American sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert, Dina Rose PhD is the author of the fantastic 'It's Not About the Broccoli'.
I reviewed her book back in January and loved her approach. Like me, Dina helps parents understand that when it comes to feeding your kids, it's more important to help them develop a positive relationship with food than to simply focus on getting as much healthy food down them as possible. Here's how Dina answered my questions:
1.Can you tell my readers a bit about your journey into the world of picky eating? What made you decide to get involved in this field?
My mother died of obesity-related illnesses when I was pregnant with my daughter, over 13 years ago. She was only 65 years old. When my daughter was born, I was consumed with answering the question, “How do you teach kids to eat right?” I wasn’t that focused on nutrition because, although I wanted my daughter to eat well, what I wanted more for her was a good relationship with food. I knew that meant I had to focus on teaching her good eating habits. I knew that if I taught her the when, why, and how much of eating, then the what would come along for the ride.
Because I was a sociologist, I was naturally focused on socialization, or the process by which parents transmit norms and values, behaviors and beliefs. So it wasn’t a big step from my causal quest for the answer to my question, “How do you teach kids to eat right?” to a more rigorous investigation.
2.I'm really interested in how your background as a social scientist has informed your take on picky eating - my favourite parts of your book are where you talk about the role of food marketing socially and culturally. Can you tell me more about how you see food and feeding through a sociologist's eyes?
Sociologists look at how behavior is shaped. In this case, I was interested in both the home environment and in the larger cultural context. When I began observing and then interviewing parents, it became clear to me that people were thinking about nutrition —how to “get” calcium or protein “into” their kids—more than they were thinking about how to teach their children to make the right food choices. Some of that had to do with our cultural attitudes and expectations about children and childhood (what they are capable of in terms of learning and in terms of eating) and our cultural attitudes about nutrition as the primary mechanism for thinking about the feeding relationship. I witnessed parents making mistakes in the name of good nutrition. For instance, not seeing how they were teaching their children to be emotional eaters by distracting them from pain with a cookie or a lollypop. Or not seeing that they were reinforcing their children’s palates by feeding to their children’s taste expectations when they “bought into” the idea of child-friendly foods as a necessity. And I knew, as a sociologist, that the key to change would be to show people the culture that was influencing them and give them the tools to produce different outcomes.
3.If a new parent asked you for one key piece of advice about how to ensure that his or her child grew up with a positive relationship with food, what would it be?
Remember that eating right is a skill that children need to learn. And just as we don’t expect children to learn how to walk right away, we shouldn’t expect children to eat right right away. At the same time, however, we applaud every step of a child’s learning to walk—“Look, you walked,” we say to the child to takes a tentative step and then falls flat on her face!—but we are discoursing of children’s first tentative steps in eating, “Is that all you’re going to eat? Take two more bites.” If you see your child as trying, and that failure is a way to identify a special learning need—a picky child needs to learn how to become more adventurous and that takes time and a lot of bravery on the part of the child—the feeding dynamic would improve.
4.When I hear from readers of War and Peas, I'm often surprised about which aspects of my philosophy really resonate with people - often it's not what I would predict. What aspect of It's Not About the Broccoli have readers really found useful and has this surprised you?
Parents are often surprised that the system they need to put into place is practical and doable. And, once they read about it, they often wonder why they never thought about it before.
5.I often get asked if picky eating is a case of nature or nurture. What's your view?
Of course it is both. People are born with different strengths and weaknesses in all areas including eating. But parents shape their children’s eating by how they parent around food. Because our culture emphasizes nutrition so much, there is a paucity of discussion about what parents can do to teach their children to eat the food that is served. Consequently, parents rely on the same old tactics—two more bites, bribing, bartering, cajoling and then, frequently, capitulating to the child’s demands—even though parents know these tactics don’t work. Why? Because they want, so very badly, to do the right thing and “get” nutrients “into” their kids. The trade-off (bad habits for nutrition) seems worthwhile. Of course, it isn’t and in the long run parents end up creating or at least reinforcing the very habits they’re trying to change.
6.I expect 2014 has been a busy year for you promoting your book. Do you have any exciting plans for the future?
It’s been an exciting year. I plan to keep getting the word out to parents, pediatricians, teachers, dietitians and other professionals about how changing the conversation from nutrition to habits can change the way our children eat.