Have you ever bought your kids something to eat and then regretted it instantly? You don’t want to be a tiger mom dictating every bite that goes into your kid’s mouth, but you also don’t want to see your kids go free-range on a junk food binge. What’s a mom/dad to do?
The tale of the sugary chocolate smoothie
During a recent road trip, the adults stopped for coffee. The kids wanted something too. They got a chocolate smoothie each. In the past, here’s what I have tried and their corresponding responses-
Me – Why don’t you try a healthier option?
Kids – Nooooo!!!
Me – Let’s split 1 serving into 2
Kids compare the levels of each halves and complain endlessly – “She got more”, “No, she got more!!”
Me – Oy Ve!! Take me now, God!!
Me – Tell them stories of how “Back in my days, portion sizes were smaller and we rarely got any treats”
Kids – ZZZZzzzz….
Hmm, back to the story – The chocolate smoothie was cloyingly sweet…I regretted getting it immediately. All that sugar for just sitting in the car for 6 hours did not feel right. I asked the kids to savor a sip in their mouth and give me feedback on its taste. They said it was yummy, followed by creamy (of course!!) and then said it was sweet. The kids agreed to drink half the glass and save the rest for later.
We reached our destination, had a full dinner. After dinner, they did not feel like drinking it. The next morning, I saw the half-filled beverage cups sitting in the fridge. Trust me, my instinct was to throw them out!! But I had promised to let them decide. My oldest, checked in with me and drank the rest. She had an active morning, a much better scenario than the inactive car journey and I was happy to see all the sugar spent this time around. My younger did not even want it and threw hers out. //Story Ends.
Rather than lecturing kids, getting their buy-in on an idea helps keep them happy and choose healthy options all by themselves. With kids and junk food, I find educating and giving them power over the decisions empowers them. No, it is not a quick solution. It takes time, years even. And yes, there are many slips and mistakes, no doubt. But, keeping a positive, incremental approach has worked best for me.
Here are some practical middle ground approaches instead of taking extreme positions like:
“I don’t buy any junk food ever in my house”
“I let them eat whatever they want…Don’t be so controlling”.
Tools to empower them
Encourage kids to read nutrition labels. There are not too young for it. Let them practice reading it. I ask them to look for ingredient like artificial flavoring or coloring and if present – ask them to find an alternative product.
Ask them to look at the sugar levels in the product. Remind them that 1 tsp = 4g sugar and anything over 3 or 4 tsp (12-16g) is not favorable. Keep this info in handy, especially for yogurt cups, which can have astonishingly high levels if you are not alert.
Every Halloween, at the end of the night, my kids spread out their candy stash. They patiently read each and every label. They throw out the ones that have ingredient names like Red 40, Blue 1 etc. You may think… ‘well, that sounds harsh’. But, they come back with 80-90 pieces each. They throw out like 15-20. They have quite a bit left. So, no, they are not particularly heartbroken, and they are used to that rule by now.
Picky eaters are picky even with junk food. There are many kids who hate candy (yes, they exist). No junk food problem for them – more like – getting them to eat food is the problem. But, what if your kid is attracted to candies and cookies just like any normal kid/adult? Restricting them heavily will lead to them sneaking around and trying to eat as much as possible when the opportunity arises. So, instead of clamping down opportunities, teaching them to delay their gratification will improve their self-control.
Let’s take Halloween, for example – a true test for self control. You could essentially encourage the kids to stretch the candy for almost for a year. At home, my kids pick 1-2 candy per week. They discuss with great vigor -the analysis on choosing a particular candy, the date, timing etc.. it’s quite funny. I wish they would use that level of analysis in their academics :). Because, the kids are not denied eating their precious collection, its consumption just stretched over time, they learn a little bit of self control in the process.
Similar idea with birthday cakes. We often have huge pieces of cake left despite distributing to fellow guests. If you leave it out, it will be a sugar-heavy 2-3 days until it gets over. Alternatively, you could portion them out and freeze the remaining pieces. The kids can choose a piece each after dinner, you can extend the cake for a week or 2, and limit the sugar rush with over-consumption.
Given the current environment, where the kids are constantly bombarded with junk food from everywhere, it is a tough battle for parents. The balancing act to keep your kid healthy, fit and happy is a challenge, I hear ya!!
The more tools you give your kid, the more you empower them with knowledge and information, there is a higher probability that they will make better food decisions. I wish you all the very best and happy parenting.
What ideas have worked best for you and your kids with regards to junk food? Share your thoughts and comments down below or at the blog’s community Facebook page. I look forward to hearing them.
I am not a nutritionist or health care expert. I am just sharing some tried and tested ideas in my family. Research, talk to a health care professional, and choose options that work best for your family.