Is your child’s increased junk food consumption causing you stress?
Fast food culture is everywhere. And parents today more than any previous generation genuinely want to pursue a healthier lifestyle. But, how does one instill these healthy eating habits in our kids when they are bombarded from all corners by junk food options.
Junk food looks great, tastes delicious and is more appealing than simple home-cooked meals. We all feel like its a losing battle when it comes to junk food and for many families, the junk food consumption has gone out of control.
How do we reduce junk food consumption in kids and at the same time teach kids to eat these highly palatable foods in moderation?
Let’s start by looking at
WHAT IS JUNK FOOD?
Junk food is any food that is high in calories, containing mainly fat, sugar and salt and little to none of the essential nutrients and vitamins needed by the body.
Some examples of Junk Food
Chocolates and Candies
Packaged drinks and Sodas
Highly processed meals like Burgers and Pizzas
Indian fast food: Pakoras, pav bhaji, sev puris, chaats, samosas, etc.
WHY IS JUNK FOOD UNHEALTHY FOR KIDS?
Let us take a look at some of the junk food effects on the body,
- Children need a variety of nutrients for proper growth and development. These vitamins and minerals are lacking in foods classified as junk foods. When the diet is largely comprised of junk foods the child is not getting any nutrients but at the same time consuming a large number of calories. Such a diet comprised mainly of empty calories is one of the reasons why we are now seeing a large number of nutritionally deficient yet obese kids in our country rising.
- A consistent diet of junk foods leads to obesity in kids. India now has the second largest number of obese kids globally as published in a study by theNew England Jornal of Medicine.
- Obese kids develop many lifestyle disorders like diabetes, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular problems. A diet high in added sugars also leads to dental caries.
- Street foods also pose a risk of contamination, when made in unhygienic conditions causing foodborne illnesses.
- Junk foods also contain various additives like artificial colors, stabilizers, enhancers, preservatives. These are carcinogenic and harmful to the body especially when the child is eating these foods on a consistent basis.
The problems we are facing right now is a population of kids that are larger in size than previous generations, but nutritionally deficient and suffering illness previously considered as adulthood illnesses.
TIPS TO AVOID JUNK FOOD CONSUMPTION
Any healthy lifestyle change first starts at home. It is not possible to control what your kids will eat outside the home in school or at parties, But you can make your home a haven for good quality and nutritious food. At home you are in charge, so make good use of your responsibility as a parent.
- Stock the house with an abundance of fruit and vegetables. Make fruit and vegetables attractive and accessible. Plates of chopped up fruit and vegetable sticks served with hummus or homemade yogurt dips can be placed in an accessible place for the kids to munch on when hungry.
- Talk about the benefits of eating a healthy diet. Give emphasis to creating awareness about the food they eat, where it comes for, what the food does for the body. For eg Say to your child, spinach makes you strong to fight diseases/ Carrots make our eyes sharper instead of, eat your spinach/carrot it is good for you.
- Lead by example. Children are watching us and learning through observation. Are you eating cookies after dinner every night and then complaining your child eats a lot of cookies? He only wants to follow whatever you do, so change your own habits first before you tackle theirs.
- Simple swaps. Many people assume that healthy food is bland and boring and therefore never make the necessary changes. There is a lot of junk food hiding in the pantry that’s not good for anyone. Why not bake fries instead of frying them. Try alternatives like baked sweet potatoes, pumpkin, parsnips and taro root once in a while. Believe me, all these vegetable and root fry options taste delicious. Garnish with a few spices and you have a variety to choose from. You won’t miss your regular high salt potato fries.
- Go Whole All The Way. The easiest way to eat healthier is to switch to whole foods and reduce processed packaged junk. The more real food you eat the better your families health. Scientists everywhere are urging us to switch to wholesome meals made at home using good quality and local ingredients.
TIPS TO REDUCE JUNK FOOD CONSUMPTION IN KIDS
- One of the ways we reduced junk food consumption as a family when outside the house was by carrying our own snacks. Low prep snacks like energy balls and energy bars are quick and easy to grab and go. Fresh fruit, nuts, and dried foods are other options for our to-go snack box. These snacks stay fresh and keep the kids full when outside the home for 4-5 hours.
- When this is not possible I look for whole food options where ever I can find them. India is blessed with some amazing tropical fruit produce and vendors are usually at the corner of any street you are in, eg, the humble nariyal paani wala, fruit vendors, or singdana vendors. When at a mall I try and find well-cooked foods (to avoid contamination) like idlis, dosas or a restaurant with good hygiene standards.
- When eating dinner outside we usually skip dessert. Just removing desserts from our eating out plans helps reduce one more calorie dense food that is also addictive in nature. Since such a preset pattern (appetizers, mains, and desserts) to dining out does not exist in our routine, our child is not sitting there waiting for dessert. I know this tip may not be suitable for many families, but definitely worth a try if you are interested in reducing sugar consumption.
- Early on when our son was younger, I carried a little snack box especially for him filled with all his favorite snacks when we went to parties or to visit family members. This reduced my stress of “what he will eat when out”. When you come with your own box of food for your child you can control what the child eats.
- Now as he grows older and is curious about other options at the party I offer him a filling snack that is healthy and nutritious before we leave for the party and then just let him have a choice at the party. I want him to feel like a part of the socializing and not demonize certain foods. Most times since he has already eaten beforehand he manages a little bit more at the party, and other times if he wants more I let it pass. Its an important part of learning how to eat intuitively and he will learn to self regulate treat foods on his own in time.
- We make our own treat foods at home. There are times when he sees his favorite character from a book or some friend eat an ice lolly, chocolate or cake and will request us to buy him that food. If its something I can replicate at home I first give it a go and make him his desired cookie or cake. At other times we set a date and go out and have some fun and enjoy whatever it is he wants. The key here is to find a good quality product. Nowadays there are many brands that use quality ingredients and minimal additives, all you need to do is a little research. Look for ice creams made using whole milk and not vegetable oils, chocolate brands using less sugar, cake, and pastries made using good quality chocolate and other ingredients. Skip the commercial junk and look for quality treat foods.
- Use deferring as a tool to avoid bringing back junk food from a shopping trip. Let us say you are at a store and your child spots a candy bar. You know this is not the time of day for him to be eating a candy bar. But your child has started to make repeated requests, get down to his level and say: “I wish I could buy some candy right now, how about I write it on my list for next time.” And the next time you are there, buy it. If the child has forgotten all about it, then great! This trick works well for 2-4-year-olds.
- Distraction works with a younger toddler, 1-2 years of age, you can point at something else happening in that moment and help them forget about the candy they wanted a minute back.
TIPS TO TEACH KIDS TO EAT JUNK FOODS IN MODERATION
- I recently shared how I paired my son’s favorite fried snack with other healthy options like nuts and dry fruits and turned this combination into a trail mix type of snack.
Here is what it looked like:
This can be done with any junk food. Instead of saying “No” and making the food scarce, make it part of a healthy meal and offer in a small quantity. If they like cookies, serve the cookie with dinner. This way they won’t eat dinner in order to earn the cookie and realize that everything is okay in moderation.
- One mantra I follow in our home is Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility, it really teaches the child moderation. It is our responsibility as parents to make available the type of foods and the children will decide what to eat and how much to eat. I serve/make available a whole array of healthy foods for our son to choose from. After that, it is his choice what and how much he wants to eat.
- Continuing with the same philosophy, as kids get older give more control, decide on how many days a week they can have a portion of their favorite junk food and then let them choose the food.
- Another way to make junk foods look like “just another option” is to place it next to other healthy favorite snack foods your kids enjoy and allow them to choose their own snacks. From personal experience; growing up my parents did not shame me for choosing junk food options, but made sure to praise when I ate something healthy. This really motivated me to continue choosing healthier options.
COMMON SCENARIOS WHERE JUNK FOOD IS PRESENTED TO KIDS AND HOW TO OVERCOME THESE SITUATIONS
Most parents complain that it is the grandparents that pamper the grandchild and introduce junk foods in the first place. Listen, I know it is hard trying to explain your parenting views on the subject of healthy eating. If this happens once or twice a year you might as well let it pass.
If however, the grandparents are helping you raise your child then you need to have a talk and have everyone on the same page. Explain everything you researched, show them this blog post on how sugar is in everything we eat these days and what it does to those little bodies. And set some ground rules for the family so that everyone comes to a mutual agreement. Each one of you wants what’s best for the child, you will definitely come to a resolution.
Junk Food At Parties
I already mentioned one of my tips to avoid overeating junk food at parties. Carry your own snack box and feed your child before you leave for the party. This reduces the number of junk foods consumed at the party.
Junk Food Exposure In School
Now, this is a tricky one, your child saw something in another’s lunch box and wants the same.
In this situation, house rules should apply. Have a day or two each month for your child to try something they desire. There really is no positive to outright banning junk foods, believe me! Only makes them want to rebel and makes scarce food more desirable.
Here is what I feel about this situation, I learned about these foods gradually throughout life and today, a former picky eater and biscuit and cake lover is writing a post on how to reduce junk food consumption. Rome was not built in a day, my friends. Similarly, your child won’t pick up healthy eating habits from the get-go, he has to experience some of it on his own too.
The easiest way to do this is to continue exposure to healthy foods at home, whilst encouraging good food choices, reading books around eating healthy and allowing children to participate in preparing home-cooked meals. And then just letting go of what the child wants to eat outside. You have to trust him to make that choice on the basis of what he learns from you.
Working Parents Dilemma
It is challenging to manage a home, work, child development, and nutrition all at once. Our modern culture has isolated mothers and fooled them into believing that they are “Super Moms”, mothers who can do it all.
This crazy expectation from mothers to “Do it all” is damaging not only their health but that of their children. It is not easy to cook meals from scratch, make healthy snacks day in and day out. Convenience becomes a big factor in deciding what you put on the table over nutrition.
First off, you need a support system to help around the house. Get your husband on board or hire services for tasks that are eating away time from the important life goals. Meal prepping and batch cooking save a lot of time in the kitchen. You schedule out a short time for prepping ingredients that help you build a variety of meals.
Here is a recent blog post I wrote on my meal planning tips. Our family goal is to eat minimal junk foods and cook more at home. I am a work from home mom and don’t do it all by myself. I batch my tasks and divide work between my husband and me.
Besides fresh fruit, nuts and seeds as snacks, we also make snacks at home in batches, this saves us time during the busy week.
We rely on a few healthy packaged snacks. There are many clean eating friendly brands now in the market. With a little bit of research, you can find something suitable devoid of chemical additives and excess sugar.
Here are a few brands we use when we are in a pinch
Natures Basket Dehydrated fruit
If you are already in dealing with a sugar obsessed kid here is a great article on how to gradually bring the child back to a healthier relationship with treat foods.
I hope this article provided solutions to some of the common challenges you face and help you reduce junk food consumption at home.
What are some of the ways you avoid junk foods for your kids? Leave me with your tips in the comments section below.