012: It’s not about the broccoli: Dr. Dina Rose


Does your child eat any food under the sun…as long as it’s cheese?  Do you find yourself worrying that you’ll never get all the nutrients into her that she needs?  Dr. Dina Rose approaches eating from a sociologist’s perspective, which is to say that It’s Not About The Broccoli (which also happens to be the name of her book – so that’s an affiliate link), it’s about habits and relationships.  Join Dr. Rose as she counsels the parent who struggles with her almost four-year-old “highly spirited” son’s eating habits.  There is hope for getting this child to eat something other than cheese, and Dr. Rose walks us through the steps to make it happen.
Not to be missed even if your child isn’t (currently) a picky eater: every worm will turn, as they say, and you may find these strategies helpful to head off any pickiness that starts to emerge in the future.  And listen up for Dr. Rose’s offer of a free 30 minute coaching session for parents!
And I will personally send a free copy of Dr. Rose’s book to the first person who can identify the Monty Python reference in this episode…

Rose, D. (2014). It’s not about the broccoli. New York: Perigee. (Affiliate link)

Rose, D. (2016). It’s not about nutrition.  Retrieved from: http://itsnotaboutnutrition.com/


Read Full Transcript


Jen:                                      [00:30]                   Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. We have a pretty special episode lined up today called It’s Not About The Broccoli. Regular listeners might recall the recent episode that we did called Help! My Children Won’t Eat Vegetables where I reviewed the literature on getting children to eat healthy food and one of the books that I read for that episode referenced a book by Dina Rose called It’s Not About The Broccoli, which I didn’t get around to reading until after the episode was published, but I thought the book was so interesting and helpful and it’s also really extensively referenced which all of you regular listeners know, is a primary indicator of how I judge the quality of books. And so I reached out to Dina and asked if she would agree to appear on the show and she’s here with us today. Welcome Dina.

Dr. Rose:                            [01:10]                   Hi, I’m so glad to be here.

Jen:                                      [01:11]                   Thank you. Let me formally introduce you and give a bit of information about your background. So Dina has a Ph.D In sociology from Duke University and more than 20 years of experience in teaching and research for parents who want to feed their kids right. Dina leverages a unique combination of expertise as a sociologist and as a mother to help parents solve their kids eating problems by focusing on the root of their problem, eating habits, not nutrition. But Dina has also agreed to try something a bit different with us today rather than just having me ask all the questions she gamely offered to provide advice live to a parent who has been struggling with her child’s eating habits. And that parent is here with us today. Welcome J.T. Taylor.

J.T.:                                      [01:49]                   Hi. Thanks so much for having me.

Jen:                                      [01:50]                   Thank you. So J.T. is a nonprofit consultant specializing in public health, behavioral health and LGBTQ equity. J.T. juggles work with raising two tiny humans with her wife. She has six month old Juno, who is toothless and thinks that food is a delightful if confusing toy and nearly four-year-old Felix who will eat anything – as long as it’s cheese. Life with Felix comes with all the thrilling highs and lows of raising a spirited child. He is highly sensitive, strong willed and resistant to change and is also way too smart for his parents’ good. J.T. is really excited to get the opportunity to hear some expert advice today. So I think this is going to be a really cool thing for us to sit in on because when you get into really tricky topics like eating, it’s easy for an expert to say, well, you just tell your child how good the broccoli is for him. And then some kind of Jedi mind trick happens where the child not only believes you but goes on to eat the broccoli and we all know that real life isn’t really like that.

Jen:                                      [02:47]                   So today we’re going to hear a bit more about how Dina’s approach really might work in the real world that you and the three of us live in by applying her strategies to a real life set of problems that J.T. Is having and that seems to me to be very typical of the types of problems that parents face when it comes to their children’s eating habits. And I’d like to state for the record that Dana and J.T. have not met before. This interview hasn’t been staged for your benefit; J.T. is a real parent who I met when I posted a message online looking for people who might be interested in participating in this interview. And none of us really have any idea where this conversation’s going to end up today. So with that, let’s get started. So Dina, I wonder if you could begin by giving us a brief overview of the approach that your book takes to getting kids to eat more healthy food. Because we all know that nutrition is important, right? But you believe that we as parents make it too important?

Dr. Rose:                            [03:37] Absolutely. You know, I agree with you when you say that we all know that nutrition is important, but in my experience, both as a sociologist and as a parent, I have really come to see that by putting nutrition first, we start to use all sorts of techniques and tactics and, and we start to think in a way that can often be counterproductive. because nutrition is about food and the more you know about nutrition, it, all it means is that you know more about food. But I have never met a parent who didn’t know what their kids ought to eat, but then you know, you can’t just plunk the food down in front of your kid and assume that it’ll all work out for the best. I mean, for some people that strategy works, but for most of us it doesn’t. And so I started thinking about behavior and what were the behaviors that kids need to learn.

Dr. Rose:                            [04:32]                   And my work with parents, the research that I’ve read and all of the years of my experience has shown that if you think about the behavior first, the nutrition comes along for the ride. But if you think about the nutrition, a lot of times we end up doing things that are counterproductive. So here’s an example. There are only three habits that translate nutrition into behavior and I didn’t make these habits up. These are the habits that the USDA built the Food Pyramid on and the My Food icon, and all together, eating plans that are successful out there. So they are proportion, variety and moderation and proportion just means eating healthier food more often than everything else. Variety means eating different foods from day to day and moderation really means portion size. But if you think about what portion size really means, it means eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full. And by extension it also means not eating because you’re bored, sad or lonely or because your mom or dad or you know, Aunt Lily or whatever needs some time on the phone.

Jen:                                      [05:46]                   Yeah. So conceptually and theoretically, all of those things make sense to me. And it’s kind of the translation of those concepts that I think the book does so well. Getting from what the USDA says that we should be eating to, how do you actually make that happen on your toddler’s plate every night.

Dr. Rose:                            [06:06] Exactly. So let me just give you the example about how when we think about nutrition compared to thinking about habits, how we can sometimes go wrong. So with the nutrition approach, one of the things that most parents do is find something that meets the minimum requirement of the nutrition. And if their kids will eat it, they’ll feed it to them every single day. So for instance, if you find that your child does like broccoli, which is just such an interesting thing for me to say as an aside, which is all the health experts always talk about how broccoli is very difficult for kids to like because it has a somewhat bitter flavor. And Broccoli is hands down the number one vegetable that most kids I know will eat because parents have worked so hard to get their kids to eat broccoli. But anyway, let’s assume that your kids will eat broccoli and that’s really the one go-to vegetable that you have.

Dr. Rose:                            [06:59]                   And so from a nutrition perspective, we think, oh great, I mean I’m going to provide a broccoli to my child every single day at dinner because then I know that I’ve got a Veggie and to her and that teaches a child to eat a monotonous diet, not a varied diet. So when we remember, which is very hard to remember, I want to say in our cultural context and dialogue that we have in this country, but when we remember that taste preferences are shaped by exposure and mindsets, and if what you expect to eat and what, how you expect to approach food and how you expect to make eating decisions are set through the parenting interactions that we have. If we give our kids a basically monotonous diet, the same two or three foods for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, for snack, we shouldn’t be surprised that they reject new foods.

Dr. Rose:                            [07:59]                   And so from a habits perspective, right, which is this teaching learning approach as opposed to the feeding nutrition approach. From a habitat perspective, we want to say, oh, I want to teach my child the concept, the mindset, the habit of variety, so what can I do within the limitations that my child has? Right? I’m not sitting here going to say, oh, well provide a different vegetable every single night because that’s the way to get there, but let’s start by saying, well, what can we do to teach our kids, given the limitations that they have at whatever moment you happen to be feeding them, that will teach the habit of variety. And so one of the things that I always recommend to parents is that they consider what I call the rotation rule, which is not serving the same food two days in a row or for some families not serving the same food twice during the course of a single day and parents often kind of freak out and say, but my kid only eats five foods and how, how am I going to be able to do that?

Dr. Rose:                            [09:06]                   And what I just want to say is I’ve even the parents who say that to me, we usually come up with a list that’s a little bit longer than that and you have to think outside of the meal box so you have to say, well, I’m going to write down everything my child eats all through the day, including every single meal and every single snack and every variety of those things. So there might be any kind of apple or 50 kinds of crackers or you know, and that doesn’t seem like it’s going to get you very far when you’re trying to get, you know, cauliflower into your kids. But it’s a mindset of variety that lays the foundation. So that’s just a quick example about the difference between thinking about nutrition and thinking about habits.

Jen:                                      [09:51]                   Yeah, great. Thank you for that. And I, your book also gives an overview of the types of relationships that parents tend to have with children and with food and you know, different, different ways that parents can use food like for comforting children; I think there are six or seven of them on there. I wonder if you could give us just a couple of, a couple of ideas for the different types of relationships that people have with, with their children and with their food.

Dr. Rose:                            [10:17]                   Yeah. So this is kind of touchy because we all feel a little bit sensitive about the way we parent our kids, you know, food and nurturing and motherhood and all that kind of stuff, it’s just all, you know, tied up in there. Um, the main thing that I will talk about a couple of them in a second, but the main thing that I really want people to take away from this is to say that every single parent brings into the parenting relationship a set of, of behaviors, our own habits. Of course we have our eating habits. That’s true, but we’re just going to leave those off to the side right now because they’re not as relevant as our parenting habits. And so all of us bring and we bring multiple ones of these types in, but some of them really kind of can affect what choices we feel we can make when we’re parenting our kids.

Dr. Rose:                            [11:12]                   So for instance, almost all parents actually I would go so far as to say all parents live within them a sense of fear of their children’s hunger. And, and if you think about it as a continuum, some of us don’t have a lot of fear about our kids’ hunger and some of us are really gripped to death by the idea that our kids might be hungry. And so wherever you fall on that spectrum will dictate what kind of strategies you’re going to be able to use. So for instance, when a pediatrician says, or your best friend says, or your mother says, you know, well, this is the way you parent your child. Just put the food down and if he doesn’t eat, then starve him out because eventually he’ll eat right? We all heard these of advice. Well, if you’re the kind of parent who has really gripped by the fear of your child’s hunger, there’s no way that you’re going to be able to use that strategy.

Dr. Rose:                            [12:02]                   So I know I have, I’ve known parents who don’t really have a lot of that fear and they send their kids to bed hungry and when their kids wake up in the middle of the night crying, they just say, well, you should have eaten dinner. And, and I know parents who say like, oh my gosh, I have to feed him whatever he wants because then he’ll be hungry. Right? So, and then there’s everyone else in between. So these things, these things shape our interactions with our children and that’s what we need to be conscious of because it’s the parenting dynamic here that is going to change the outcome. So for instance, there are some people who are very conflict averse and so I called them Peacemakers and these are parents who are going to have trouble setting boundaries because they really want their kids to always be happy.

Dr. Rose:                            [12:48]                   Not necessarily because of the happy quotient, but because they don’t like to see the conflict and if that’s you, you have to be aware of that because then you have to pick strategies that don’t rock the boat too much. I mean you’re going to have to get out of your comfort zone as a parent because the comfort zone is what got you here in the first place. Right? Because if you could have been different, maybe you could have done something different with your kid. Not to say it’s your fault, but we all have patterns and the patterns that work in the family are working for some reason, so person who is trying to avoid conflict may very well have a feeding situation which doesn’t feel very comfortable to them when they think about food, but when they think about conflict, it’s really working very, very well.

Dr. Rose:                            [13:35]                   Yeah. That’s, and that’s really the crux of it, isn’t it? It’s really not about the Broccoli. It’s not about the food and the nutrition. It’s about the relationship that that sits within.

Dr. Rose:                            [13:45] Exactly. Exactly. And so for instance, the, the, you know, the comfort feeder or the food is love theater. So, you know, if you read the book, you know, that I’m like squarely in that camp and I was really shocked to find out that I was in that camp because when I was pregnant, you know, my mother died of obesity-related illnesses and I really became obsessed with the idea about how was I going to make sure that my daughter had a happier relationship with food than her grandmother that my mother had and that’s what really sent me down this road of investigating this, this whole area.

Dr. Rose:                            [14:23]                   And when she was very little I realized one day that when I fed her a healthy meal, you know, there was one day, this is not a made up meal. There was one day when we, she was like two or three where we had grilled trout and we had grilled asparagus and you know, we had all this great healthy salad and she, and I was patting myself on the back like I was, you know, the supremeo parent. But when I gave her ice cream or brownies or something like that, I like, I was directly transferring love from my heart to her heart. It was like an IV between the two of us. And over the years I thought maybe that phase had passed because I no longer got like the thrill of warm fuzzies when I gave her sweets and treats. But now that she’s a teenager, I just have to say that when I provide a healthy meal, any meal, that she comes home and she eats dinner and she had good meal and everything I do, I feel that same transfer of love from me to her. And not to say that that’s a bad thing, but if we mix up love and food, then it’s very hard to set boundaries around the kind of food that you give your kids or when you give your kids food so you know, because you’re trying to express love with them. So all of these different parenting paradigms can get in the way.

Jen:                                      [15:43]                   So I wonder if we can shift gears a bit and hear from J.T. a bit about the issues that she’s been having, um, with her son, Felix is eating and, and can you share a little bit more about, about that with us please?

J.T.:                                      [15:56]                   Sure. So I would say there’s three categories of issues that we’ve had and so he’s almost four now, um, and I realized that or podcast often targets the earlier range of toddler hood. But to be honest, a lot of these issues have been the same for a very long time. Yeah. So the first is just extreme pickiness and to some extent I realized that everybody struggles with this. But I thought by now we might have grown out of it a bit. He is very reluctant to even try new things despite our attempts to put a lot of variety in front of him and to not force him to eat anything. You know, we thought we were doing things right. I’m not cooking specially for him, you know, we’re just, he’s going to eat what we eat. We were bound and determined to not have a picky eater and of course he enjoys cheese and only cheese. That’s an exaggeration, obviously. But I wouldn’t even say like there’s only five things that he would eat, but I don’t feel good about the range of healthy foods that he’s eating, particularly in the vegetable category. And honestly, even in the protein category, if it’s not dairy related protein, he doesn’t get much of it. So the pickiness is a big issue. Another that’s a little more mystifying to me honestly, is that he gets very intensely upset about having to share food and I don’t mean he’s been given something and then asked to share it with somebody more like there’s a bowl of nuts that everybody’s been eating out of, but anybody else takes a nut out of the bowl. And he gets very, very upset. He’ll say that they all have to be for him, that there’s not gonna be enough and that nobody else can have any.

J.T.:                                      [17:43]                   So I’m not really sure what that’s about, but that’s something we struggle with logistically because we have another child; we have family outings and I don’t want to pack a separate baggie of snacks for him that he, that everybody’s not going to be eating out of because that’s just not realistic for our life and I also just don’t think that it’s a good tendency to cater to. And then the third issue is the ability to actually sit at the table and eat when it’s dinner time. And I’ve struggled with this a bit because I, I do embrace the philosophy that you should not eat when you’re not hungry and I don’t want to be forcing him to eat. But I also would like him to sit at the table and have dinner with the family. And I also don’t want him to go to bed hungry.

J.T.:                                      [18:33]                   And so I would like him to eat when it’s dinner time so that later, he’s not crying because he’s hungry. And this one we’ve had, I’ve had a lot of success in the holding the line on not giving in and feeding him at bedtime. We used to have tantrums every night, sometimes lasting an hour and a half, two hours – like I said, spirited child – about eating at bedtime. And that’s completely gone, that we’ve, we’ve managed to be consistent and hold the line enough that he knows dinner time is his last chance to eat for the night. But he’s still, sometimes it doesn’t actually eat, he just doesn’t throw fits later. So I think that’s the main issues is in a nutshell.

Dr. Rose:                            [19:15]                   So you really have your hands full there.

J.T.:                                      [19:20]                   Yes I do.

Dr. Rose:                            [19:21]                   So these are, these are, um, they seemed like very different problems to you, I would imagine, and I guess the first thing that I would. One, well, one thing I would like to tell you just about the protein, just to maybe put your head, your mind at ease a little bit there, which is that most Americans eat more protein than they need. And certainly if he’s drinking milk or eating cheese and then getting trace protein in other foods, you don’t need to worry specifically about protein. So when you get worried about that, I would, if Felix’s doctor is happy with his growth and everything like that, then I would let the specific nutrient concerns go. That’s a little bit more evidence of what I’m talking about. The nutrition mindset instead of the habits mindset.

Jen:                                      [20:20]                   So that’s one thing that I have a question about: does he generally seem happy and healthy?

J.T.:                                      [20:25] Totally. Yeah.

Jen:                                      [20:26]                   Yeah. Okay. And he’s a normal weight, normal height and so on.

J.T.:                                      [20:30]                   I mean, he’s always been at the low end of the, of the range, but that he’s been on his twelfth percentile since birth but he’s not trending down or anything.

Dr. Rose:                            [20:41]                   He’s on his own trajectory and he and his and his doctor is happy with the way things are going. So that that’s important thing to remember. And the other thing that I just wanted to say to put your mind at ease a little bit, which is if he is fine going to bed without having eaten, then he, he’s eating enough, right? And there’s only one case that that is if some children who are slight eaters and we haven’t really talked about the volume of food that he eats, but I’m talking about kids who really just don’t really care that much about food, who are very sort of slight eaters. So just the way that what I would say typical eaters, when we put too much food in front of them, they have a tendency to suppress their fullness feelings and so they might overeat. Kids who are slight eaters have a tendency if there per pressure to eat too much food to suppress their hunger signals. And so some children might decide to go to bed without eating because they’ve suppressed their hunger signals. But that would only be in response to pressure to eat more food and sort of a dynamic that you have not discussed at all. And so I think that in your situation when he chooses to go to bed, that just like with the protein, you should just say, you know, he’ll be good and, and, and let it, let it be. So it sounds like you’re, you’re doing the right thing there.

J.T.:                                      [22:10]                   Okay. Yeah, that’s definitely become much less of an issue than it used to be. I do wonder if, and this is less about food and more about family norms or behavior, but I do wonder if I’m messing up by not forcing him to sit at the table with us and have that family time. But I also don’t, I feel like I don’t want to force anything because I don’t want him to resist it. He’s such a contrary kid, but I don’t know if that’s okay. He’s more of a graze.r for awhile I was actually just laying out some food on a table and as he ran around like crazy, he would just pass by the table and grab a bell pepper his way around the track. And just because I felt like I wanted to get some healthy food into him and if there was some cashews and bell peppers on a table he could grab then that worked. But I also would like at some point for him to sit at the table and talk with us. But I don’t know if that’s too soon to that maybe are asked for that. I don’t know.

Dr. Rose:                            [23:07]                   Well, I mean I think that you’re. You’ve really identified the kind of tension that we all feel between the multiple goals that we’re trying to achieve at any one moment. So we have to keep these kids alive so we do have to feed them, but we also have to socialize them. And so we want to teach them how to, like you say, eat at the table and sometimes these goals are in contrast with each other or conflict with each other. And so the thing that I would recommend for you and for other people who are listening is what you’re probably doing now is probably the right thing, which is there are times when we’re setting up structure and times when we’re letting the eating happen more naturally. So the only thing that we want to do is become conscious of the times when we’re doing one kind of feeding versus the other kind of feeding so that we don’t send mixed messages.

Dr. Rose:                            [24:06]                   So for instance, let’s say we decide that dinner is always at the table for a certain amount of time before you can get down and we keep that child-friendly. So let’s say it’s whatever, 10 minutes or 15 minutes or five minutes after he’s finished eating or something that you, that all the parents decide is the right way to go. But that’s the thing that we’re going to be consistent about from meal to meal to meal or dinner to dinner, to dinner if that’s what we’re doing at dinner. So that, that becomes a structure that he can rely on it. It becomes like the bedtime routine that you said you were successful with and when he acts up in that moment at the dinner table, we have to remember that that’s a behavioral problem. Not a food problem and we have to respond in a behavioral way. But having said that, there are definitely times in our own lives when we eat on the go and there are definitely times when it’s more either practical or more fun or more efficient for a kid to eat on the run. And so I don’t think there’s anything wrong with putting a snack out in a play area and letting him graze. But if you are going to do that, you have to be clear that that’s what you’re doing and that’s where you’re doing it and that’s when you’re doing it. Or you need to have a code word with him, which you know, this is the surprise day or whatever it is. You know, this is the treat day. I don’t mean surprise because you don’t really want everything to be crystal clear, but you want the rules to be clear.

Dr. Rose:                            [25:44]                   So you just need to decide which you do, you don’t want to do it in response to begging and whining because that teaches begging and whining is a successful strategy, but go ahead and mix and match the techniques because you’ll achieve your goals simultaneously. So the caveat here is that let’s maximize his capacity to eat while he’s playing by putting quality food there. So a lot of times when parents are having trouble at meals and they are letting their kids grazes at snack time, they’re using crackers and other sorts of snacky foods to do that. And that’s a wasted opportunity. So I loved your example, like if he’s running around and grabbing a red pepper, you know, that’s an opportunity to get quality food into him. Why not?

J.T.:                                      [26:36]                   Yeah, no, that’s definitely on purpose because he’s, he’s more likely to grab and eat it if it’s the… I think after school when I’m getting dinner ready, it’s probably the hardest time he’s hungry. He wants to go to right away. But I can’t have prepared food before I pick them up because I work full time. And so that is my go to strategy to get a few things that I would put on his dinner plate and I give it to him early in the snack format. And then I know he’s at least had a couple of things that I would consider reasonable dinner foods and not just junk food.

Dr. Rose:                            [27:09]                   That’s perfect. I just, I think that it’s a perfect strategy to, to, uh, think about the high quality snacks when you’re preparing dinner because you’re right, kids are hungry, especially young kids… I’ve always tried to tell people that if you can feed your children dinner at around [4:00], you’re going to really be hitting their particular hunger cycle. And so anything you can do to shift the quality foods to the time, if you’re not in a position to give them dinner at [4:00]

J.T.:                                      [27:42]                   We get home around six.

Dr. Rose:                            [27:44]                   Right. So if you’re not in a position to do that, if you can shift the quality snacks to right then and then take some pressure off dinner, it’s going to be a win win situation. And I will just throw out there, just as an aside, that one of the reasons I don’t, I really don’t know anything about Felix or your home situation and what the dynamic is, but a lot of times at [6:00] or maybe you’re eating at [7:00] and he’s three years old and he’s had this full day and he is very exhausted.

J.T.:                                      [28:22]                   Yeah, that’s true.

Dr. Rose:                            [28:24]                   It’s almost impossible for little kids to hold it together. First of all, we all know that they come home from school where they were little angels and then they become, they become little monsters for us. And then, and then the parenting experts always say, oh, that’s because they can let their hair down with you and everything. And it’s a good sign. And, and yes, yes, yes. But it’s difficult as a parent to deal with it. And one thing to recognize is that they’re there at the end of their capacity, both because they’re tired and they’re overstimulated. And then the other thing on top of that, I would say for a three year old is that it’s, once you get past being over hungry, sometimes it’s hard to eat. And then the other thing is, is that the technical, physical manual skills that it takes to eat can sometimes you rode for a child of this age because they’re exhausted.

Dr. Rose:                            [29:17]                   So we think, you know, you take the fork and you stab it and it’s no big deal. And look, I’ve been looking at my kid, be able to use a fork for whatever, two years and it seems like why shouldn’t he be able to do it now? But I would just say that that’s something to bear in mind. So if you can shift your quality foods earlier in the day, um, you know, most of us waste breakfast with food that’s not highly nutritious, you know, toast or something like that. So if we can shift some of that food earlier in the day, if we can give quality snacks right before dinner or shift dinner time when it’s possible and then recognize that any help or comfort that you can give him at dinner time will really go a long way to getting him to eat. So I understand that we want our kids to be independent, etc. But a three year old could use a little bit of help sometimes. Oh, maybe sitting on the lap for five minutes out of the 10 minutes that he’s at the table. Maybe you load up a fork for every third bite so that he doesn’t have to load up a fork or anything like that because you may just find that what he’s doing is just fatigue.

J.T.:                                      [30:33]                   That’s so interesting that you give those examples because he has been asking a lot to sit in my lap to have me feed him. And I had assumed it was his response to having a new baby in the house. He has a six month old sister. um, but it may just be more of what you’re describing of just having had it for the day and needs to be a little more taken care of.

Dr. Rose:                            [30:56]                   Right. but I would say even if it’s the other, even if it’s that it’s because a lot of children will regress to get the attention from their parents when the new one enters the house. I would say that the parenting instinct there would be two accommodate it a little bit because we want to offer up his confidence. So if, yeah, it sounds like you would do that anyway. Like to give him that little extra. so it would, it might do double duty.

J.T.:                                      [31:24]                   Yeah. Okay. I wanted to ask about like all of what you’re saying really resonates and I can see easily incorporating all that, but I feel like I’m still stuck in that rut that you described earlier of a really monotonous diet at this point. It’s not monotonous in being junk. It’s not like we’re just giving him bread and crackers, but, you know, the few things that I know that he’ll eat, like bell peppers, it’s basically bell peppers and carrots are like my…. I feel like I’m being a good healthy parent if that’s what I get them to eat and I’ve kind of stopped trying to rotate in more variety and I’m hoping maybe you have some advice for how to restart that variety thing and get him to actually eat because I think I fear that we’re just gonna go back to him not eating and how do you get over that hump with bringing in more variety and dealing with the refusals ?

Dr. Rose:                            [32:22]                   So that of course you recognize that’s the number one question. So thanks for asking. Everyone out there who’s listening is going, I was wondering when you would around to asking that question. So let me just say that, a couple of things. The first thing is that what I mentioned at the beginning of the show about the rotation rule is really, really important because it really does lay the foundation for the expectation that we don’t eat the same food from day to day and that is the first step of being able to accept new foods. So for instance, there are many, there are many steps that go into this process and I just want to say that, let me just describe this, the way we could think about learning how to get dressed, which is in order to learn how to get dressed, you have to learn about your body parts and then you have to learn about what the clothes are, what they’re called, and then you have to learn technical skills like buttons and zippers, and then you have to learn how to put them on.

Dr. Rose:                            [33:33]                   And then you have to learn about decision making. So there are lots and lots of little steps along the way that we don’t really outline in our own mind. So we don’t really, we’re not conscious of them, but they’re there nonetheless. And the same thing is true when it comes to new foods. And so the first thing really is about getting it in your mind that you’re going to eat different foods for different meals because children come into this process thinking that the way that you decide what to eat is based on whatever it is that you like to eat. Right? I mean, that doesn’t seem like an unreasonable thing to think about, but they don’t realize that there are external reasons other than my parent wants me to eat this. So then it becomes, I want to eat this and you want me to eat that.

Dr. Rose:                            [34:23]                   So now we’re going to be in a fight and we need kids to learn that there are external reasons for making eating decisions. And one of them happens to be what was cooked that night. One of them happens to be what’s in the fridge. Sometimes it’s money, and one of them is good eating habits, right? And so if we tell little kids, even from the age of two that we eat different foods on different days, but we’re going to, we’re going to use the foods you like to eat… and we can be up front. A lot of parents end up saying to me, you know, I think he’s caught onto what we’re doing. And I’m always like, that’s great. Don’t think that this is a secret. So one of the things that we can say to Felix is something along the lines of, now that you’re a big boy, you’re almost four; you are ready to start learning new things. And so, um, I know that you’re not comfortable eating new foods. One of my jobs as your parent is to help you learn to enjoy more things, but don’t worry because we’re going to start really, really easy. And we’re going to start just by shifting around when you eat the foods that you already like, we’re not eating new foods and I will never make you eat new foods. That’s an important thing to say to kids like, you’re safe. This is okay. Because otherwise they come to the table all like stressed out, the shoulders up around their ears and you know, they’re already ready to be defiant. Were being a little bit legalistic when we say won’t make you eat new foods because what we’re going to start talking about, and I’ll get to that in a second, is what does it mean to become an explorer?

Dr. Rose:                            [36:01]                   Or does it mean to taste new foods? But that’s different than eating, right? yeah. So you can start with the first lesson which is to say we’re going to be learning how to do this, but we’re only using the foods that you like. And the reason to use the rotation rule really and to tell children about the rotation rule is because when a child refuses to eat the food that you are serving and you know it’s a food that he would normally eat. You know that you’re firmly in behavior, not in food. So for instance, if a child likes, and I know this might make you, you know, you cringe when I give you the example, but let’s say for breakfast we’ve got pancakes and we’ve got French Toast, you know, and if we were alternating between pancakes and french toast based on the rotation rule, not based on a whim of the parent, not based because it happens to be sunny out, not, you know, because things have to not feel arbitrary to the kids, but because we don’t eat the same food two days in a row and you only want two different breakfast, so we’re going to go back and forth, let’s say that’s the decision.

Dr. Rose:                            [37:07] There’s going to come a time when the child rejects the french toast because he wants the pancakes, but we know that he likes them both and can eat them both and therefore we know that the rejection is really solidly in a behavioral issue and therefore we can then address it as a behavioral issue and it helps us as parents. Does that make sense?

Jen:                                      [37:32] Absolutely. And how do we do that? What is addressing that mean?

Dr. Rose:                            [37:36]                   The behavioral problem? Well, I can’t tell you how to do that because that’s a parenting thing. So I mean it’s all parenting but. But everybody addresses behavioral issues in their own way. So whether you just say, you know, this is inappropriate behavior or whether somebody gets a time out or whether they have something, you know, whatever it is that you would normally do. However, what I really suggest is that before we even go into this, we say something along the lines of this is what the rotation rule is.

Dr. Rose:                            [38:09]                   We’re going to start implementing it starting tomorrow. Let’s work together to put together the list of foods that go into the rotation so that they feel that they are part of the process and then we can have a description about how it’s going to be implemented. So it is great when we can give kids a choice between B and b, but we’re not always in a position where we can give them a choice. We don’t need to always be in a position where we give them a choice right back and forth between those two things. And at the same time, we then say these are, these are my expectations for how you will behave. And so we want to be able to make sure that we give kids an opportunity to be part of the process and so we want to include them as often as we can without including them too much.

Dr. Rose:                            [39:04]                   So for instance, we don’t want to ever say to them, what do you want to eat because that offers too many kinds of choices, but we do want to say sometimes do you want A or B Right? So that they have that opportunity to, um, participate and feel like they’re in control.

Jen:                                      [39:21]                   So, Dina, one of the things that I found really interesting in the book was how are you start to help us move beyond, you know, what happens when you’re alternating between the french toast and pancakes. Can you tell us a bit about where are we go from here and how you start introducing those next steps to introduce more variety.

Dr. Rose:                            [39:37]                   Right. So let me just, let me just say that the more that we can have the rotation rule throughout the day, the better off we’re going to be. We have to think about a parallel line which is happening if not exactly simultaneously, it could be staged. I’m a week or two after we started the rotation role, but we have to think about the food exploration and the introducing of new foods to be done outside of the eating arena. Okay. And that’s really key here. So the more more resistant a kid is to trying new foods, the more we have to keep exploring new foods away from the table because the pressure to eat food will make some kids not want to even taste it. And most parents I know will say to their kids some version of just taste it and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it. And we think as parents that that’s taking the pressure off of our kids, but through our kids ears, what they hear is, if you like it, you will have to eat it.

Dr. Rose:                            [40:51]                   Now That seems like you know crazy to us that that would be pressure because we think, well if you like it, don’t you want to eat it? But let’s just say kids are crazy and there are lots of reasons why they might not want to eat something at a given moment. So if like I don’t know, like is Felix, like he seems like he’s pretty resistant. Yeah. And he really, really, really doesn’t want to go near anything that is new.

J.T.:                                      [41:23]                   Yeah. That’s pretty much true. Not just food related. He doesn’t like change. He really thrives on having routine and schedule and knowing what to expect. so a lot. I mean, what saying is kind of blowing my mind, but yes, like the whole food rotation being a rule, I can really see that appealing to him actually. And some of the things you’ve said, I know I’ve said word for word what, what do you want to eat? And having him, you know, realizing like that’s way too big of a decision for him to make, well that explains why he then reverts back to his few favorite things when he answers that question.

Dr. Rose:                            [41:59]                   Well then they can only think of two things and they happen to be cheese. Orange cheese and yellow cheese.

J.T.:                                      [42:06]                   To his credit, he will eat a very wide variety of cheese.

Dr. Rose:                            [42:11]                   But so the thing about food exploration is that we want to reassure children who are worried that they will not have to eat it and therefore what we want to do is in extreme cases have food exploration happen so far away from the table that it’s not even possible. So it might happen at the park or someplace like that and we want to explore a pea sized amount of food and when I say explore it, I depending on like Felix might not be ready to taste anything.

Dr. Rose:                            [42:51]                   He might be much more inclined to smell it or touch it or drop it on the floor and see what happens to it or smoosh it between his fingers or something like that. And eventually he may be willing to taste it. The key here is that we have to put on our educator hat and think about this as sensory education. So when we’re trying to teach our kids how to be literate, we’re trying to teach them how to read and they learn the alphabet. We repeat the alphabet ad nauseum and we sing that song and then everywhere we walk, when we see we see signs out there, we’ll say, hey, do you see an A? Can you point out the A right? We do all of this repetition to make all of the letters familiar and then eventually we start sounding out words, etc.

Dr. Rose:                            [43:39]                   The same thing is happening here, so we want to take opportunities to say, well, what color is that? Just because we can. Oh, do you think that the green of that apple is the same green on the watermelon that we saw the other day. Oh wow, smell that. Does that smell, you know, like this flower or does it smell like your baby sister’s dirty diapers? It doesn’t really matter what you say because the point is we’re just trying to get it into consideration because the more familiar Felix is with these different senses and the different foods, the more knowledge he’s gonna have, the more willing he is eventually going to be to taste it and it’s the multiple tastings. Of course, you know that, right? All the research says, oh, you know, 12, 14 tastings, which might as well be a million because kids give up, give up after you know, five times.

Dr. Rose:                            [44:34]                   But that’s because we expect kids to eat it and tastings…in those research studies. They’re never asking kids to taste an entire serving of chicken they’re given or broccoli, they’re giving them a psi sampler. There’s one study that I love to talk about because the kids were given 1/32 of a tomato. That’s a really. I can’t even imagine. It must be this huge tomato is all I keep thinking and then they cut it into pieces and the questions that we ask kids when we’re asking them to explore foods is not do like it because they’ll do like it as a thumbs up and thumbs down. And if I don’t like it, why would I try it a second time? So it has to be a smell it and tell me, is it whatever, you know, taste it: is it crunchy? Feel it. Is it squishy?

Dr. Rose:                            [45:32]                   Which of these apples is crunchier or makes more noise when you take a crunch? Any question that you can ask and actually in the book, It’s Not About The Broccoli or my website, It’s Not About Nutrition, I have handouts with these kinds of questions that you can ask your kids because most of us as you can even see me, like at the spur of the moment, I’m struggling to come up with the questions, but there are lots of them that you, that you can ask and this has to run simultaneous to the rotation rule that’s happening at the table. And I would exploit felix his love of cheese to get your started. I would have him start describing not in full detail. Don’t ask him for a whole essay and don’t do it every single time he takes a bite, but start asking him to pay attention.

Dr. Rose:                            [46:26]                   Is it creamy? Is it soft? Is it smelly? and then comparing the cheeses and then maybe go to a cheese store and maybe then compare cheese to the red pepper that he likes and then introduce the teeniest bite… Maybe you are eating something that he wouldn’t normally eat. You know, whether it’s a salad or whether it’s beans or whether it’s steak, I don’t know what you eat, but you just, you could have them look at it and say, How is this compared to the cheese? Not for tasting purposes, right? Because you’re trying to do is build up his database. Does that make sense?

J.T.:                                      [47:14]                   It does. And I actually want to ask you a follow up question because funnily enough, like not because we were doing this as a strategy for getting him to eat, but just because he’s always been interested in food, we’d do this in the grocery store and at farmer’s markets. He actually loved grocery shopping. He loves cooking with me. Starting from when he was a very little baby. He loved us just opening spice jars and he would smell the different spaces and you know, he can tell you what, if you blindfold them and put cumin under his nose, he’ll know what it is, but he would never eat something that we’ve used those kinds of seasonings in. And it’s so interesting to me because he loves that we’d go to the grocery store and he’s like, fascinated by all the different colors and he’s like, oh, this is, eggplant is such a, such a beautiful purple, I love purple and, but you know, but would he eat eggplant if we cooked it? No. And it’s like, I feel like we’ve been doing this sensory aspect of the exercise since birth and he’s very responsive to it and very into it, but it hasn’t translated into him being more open to eating those foods.

Jen:                                      [48:19]                   So at this point, unfortunately I have to step in and apologize because about 10 seconds into Dina’s answer our Skype recording cut out with no warning or explanation and we lost the last couple of minutes of our interview. So I’m just going to go ahead and tell you what she said in response to J.T.’s question. So her response was essentially that the leap is too great that going from being excited about an eggplant in the store to having something cooked with eggplant is just too great for him. Going from being excited about smelling cumin to eating food with cumin in it is a leap that’s too great. So the suggestion that she had was to break this up into miniscule steps starting with food a food that J.T.’s son likes, so cheese and maybe put just a tiny, tiny bit of cumin on the cheese and see if he wants to taste it.

Jen:                                      [49:10]                   Don’t ask him if he likes it, but just ask him what is it like and get them to observe what that experience is like. And then the idea is to build links to new foods. So maybe he likes crunchy foods. Well you can get pappadoms with cumin seeds. And so what if we cooked up some pappadoms and had him try those. And then the idea is to go from there and say, what other kinds of varieties of food can we introduce if he likes crunchy foods, maybe we introduce chicken nuggets and maybe chicken nuggets isn’t the healthiest thing. But from there you can go to other foods with chicken in and then chicken with teriyaki sauce maybe. And then you could introduce some broccoli with teriyaki sauce. And so the point is to make these slow, gentle, gradual steps in the direction of evermore a variety, and it’s okay to start with not ideal foods because that’s kind of your bridge from where you are to where you’re going to go.

Jen:                                      [50:07]                   So Dina concluded by reminding us that she will offer a free 30 minute coaching session to any listener who is interested. You just need to go to her website, ItsNotAboutNutrition.com. You can mouse over, Work with Dina and then click on parents and you can go ahead and schedule your 30 minute conversation and it’s absolutely free. So my thanks, even though Dina and J.T. are no longer with me for both of them, for joining me, I know I learned an awful lot that I hope I will never have to put into practice, but I’m now much more prepared just in case that ever ends up being the case and my daughter flips into a much more picky eater than she is right now. Thanks again for joining me on your parenting mojo. You can find all the references for this episode on YourParentingMojo.com/broccoli Thanks so much. We’ll talk again soon.

Also published on Medium.


About the author, Jen

Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.

Her Finding Your Parenting Mojo membership group supports parents in putting the research into action in their real lives, with their real families. Find more info at www.YourParentingMojo.com/Membership

She also launched the most comprehensive course available to help parents decide whether homeschooling could be right for their family. Find out more about it – and take a free seven-question quiz to get a personalized assessment of your own homeschooling readiness at www.YourHomeschoolingMojo.com

And for parents who are committed to public school but recognize the limitations in that system, she has a course to help support children's learning in school at https://jenlumanlan.teachable.com/p/school

Leave a Comment