Kids and Junk Food: 9 Ideas to promote healthy food choices with kids

Junk Food Monster and Little Girl

Studies show that this generation of kids will not outlive the life-expectancy of their parents[1]. With childhood obesity rates at 17%, one in six children are affected[2]. Before we jump in too quickly to put all the blame on their parents, let’s take a look at this short 1½ -minute video about fast food marketing targeting children.

Big Burger is Watching: Fast Food Marketing Undermines Parents

Like the mom in this video, parents can’t follow their child around and shield them from every bit of advertising thrown at them. But what can they do to minimize the effects of fast food marketing on their kids and promote healthy eating habits?

Little girl staring at fast food ad on tv

Here are 9 Simple Ideas to Promote Healthy Eating:

1.       Start your child early on fresh vegetables and fruits. This can be difficult with picky eaters but not impossible with consistency. One couple uses a “token” system wherein their young children receive a token for every vegetable eaten with amazing results! The tokens can be exchanged for a small item at a toy or dollar store. Some may call this bribery but I think it’s just creative parenting.

2.       Have healthy snacks in the house: Fruit smoothies, salsa and chips, veggies and dip, hummus and crackers, bananas and peanut butter, yogurt without processed sugar (add your own stevia or fruits). Post on Facebook to ask what others are doing and share your ideas and commitment to healthier foods for kids.

3.       Limit access to junk food: Keep unhealthy foods out of your home. If it isn’t there, the kids will eventually stop asking for it. Consider fast food and treats as a “sometimes” food and not a regular stop.

4.       Plan ahead. If you are going to be carpooling your little soccer players around, plan to have some healthy afterschool snacks available in the car. This will eliminate the excuse to stop for a quick order of fries to tide them over until dinner.

5.       Set an example. Every day in America 50,000,000 people eat fast food[3]. How is your fast food intake? If kids know you are eating out they may interpret this as “When I am grown up I am going to eat out whenever I want!” Probably not the message you want to give.

6.       Find a reward for good behavior that is not sugar. A trip to the library. A game with mom or dad. A sticker. No chores for a day. Pinterest has over 1000 ideas on how to reward kids[4].

7.       Comfort your child without using food. When comforting a child, talk to them in a loving, nurturing voice. This is how they will learn to self-soothe and regulate as future grownups rather than turning to food for comfort.

8.       Eat Dinner as a Family (and without electronics). Research shows children who eat dinner with their families are less likely to drink, smoke, do drugs, commit suicide, get pregnant or develop eating disorders. They also tend to have healthier eating habits. The amount of time children spend eating with their families is the single biggest predictor of academic achievement and fewer behavioral problems. [5]

9.        Gear up for the complaints. You may get a push-back from the family at first but don’t give up. Change happens with consistency over time. Be positive, make it fun and they will thank you later (probably in their thirties).

While fast food marketing changes will take time, we as parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbors can all work together to promote better health in our children through providing alternatives to junk food, setting a good example and through legislation[6] As a grandmother, I am recommitting to healthier snacks when the littles ones are with me. Will you join me?






[5] Jayne A. Fulkerson, Ph.D.a, , , Mary Story, Ph.D.bAlison Mellin, Ph.D.bNancy Leffert, Ph.D.c,Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D.bSimone A. French, Ph.D.b Family Dinner Meal Frequency and Adolescent Development: Relationships with Developmental Assets and High-Risk Behaviors Journal of Adolescent Health, Volume 39, Issue 3, September 2006, Pages 337–345

Taveras, E. M., Rifas-shiman, S., Berkey, C. S., Rockett, H. R., Field, A. E., Frazier, A. L., . . . Gillman, M. W. (2005). Family dinner and adolescent overweight. Obesity Research, 13(5), 900-906.


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