I have been transcribing tapes of an interview I conducted a few months ago and I was struck by something that has come up with almost every parent: most people have an idea of what good eating habits are but when it comes to articulating them they get flummoxed.   People always mention something about fruits and vegetables, maybe they same something about eating a balanced diet, but they really don’t have a clear way to specify what constitutes good eating habits. This isn’t such a problematic thing for adults, but it can cause trouble for parents when it comes to teaching our children how to eat because we need to know where we’re going if we’re ever going to get there.

There are three principles that underlie every eating plan out there – including the Food Pyramid – and when practiced they constitute good eating habits.  They are:

  1. Proportion
  2. Variety
  3. Moderation

Why do these principles work?  Because they translate the science of nutrition into the appropriate actions. “Eat more of these kinds of foods and less of those kinds” (proportion), “Eat different foods within each food group” (variety), and “Don’t eat too much, “Only eat when you’re hungry,” and “Stop eating when you’re full” (all versions of moderations).

Good habits aren’t found in the nutritional quality of individual foods or meals, so you have to stop looking there.  They are found in the overall pattern of eating.  Proportion, variety and moderation work because they are concepts that connect snacks and meals together, not just over the course of the day, but over the course of many days as well.  Consequently, when parents make the shift to using these three principles as their operating paradigm they end up with a broader perspective that neatly organizes everything they need to know about how their children eat into a single framework.  Patterns are illuminated.  Their children’s eating style starts making sense.  And fixes become apparent.

Start paying attention to these three principles by asking yourself if your children eat really healthy foods more often than so-so or mediocre fare? Do they eat different foods over the course of the day and the week? Do they only eat enough to satisfy their hunger (or do you push them to eat more)?  Answering yes means your child eats a healthy diet.  If not, the question is: why not?