Everyone loves a bargain.  A good buy.  The best product at the best price.   And don’t we feel just a little foolish when we spend too much on something we find out we could have gotten cheaper?  Or worse, something that turns out to be a complete disappointment?

Well, I have news for you.  Most parents choose tactics to teach their kids to eat right that seem like a saving — because they avoid a fight or a struggle — but they cost way too much down the road.

For instance, it may seem harmless to give kids chocolate milk as a way of increasing their milk consumption, or to demand two more bites to get more veggies into them, but the price you’ll pay for using these approaches is pretty high.

In the long run your kids will become more resistant to veggies.  Or they’ll only eat sweet foods. Or they’ll expect to be rewarded with dessert every time they eat.  Or all of the above.

The trick to teaching kids to eat right is to find the tactic with the biggest payoff, and sometimes it doesn’t have the cheapest price tag.

It’s like deciding between two shirts: one is cute, trendy and cheap; the other classic, chic and expensive. Which one’s the better buy? The trendy, cheap shirt provides a short-term “fix” for your wardrobe but it’s only temporary. The expensive chic shirt costs a lot more upfront but it will last forever.

When it comes to teaching kids to eat right, it’s better to buy the classic.

Tactics that seem like a bargain, but end up costing a lot in the long run:

  • The Sweet Approach: Giving kids items such as chocolate milk and sweetened yogurt seems like a good way of getting calcium into kids but these items increase their desire for sweet foods.  The healthy stuff you want them to eat simply can’t compete, not even foods sweetened by nature such as pineapples, melons, and bananas.  Read Yogurt vs. Coke and Chocolate Milk vs. Chocolate Bars.
  • The Deceptive Approach: Hiding vegetables in other more appealing foods – like secretly adding cauliflower to macaroni and cheese, or veggies to fruit juice — is a high stakes strategy that is bound to backfire.  When your kids find out, and they always do, they will have learned two lessons: (1) You can’t trust the food that comes from this kitchen (2) Vegetables really must be horrible if you have to hide them. They’ll probably also learn a third lesson: cheese (or juice, or whatever you’ve covered your tracks with) rocks! Read Should Your Kids Drink Their Veggies and 10 Ways Kids Learn to Hate Veggies.
  • The Junk Food Approach:  Even if veggie chips and puffed snacks contained any vegetables to speak of – which they don’t – giving these foods to your kids only reinforces their desire for salty, chip-like foods. Read Potato Chips Win Again!
  • The Bribe: You might get another mouthful or two of peas into your kids by bribing, begging and cajoling — asking kids to take two more bites, trading pie for peas, or by asking them to make mommy happy – but research shows these tactics often produce kids who overeat and will probably ruin their relationship with vegetables, forever. Wheelin’ & Dealin’: 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Trade Peas for Pie.

Tactics that seem costly but which end up lasting a lifetime:

  • Vegetables, Vegetables, Everywhere: I know if your kids don’t eat vegetables the idea of serving them more frequently doesn’t make sense.  It seems like your kids will either starve or you’ll end up fighting with them all the time.  In reality, though, the opposite will happen.  Kids exposed to more veggies eat more of them because they get used to their taste, texture, aroma, and appearance.  Read 10 Ways Improving Your Kids’ Snacking Will Improve YOUR Life, and 10 Ways Kids Learn to Love Veggies.
  • The Empowering Approach: When kids choose what to eat, they eat what they’ve chosen. So give your kids as choices as frequently as possible.  Let them choose between two dishes, when they have their treat or even whether to eat at all.  Read Curbing Your Kid’s Craving for Control.
  • The Anti-Pressure Approach: Large portions overwhelm some kids, some kids are ornery and others simply have smaller appetites than we expect. These kids eat more when given less.  And even if they don’t, changing the tactic changes the dynamic and that produces better eaters.  Read When Less is More.

You know the saying, “Penny wise, pound foolish?” Sometimes what seems like a savings turns out to be financial blunder.  Well, it’s true with feeding too. Shop wisely.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~