Childhood Obesity Awareness Month Blog Carnival

This article was written for inclusion in the blog carnival hosted by Littlestomaks to promote awareness of childhood obesity as part of the National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Please read to the end of this article to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


You’ve heard all the reports. Our kids are overweight. Type 2 Diabetes is on the rise. America’s children are facing a crisis.

In response, experts repeatedly assert the importance of good nutrition.  It’s as if everyone thinks parents only need to know more about which foods to provide — 1/2 cup of cottage cheese, or a serving of broccoli — and presto, our kids will all be healthy eaters.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, never before has a nation known so much about nutrition and yet eaten so poorly.

If you want to change how your kids eat, you have to change the eating system.

And that doesn’t take a knowledge of nutrition. (You already know what your kids should eat.)  In fact, nutrition sometimes gets in the way because it directs your attention to the food, not to how your children behave in relation to food.  And it’s the behavior that counts.

Below I’ve listed 5 sequential steps you can take to revolutionize how your kids eat.  Work your way through the list and I promise you’ll be amazed.

1) If you change only 1 thing…shift your attention from nutrition to habits.

Stop looking at food and start seeing habits.  They’re everywhere.  Indeed, if you do nothing more than keep the idea of habits in mind when you feed your children, you’ll start getting the results you desire.  That’s because adopting the “habits-frame-of-mind” automatically steers you in the correct direction.

The “habits-frame-of-mind” shows you that it is not really important to determine whether any particular item is OK to eat at any particular time.  Rather, what matters is what you are teaching your children about whenwhy and how much of those things they should consume throughout their lives.

For instance, it’s only moderately important to know how many grams of fat there are in a Chocolate Coconut Cake Donut from Dunkin Donuts (18g, or half your child’s daily allotment).  However, it’s extremely important to know how often to eat one.  Your children won’t learn that lesson unless you teach it to them explicitly.

Nutrition is the wrong paradigm for teaching kids to eat right because eating right isn’t really about food, it’s about behavior — what, when, why and how much someone chooses to eat.  And for most people (and especially for kids) those choices are made based on habits — how frequently they eat fresh, natural food compared to processed items; whether they eat a variety of foods or the same stuff each day; and whether they eat only when they’re hungry and not when they’re full.

Read Adopt the Habits-Frame-of-Mind and Slackers Rule.

2) If you change 2 things…also start looking beyond the immediate meal.

Eating habits need to be considered in terms of days or weeks, not individual meals, because it’s the pattern of eating the matters most (and patterns are hard to see when you’re standing up close).  Read The 10 Most “Dangerous” Foods.

For kids, it’s especially important to consider where their snacking will lead them.  Juice leads kids to soda; breakfast bars steer them towards cookies; crackers point them towards chips.  Read When is a Cookie Not a Cookie? and Virus Sufferers Choose Granola.

3) If you change 3 things…consider eliminating sweet drinks from your kids’ daily diets.

Many nutritionists now believe that eliminating soft drinks from our kids’ diets would be the single most effective way to combat childhood obesity. But it’s not just that soda drinkers consume more sugar than non soda drinkers.  Soda drinkers also consume less milk, less protein, less fiber, less vitamin D, less calcium… and the list goes on.

Even though young kids don’t typically drink sugary sodas, the juice, chocolate milk, and sports drinks they do drink gets them in the habit of drinking sweet flavored beverages.  That opens the door to sugary soda later on. Read The Dregs of All the Drinks, Training Tiny Taste Buds, and The (Chocolate) Milk Mistake.

4) If you change 4 things…upgrade the quality of your kids’ snacks. 

Did you know that kids now get more than a ¼ of their calories from snacks?  By itself, that’s not such bad news.  But most snack calories come from desserts and sweetened beverages. What’s more, salty snacks – i.e. potato chips, tortilla chips, pretzels — and candy are the fastest growing category of snack consumption.

You don’t have to eliminate snacks to teach your kids good eating habits; you just have to be smart about snacking. Remember:

5) If you change 5 things…stop obsessing about vegetables.

Are vegetables important? Sure. Are they worth the contortions parents go through to get their kids to eat them? No.  Especially because the tactics most parents rely on—bribing, begging, pressuring—aren’t just ineffective, they usually backfire.

Instead, recognize that your children’s acceptance of peas is related to their penchant for pasta, pizza, and pretzels (or any of the other items that dominate their days) and re-proportion what your kids eat most.

Giving kids small amounts of fruits and vegetables throughout the day is a strategy that pays off big. Not only do a few bites here and there really add up, but presenting fruits and vegetables all the time will teach them to prioritize fruits and vegetables, will help them develop a taste for them, and it will stop all the struggles at dinner (that benefit alone makes the strategy worth it).

Read 10 Ways Kids Learn to Hate Veggies and 10 Ways Kids Learn to Love Veggies.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~