Is your child a junk food addict? It’s not really surprising. Junk foods are readily available these days and can tempt anyone – especially children. While junk foods may be enjoyed as a special treat – as part of a birthday celebration or some other special occasion – regular ingestion of these products is unhealthy, leading to an array of issues ranging from cavities to diabetes. But how can parents get their children to enjoy real food that can truly nourish their bodies and souls?
If your child only eats junk foods, consider the following tips:
If you can instill a love for healthy foods as early as toddlerhood, your child is less likely to jump on the junk foods bandwagon. After all, kids crave what their taste buds are used to. Introduce soft drinks, cakes and chips early in life, and you’ll be battling them for years. But introduce healthier alternatives like grains, seasoned vegetables, tender meats, cheese and yogurt, and fresh fruit to your young child, and they’ll enjoy these healthy foods for a lifetime. Since you have more control over your toddler’s diet than you will have at any point in the child’s life, it’s up to YOU to get your child started right with food. However, your child will also be exposed to your own diet and to the foods of others around him. If sweets and empty foods are being consumed by others (as they most likely are), don’t deprive your child! Rather, offer the occasional sugar-free look-alike (homemade cookies sweetened with juice, Stevia or agave), sugar-free candies and the occasional actual sugar treat. Junk food in moderation will not harm your child, just be careful that it is not consumed in excess.
Refrain from “Doctoring” the Food
Something that parents learn quite early is that making food sweeter increases its likelihood of being ingested. They put (sugar-based) ketchup on food and magically, their youngster eats it. They put chocolate chips on it, chocolate syrup in it, spoonfuls of sugar all over it and it suddenly becomes appetizing. Although most parents are aware that the sugar is not good for the child, they are just happy that the child is eating the good food along with the not-so-good food. In their mind, it is worth a bit of empty calories to get their child to eat some nutritious foods.
Unfortunately, in their enthusiasm to have the child eat something, parents have sacrificed long-term good eating habits for short-term meal solutions. They are soon dismayed to find that their child no longer likes anything that isn’t sugar-coated. Now they have a toddler who eats sweet cereal, chocolate milk, candy and french fries, but little that is actually good, normal, nutritious food. When the problem gets so out of hand that parents can no longer justify doctoring the food to make it palatable, they want to know how to retrace their steps and get their child eating right.
Serve Junk Foods Only When Kids are Full
Some parents believe that junk foods can be consumed as an occasional guilty pleasure. After all, an ice cream cone now and then can be a great treat. However, if you’d like to treat the family to occasional junk foods, try to do it after your child has eaten a full meal. This way kids won’t be tempted to eat too much of the bad stuff – as they have already eaten something. Allowing your child the occasional junk food treat – instead of letting junk food be the staple food of your child’s diet – will also make your child appreciate it more as the treat it is meant to be.
Limit the Processed Sugar in Your Child’s Diet
Research has shown that the more we eat sugar, the more we crave sugar. As most junk foods are rich in sugar, they are a natural choice to manage sugar cravings. To limit your child’s junk food intake, stick to sugarless alternatives (and there are many). To satisfy that sweet tooth, use dried fruits in moderation, fruit juices, Stevia (a herbal product), xylitol, palm sugar, coconut sugar and other low glycemic alternatives. None of these produces the sugar spike and sugar cravings that real sugar creates.
At first, your child may refuse to eat what you offer – don’t worry about it. In fact, you WANT the child to reach a state of hunger. Don’t worry – you’re child won’t let him or herself starve; rather, when hungry, he or she will be much more willing to try a new food. All food actually tastes a lot better when a person hasn’t eaten for awhile – when the person is really hungry. Now that the child has had even a small amount of real food, he or she will eat it again (because it was, at least, edible and perhaps even, good). Research has shown that after just one week of eating a food, it will start to taste really good, even if the person didn’t like it originally. For instance, a child who is used to drinking cow’s milk finds that cow’s milk tastes good. When offered a milk substitute for the first time (soy, rice, hemp or almond), the child will often balk. However, if cow’s milk is withdrawn from the diet and only the substitute is offered, the substitute will indeed indeed begin to taste good and normal, after only a few days. If the substitute is continuously given, then cow’s milk will be the unusual and odd-tasting food.
Using these principles, parents can re-train a junk-food addict of any age. However, the job is easiest with toddlers. Toddlers can’t help themselves to food, so they are totally dependent on what they are fed. As long as parents are willing to be firm and consistent, withdrawing sugar from regular meals and limiting it to rare snacks given at specified times during the week (i.e. the child gets a cookie snack in the afternoon daily, but never gets any other sugar in her diet), the child will soon be eating and enjoying real food!
Make Simple Rules
Instead of fighting with your child about junk food, make simple rules about its permissibility and stick to them. For instance, you can have a rule that candy is served only on Saturday – never at any other time. Or, you can have a rule that plain cookies and pretzels can go in a lunch box, while fancier cookies and pastries are for Sunday brunch only. Perhaps you want a rule that states that potato chips and colas are only served at family gatherings (birthday parties and celebrations). You can make any rule you like, but try NOT to make a rule that permanently and totally prohibits all junk food – such rules tend to cause kids to become obsessed with getting their hands on candy and other unhealthy snacks. Serving it in moderation at predictable times helps prevent obsession and other nasty behaviors like stealing other kids’ snacks. If children are served delicious healthy foods most of the time, they tend to have little craving for the junk.
Prepare a Healthy Lunch Box
If the school canteen has an array of tempting junk, try to provide school snacks from home. Eliminate the need to visit the cafeteria by packing your child a healthy snack box. Health food stores carry a large selection of delicious junk-food look-alikes and, if you have time to bake, you can control your own ingredients to make nutritious and delicious treats that your kids will love. They really won’t be pining for the canteen. Does your child yearn for cool packaging? Maybe you can even wrap your goodies in an appealing way. Here’s your chance to be creative!
Be Firm, Consistent and Patient
Don’t be swayed by your child’s tantrums and tears. Instead, simply remain calm and firm. No need to scream back! Just learn to say, ‘No.’ Don’t worry – as long as you don’t start yelling, your child will still love you plenty even if you stop feeding him or her tons of junk food. You needn’t be afraid of your child. You are NOT hurting your child by limiting junk to a small percent of the diet. On the contrary, you are helping your child be healthy life-long. Your child is too young to appreciate that right now, but YOU know the truth. Your child needs to learn to gracefully accept your guidance and limitations and is much more likely to do that when you remain calm, firm and consistent. Eventually, your child will stop protesting, settle down and enjoy his or her food. Patience will pay off.