Today is Valentine’s Day, and if the Internet and my inbox are tapping into the pulse of the nation at all accurately, there are a lot of parents out there who hate this holiday.

I exaggerate. These parents don’t hate Valentine’s Day, per se. What they hate is all that candy.

Pizza—not Valentine’s Day candy—could single-handedly ruin our kids’ eating habits.

I’m not a big fan of the tons of candy that is associated with this holiday, but it doesn’t stress me out. Why? It’s one day.

Even your kids end up lugging home so much candy that it hangs around your house for a few months, the solution is easy. Read Coping with Party Favor Candy Bags for Kids. It’ll give you lots of ideas.

In the long run, how well your kids eat will have a lot more to do with how you handle pizza than how you handle Valentine’s Day candy.

Most parents have thought a lot about candy and soda, cupcakes and ice cream. Pizza slides under the radar. After all, it’s kinda nutritious.

For the record, I LOVE pizza. If I were ever on a desert island, it’s the one food I would want to have with me.

However, the USDA just released a new report, Consumption of Pizza: What We Eat in America. Prepare to be shocked.

Look around you. Who is going to eat pizza today?

  • 1 in every 8 people
  • 1 in every 4 boys between 6 and 19
  • 1 in every 6 kids between the ages of 2 and 5

If there are 18 kids in the average preschool classroom, 3 of them will eat pizza today. Three of them will eat pizza tomorrow. And the next day.

Think of the habits this teaches! Especially when you consider that many (if not most) of these preschoolers are eating pizza-like foods (grilled cheese, cheese quesadillas, pasta with cheese) on all the other days. Read Pizza. Pizza. Pizza.

How many kids eat this much Valentine’s Day candy this frequently?

The problem with pizza is that it has just enough of the “good” nutrients to give it a pass.

Pizza has protein, calcium, potassium. Eat pizza and you’re likely to get more than half your daily dose of lycopene!! However…

According to The Harvard School of Public Health, pizza is now the leading source of saturated fat in the American diet.

  • Pizza accounts for 33% of daily saturated fat intake for kids.
  • Pizza also has a ton of sodium: 33% of kids’ daily intake.
  • And, when you (or your kids) eat pizza, it accounts for about 27% of your (or your kids’) daily calories.

That’s from the nutrition perspective.

From the habits perspective, regularly eating pizza has never taught anyone to eat broccoli.

Particularly if your kids eat their pizza as a snack.

  • Kids are most likely to eat pizza at lunch or dinner.
  • However, 10% of all the pizza kids consume occurs as a snack.

Pizza for snack? That’s one hefty (and unhealthy) snack. For the record, this is why it’s a mistake to think of snack as a mini-meal.

Eating is really a matter of math.

The kinds of foods your kids get used to eating are the kinds of foods they’ll keep eating. Think of taste, texture, experience…

(And by the way, the habits argument is true even if you make your own, home-made, über-healthy pizza. When it cmes to shaping what your kids eat, habits always trump nutrition.)

Does this mean you should never serve pizza?

Not at all. It just means we should put as much (if not more) effort into teaching our kids how to handle pizza as we do into curtailing their candy.

I discuss all these ideas in It’s Not About the Broccoli

 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~