A periodic table hanging in Lora Beth Brown’s (EdD ’82) office does not feature the elements—the whimsical chart features desserts, an ironic twist for an associate professor of nutrition, dietetics, and food science. Much of Brown’s 35 years at BYU has been spent teaching others how to improve their eating habits and enjoy good food.
Are there specific dos and don’ts for a healthy diet?
A: Some people believe that eating nutritiously means following strict rules. I believe we should eat well and in moderation, which means eating and enjoying a variety of foods. That said, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains should factor into any balanced diet.
Be wary of soda pop and fried foods. Both provide extra calories and little nutritious benefit. Limit your intake of overly manufactured food; if you don’t recognize most of the ingredients on a label, consider eating something simpler.
Q: What can parents do to help their children eat well?
A: Set the example. Children imitate parents’ eating habits, for better or worse. Parents’ honest enjoyment of delicious nutritious foods will go a long way toward instilling similar habits in their children. And be mindful of portion sizes; they send visual cues about how much food is acceptable to eat in a sitting.
When families eat out for special occasions, they tend to suspend the rules a little. And since eating away from home is becoming more common, parents should think about the habits they’re passing on to their kids. Large serving sizes and dessert after every meal may now be the rule when they should be the exception.
Remember: out of sight, out of mind. Pay attention to what is front and center in your fridge and what’s easily accessible in your cupboards. Your shopping strategy matters when it comes to some of the “eat-less-often” foods—the health benefits of having less in the house may outweigh the savings of buying those in bulk. But certainly, keep the “eat-more-often” foods stocked and well in sight.
Q: What if children refuse to eat something?
A: Don’t give up if they don’t like their broccoli right away. As many as 20 exposures to a certain kind of food may be needed before children warm up to it.
Q: What are your thoughts about using incentives?
A: Be neutral about food by avoiding rewards or punishments for eating. An incentive is probably OK to use once, but the research shows that when children are being bribed, it will actually make them dislike the incentivized food more and increase their preference for non-incentivized foods. The approach should be inviting; over the course of a few weeks, months, and even years, give your children repeated opportunities to eat healthy food and allow them to decide when to enjoy it. And it’s not the end of the world if a child doesn’t eat a particular food.
Q: Do you have a favorite guilty pleasure?
A: I don’t play favorites, but I do love a good pumpkin pie with a dollop of real whipped cream. As long as we are eating in moderation, we should all worry less and enjoy more.