It’s back to school time and there’s a lot of advice for parents on providing healthy foods. 

Providing healthy foods is a good goal, and it’s one I support—wholeheartedly.  But you know me, so you know I have some unusual advice: Don’t get hung up on nutrition.

Kids don’t eat nutrients.  They eat food. And your kids develop eating habits based on their eating experiences—taste, texture, aroma, appearance, and temperature—not on the nutrients they secretly swallow.

Pay too much attention to nutrients and you’re likely to overlook habits. Shape habits, however, and you’ll get nutrition right.

If ever there was a good example of “nutrition-think” gone wrong it’s Kashi’s new “kid-friendly” foods.

  1. It looks like a soft cookie.
  2. Their ad says it tastes like banana bread.
  3. But Kashi wants yout to look at this Banana Chocolate Chip Soft n’ Chewy and see fruits and vegetables.

If you were looking at this ad online you would be able to look through a magifying glass to see the fruits and vegetables inside.

There’s Good Stuff Inside is great marketing logic.

I’m not going to argue that Kashi’s TLC Soft ‘n Chewy Banana Chocolate Chip isn’t a good bar, as bars go.  And it’s certainly more nutritious than a couple of Oreos.  But this stuff doesn’t matter.

If your children like Kashi’s Soft ‘n Chewy bars let them eat them. But give your kids these bars as a cookie substitute, and as frequently as you serve cookies. 

You can “health-ify” a a sweet/treat food but that doesn’t mean you should serve it more frequently. Here’s why:

1) Eating a sweet/treat food that is secretly stocked with fruits and vegetables doesn’t provide the same nutrition as eating real fruits and vegetables and it will never teach your kids to like actual fruits and vegetables.

2) “Healthy” sweets and treats can actually make it harder for you to teach your kids to eat actual fruits and vegetables. “Why eat an apple if the cookie has apple in it?” Read Cookies and the Cycle of Guilty Eating.

3) Give your kids “healthy” sweets/treats more often than you normally would and you’ll teach your kids to eat sweets/treats more often than they should.  And healthy eating is all about proportion.

4) Banana Chocolate Chip will send your kids’ taste buds towards cookies and away from fruits and vegetables.

Three behaviors translate everything you need to know about nutrition into behavior.  Behavior is the key to healthy eating habits.

  • Proportion: Eating more fresh, natural (truly healthy) foods than moderately healthy foods like crackers. And of course, more than sweets and treats.
  • Variety: Eating a range of foods from day to day.
  • Moderation: Eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full (and not eating when you’re bored sad or lonely).

Any time you use “nutrition-think” to mess with proportion, variety and/or moderation—like Kashi wants you to do, “Hey, you can give this to your kids as often as you want because it’s got good stuff inside,”— you’re messing with your kids’ habits.

And any time you give your kids something because it’s “kid-friendly” you’re messing with their minds. Read “Kid-friendly” is a killer.

Don’t get sucked in by a food company’s “nutrition-think,” and you’ll be more likely to teach your kids the habits they need for a lifetime of healthy eating.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~