Why Your Child Wants Junk Food
Parenting can sometimes feel impossible- especially when it comes to food. You want your child to eat healthy foods, but they just don’t like it. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Here’s an explanation for why your child wants junk food and what you can do to get them to eat healthily.
Why Junk Food Is Unhealthy
The quick answer is that junk food doesn’t contain the vitamins and nutrients you need to survive. Often, these foods have a lot of sugar, fat, or salt, which is why they taste so good. Junk food gets its name because while it’s not very good for you, it’s also typically something you eat in addition to your three meals daily. Things like sugary desserts, soda, and alcohol are not required to live, and because they’re so unhealthy, they’re ‘junk’ for your body.
Common Types of Junk Food
• Cakes and cookies
• Ice cream
• Soft drinks, energy drinks, and sports drinks
• Chocolate and other candy
• Highly processed meats
We all know that overeating sugar, fats, or salt can hurt your body, but how?
Too many substances can typically contribute to illnesses like heart disease or obesity. Type II diabetes and fatty liver disease (which can lead to total liver failure). Many of these illnesses are likely to shorten a person’s lifespan and even increase the chance of heart attack or organ failure.
Too much junk food can lead to high blood pressure, dental problems, and acne if you’re overeating. While these symptoms can be mitigated with treatment, it’s important to prevent developing these conditions altogether if possible.
But junk food isn’t just bad for your body. Studies have found that people who eat fast or sugary, processed foods are over 50% more likely to develop depression than those who abstain. One study found that healthy people who ate junk food for just five days performed worse on tests measuring attention span, reaction time, and mood.
Why Your Child Wants Junk Food
If junk food is so bad for us, why do children (and even lots of adults) want it so much?
Things like fast food, processed foods, and sweets are made, so our bodies can’t stop eating them. Companies spend a lot of time not only creating addictive foods but also marketing them to people worldwide. One study revealed that children prefer food and drink from brands such as Coca-Cola and KFC over home-cooked, healthier meals.
The money spent advertising healthy foods like fruits and vegetables amounts to less than 3% of the money spent promoting fast food, soft drinks, and sugary desserts.
This chronic exposure to brands leads small children (even as young as 2 or 3) developing cravings for foods they’ve never tried in their lives.
The problem isn’t just advertising companies. Children’s cereal is often placed in their eyes of view. It uses bright colors and cartoon characters to make the grain look irresistible. With the prevalence of advertising, it can feel impossible to help your child develop healthy eating habits.
But there are ways to help your child love fruits, vegetables, and other superfoods.
How to Limit Junk Food
A child’s food preferences begin when they’re around two years old. This means you should always check the snacks, drinks, and desserts you’re giving your child to ensure a limited amount of sodium and added sugars.
About 50% of baby foods and 83% of toddler snacks contain some type of added sweetener, so always check the nutrition information labels on the back of the container to see how much sugars are included
Limiting your child’s screen time is the best combatant if the issue is too many ads. No, this doesn’t mean completely depriving your child of TV (that will just make them miserable), but some guidelines should be set.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (or the AAP) recommends that a child should have as little access to screens from birth until a baby is around 18 months old. This prevents exposure to ads and allows for proper development of the brain. Situations such as speaking to family members over a video call are acceptable.
Children around 2-5 years old may begin to watch TV with a parent. Still, they should be limited to media designed to help their minds develop.
If you have streaming services, an excellent way to limit ad exposure is not to play ads in the first place. Most services already have an ad-free mode, but if they don’t, consider purchasing that option or buying movies or shows for your child to watch instead.
Families should also try not to eat dinner while watching TV. This is especially important for children because it can make it challenging to develop a sense of when and if they’re full. This could lead to an over- or under-eating habit that can last for years.
Don’t restrict unhealthy foods.
While the obvious choice may be not to allow your child to have junk food in the first place, this can cause more harm than good.
Forbidding something more often than not just leads to the child wanting it more. This is the last thing you want when trying to create a healthy relationship with food.
Outright banning junk food often leads to children needing to sneak food and can create unneeded power struggles between the child and parent. Children will also feel guilty whenever they eat contraband cookies or snacks because they disobey their parents. And when it comes to food, children should never feel guilty about what they’re eating.
Instead, allow your child sometimes to have a treat. This, combined with the other tips provided, will enable the child to view junk food as an occasional indulgence rather than something they need to sneak or steal.
Provide healthy snacks instead
While a child may prefer some foods over others, a blanket dislike of fruits or vegetables is not an inherent behavior. It’s learned through fights with parents and punishments for not eating.
The best way to get a child to develop a lifelong love of fruits and vegetables is to make them plentiful and easy to access.
Keep a bowl of fruit out on the counter. Cut up some pineapple or watermelon and keep it in the fridge where your child can see them. Have lots of chopped celery, baby carrots, and dips like hummus, greek yogurt, or salsa. Keep small bags of fruit, cheese, or nuts around for your child to take when hungry.
Make it easy for your child to get a glass of water instead of soda.
The goal is to make eating healthy snacks as mindless as possible. This creates a habit where instead of going for a bag of chips when hungry, they eat an apple or some nuts. Everyone wants to eat healthy things, so make it easy for your child to do that!
Keep junk food out of view.
While a majority of food in your home should be healthy, you can keep some junk food in the house. The best way to do this and prevent your child from wanting to eat it all the time is to keep it out of their sight. Considering a lot of a person’s eating habits are developed when they’re young, this will be reasonably relatively.
Try to keep any cookies, desserts, or chips on the top shelf of the pantry or in a cabinet your child can’t reach. A child that doesn’t know there’s junk food in the house is less likely to crave it in the first place. But the inverse is true as well. The more someone looks at that tub of ice cream, the more likely they want to eat it, so do your best to keep it out of reach.
Create a plan or schedule for eating junk food
Finally, when a child does eat junk food, try to set rules for where and when it can be eaten. If you have any soft drinks in the house, keep them in the pantry until you plan to drink them.
For items like cookies, chips, and ice cream, your child must eat them in a bowl at the table (and not in front of the TV). This keeps your child from mindlessly eating half a bag of chips or cookies.
Plans like this keep junk food as an occasional treat instead of the default.
If you don’t want to keep much junk food in the house, consider taking your child out for dessert at an ice cream parlor or bakery. You can schedule these outings so your child has something to look forward to instead of wondering when they might get another sweet.
If you want dessert at home, try to limit it to once or twice a week and add healthy foods to the sweets. Strawberry shortcakes, fruit pies or cakes, and nut brownies are great ways to add extra vitamins and nutrients.
While our world can be vastly confusing, there are plenty of ways to keep your child from developing unhealthy eating habits while still living a fulfilled life.
Try to focus on making healthy foods the default choice for your child instead of using them as a punishment. If you follow these tips, you’re sure to set your child up for a healthy, happy life!