Forget tracking protein, calcium and grains. 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 they show up, the less healthful the food is.

Just as importantly, they shape your children’s habits because of how they influence taste, texture and appearance.

First nutrition: You’ve already read about juice, and how processing undermines the nutrition of a fresh apple.  But look at what happens to rice when it’s subjected to processing.

Here’s how the NuVal scientists rank different forms of rice:

Did you know that white rice is required by law to be fortified with vitamins and irons?

Now habits:

Maybe you’ve thought about how sugar contribute 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’s why your kids like things like cheese.

And processing?  Consider this.  Processing …

  • almost always adds sugar and fat to things.
  • makes foods saltier.
  • alters a foods texture by making them softer and squishier or by making them crunchier.

Children who get in the habit of consuming processed textures often reject fresh textures because the crisp of an apple or the “mouth-feel” of broccoli is so different from anything that comes in a box, bag or can.

That’s one reason it is 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.

If you are struggling to get your children to eat the way you want them to, consider the proportion of fresh, natural foods that you feed compared to processed, sweetened, and/or high fat foods.  I promise you’ll get an insight into why your children eat the way they do.

Remember, it’s not so much what you feed, as what you teach, that matters.

* Rice scores not available online yet.

Source:; Williams, A. R., 2008. “Shopping by the Numbers.” National Geographic. September.