Making Room for “fun” Foods

photo by Isabelle Morford

I‘ll apologize up front that the gorgeousness in the photo above isn’t coming to you in a recipe today. My sister-in-law Alison made these Strawberry and Yogurt Cream Tarts for a barbecue at our house recently, and yes, they were as delicious as they look. It was not a “no, thank you” or even “just a sliver” kind of dessert. My kids passed up popsicles earlier in the day knowing the promise of this lovely confection awaited us all after dinner.

The notion of balancing everday foods (the core of a healthy diet) with sometimes foods (like this tart) is a challenge for so many parents, myself included. Kids are confronted with treats constantly whether it’s donuts after church, cookies at soccer practice, or goodies in grandma’s kitchen. Teaching them how to balance “growing foods” with “splurge foods” isn’t easy. To help you along the way, I’m featuring an approach by guest blogger Jill Castle, a fellow registered dietitian who specializes in pediatrics and writes the mega informative nutrition blog Just the Right Byte.

Fun Food & The 90:10 Rule
by Jill Castle, MS, RD, LDN

In a society that places a high focus on food (both healthy and unhealthy), it’s easy to get mired in the black and white thinking of “good foods, bad foods”. Parents easily fall into this trap while they are in the midst of “getting food right” for their kids. And boy, does the job of “getting food right” get confusing for everyone!

What if we changed the language we use? What if we try to label foods in a positive manner, so that kids can grasp what we are trying to teach them without fear and negativity?

Fun Foods taste good but need limits.

Enter the concept of FUN FOOD.

FUN FOODS are foods that are yummy (and sometimes irresistible), usually due to their sweet, fatty and/or salty taste.

Examples are birthday cake, cupcakes, cookies, soda, candy, chips and fried foods. FUN FOODS tend to be generous in calories, low in nutrition and naturally alluring (think about those pleasure-seeking taste buds–sweet, salt, and fat).

Parents tell me that FUN FOODS are everywhere, and they fear that FUN FOODS are becoming a mainstay in their kids’ diets. No longer just a treat at birthday parties, FUN FOODS are making regular appearances at school, church, and sporting events. While I am all for fun, too many FUN FOODS can get some kiddos into trouble.

Do you ever feel that FUN FOODS are invading your child’s daily plate?

If you answered ‘yes’, then you (and your kids) need a rule to live by! One that can keep the fun in food without ruining anyone’s health.

Enter the 90:10 RULE, a concept that many families find useful in tapering the influence of FUN FOODS.
It goes like this:

90% of what kids eat during the day is good-for-you, growing food (a balance and variety of foods from the My Plate guide: lean protein sources, dairy, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains)— and the other 10% is FUN FOOD.

For most healthy kids, a good rule of thumb is to eat no more than 1-2 FUN FOODS each day. Kids can understand this concept—and the best part– allowing kids to choose which FUN FOOD they will eat. Take a look:

Sally knows that she will have the opportunity to have donuts after church on Sunday, as well as cake and ice cream at the afternoon birthday party she is attending. Following the 90:10 Rule, she opts for cake and ice cream at the party and skips the donuts at church. Good choice, Sally!

Brent is playing baseball this afternoon and as tradition has it, he grabs a slushy drink. He passes on the bowl of ice cream later that night, remembering he chose his FUN FOOD earlier that day. Home run, Brent!

The 90:10 RULE encourages kids to make choices and set limits on the amount of less-than-healthy foods they eat. It helps them pause and think through what they will eat during the day, and gives them an opportunity to think ahead and practice decision-making skills with eating.As parents, we know there are endless options for FUN FOODS throughout the day. Eliminating FUN FOODS all together is a recipe for mutiny. Balancing FUN FOODs with GROWING FOODs is really the key to successful, healthy eating.

And kids need to be able to navigate the world of food. Among the vast variety of FUN FOODS, the 90:10 RULE is a rule to live by for kids. It allows them to be in charge of choosing the FUN FOOD which is most important to them. And it helps them to set their own limits while learning to balance their eating.

What guidelines do you use to put a positive twist on managing FUN FOODS?


08.30.2011 at7:48 AM #


Love this post, as it gives the kids a say in how to manage their food. Thanks, as always!

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