. There’s still room for Oreos. The question is, how much room?

It’s easier to get kids who are used to eating processed foods to eat other processed foods than it is to convince them to eat fresh, natural foods. It’s a reflection of what they are used to. It’s a reflection of exposure.

Rather than overall your kids’ diets, make incremental changes. Shift to more natural (or even more natural seeming) foods. Integrate a bite or two of fruits and vegetables into your kids’ day.

Read about how changing snacks can improve your life.

Maybe you’ve thought about how sugar contributes to your children’s food preferences. Most parents know that sweet things are an easy “sell.” But have you thought about fat? It “enhances” the flavor and satisfaction of foods by making them creamier. That why kids like cheese.

And Processing? Consider this. Processing…

  • Almost always adds sugar and fat to things
  • Makes foods saltier
  • Alters a food’s texture by making it softer and squishier (think pouches) or by making it crunchier (think veggie puffs, etc.)

Children who get in the habit of consuming processed textures often reject fresh textures because the mouth-feel of fresh foods are different from things that come in a box, bag or can. Think fresh peaches compared to canned peaches. Both fine to eat, but very different.

If you are struggling to get your children to eat how you would like them to, consider the proportion of fresh, natural foods that you feed them compared to processed, sweetened, and/or high fat foods.

You’ll get an insight into why your kids eat the way they do. Read how to teach your kids to eat salad.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~