Are “Food Rules” Helpful?

I read an interview (5/04) in the Washington Post about “food rules” in the household.  The main questions: (1) are “food rules” a good idea and, (2) what “food rules” are acceptable?  The interview with Marlene Schwartz, deputy director at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, describes how defining rules is important for parents to claim “…their rightful role as the family food policy makers.”  Schwartz believes we have become too lenient with children’s eating habits with the fear that we would contribute to disordered eating behaviors.  She encourages parents to establish food rules that they believe are appropriate within their family.  For example, one of her rules is “one dessert a day,” whereby “dessert” is any food that provides calories without being nutritious (chips, fries, cake, candy).  This rule is excellent as it defines moderation while allowing a child to be in control of his or her choices.  Peruse my thoughts at the Full E. Center.

“Food rules” – not just for kids

I appreciate Marlene Schwartz’ approach toward creating familial food rules.  I believe rules are essential toward establishing healthy household rituals – both for children but also for you and/or spouse.

For example, one of Marlene Schwartz’ rules is to have no meals during TV-time.  This is an excellent rule since it has been established that those who dine while watching TV are less in tune with hunger signals and consume more calories.

Won’t having “food rules” be seen as controlling?

Rules are intended to help – not punish or hurt.  I like the idea of developing a framework for your rules, whatever they may be.  A framework can be a few general tenets that you plan to follow.

For example, Ellyn Satter is well-known in the nutrition field for her expertise with feeding children to be competent adult eaters.  How she did this was by developing a few key tenets, as follows:

  1. The parent is responsible for what, when and where
  2. The child is responsible for how much and whether to eat

What I like about these tenets is that it allows for clear roles that parents can follow without being too controlling or too lenient.

Within this framework, parents can start establishing rules they want to follow.  Some examples:

  1. What type of food: we are a vegetarian household
  2. When: We enjoy dinner anytime between 6-8 pm as a family
  3. Where: We eat together at the table versus on the couch or spread out around the house

What are your food rules right now?  What do you want them to be?

Creating some basic food rules for yourself is a great way to reach your goals and stick with a food plan.  It also allows you to make easy choices when in doubt.  Here is one of my favorite examples:

You are at a super bowl and watching your friends and family get their 4th, 5th and 10th servings of Buffalo Wings, Nachos and Burgers.  You remember you are in the process of leaning up and thus, recall one of your food rules during this time: you allow yourself one serving of each Super Bowl Food but no seconds.

If you need help creating a framework and/or some simple starter food rules, email me!


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