I hate food lists. They’re misleading and misused.

Here’s one that showed up in my inbox recently:

Read the rest of the list.

Food lists that are geared towards parents of toddlers are especially misleading.

They make parents feel like there are special foods for toddlers. Items little kids are supposed to eat.  That’s a myth.  Toddlers can (and should) eat what you eat—as long as what you eat is healthy— with three small concessions. Read more.

But I hate food lists for other reasons too:

  • People get overly focused on a small set of foods.
  • People are encouraged to feed list foods to their kids over other, equally beneficial foods. Oranges didn’t make this particular list, for instance, but I suspect it’s still good for your kids to eat one ocassionally.
  • People feel free to overfeed their kids list foods.
  • Parents often end up contorting themselves to get list foods into their kids, i.e., bribing, begging, and ironically, compromising the quality of food they feed (sweetened yogurt anyone?).

This is how nutritious food lists end up teaching kids bad eating habits.

Most parents use foods lists incorrectly.

In my experience, parents:

  1. Scan the list.
  2. Find a couple of foods that their kids will willingly eat.
  3. Feed their kids these same foods every single day, confident that they’re doing the right thing.

But I never met a nutritionist who would recommend parents use food lists this way.

  • From a nutrition perspective, kids need variety.
  • From a habits perspective, kids need variety.

Don’t be surprised if your kids reject new foods if you feed them a monotonous diet. You’ve got to mix things up—a lot. Read End Picky Eating with The Rotation Rule.

All food lists are basically the same.

The difference is in the details: Which healthy foods they feature.  True, some lists emphasize blueberries while others are all about apples, but all lists recommend some assortment of real food.

(It’s hard to find Goldfish crackers, chicken nuggets, chocolate milk, apple juice or any “child-friendly” food on a healthy eating list.)

You only need to know three things to teach your kids to eat right.

  1. Feed your children more fresh, natural foods than any kind of processed food. (Proportion)
  2. Don’t get stuck feeding your kids the same foods over and over. (Variety)
  3. Only feed your kids when they’re hungry, stop feeding them when they’re full—and resist the urge to feed kids when they’re bored, sad or lonely. (Moderation)

So ditch the lists.

It’ll save you time, and free up valuable brain power.  Focus on teaching your kids a style of eating that will maximize the chances that you’ll teach your kids the habits they need for a lifetime of healthy eating.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~