Inspire Healthy Eating: Ditch the Junk Food

Junk food junkies

It is no surprise that childhood obesity is on the rise when, as a nation, we are inundated with advertising campaigns promoting fast food and quick fix meal options. Children are targeted by advertising campaigns and many have easy access and cash available to indulge in their favourite snack.

By teaching your children about healthy eating, you will also be laying the foundations for a healthy relationship with food throughout childhood and into their adult lives. Children who regularly eat too many processed meals, high in fat and sugar are at higher risk of developing serious health conditions related to obesity such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancers and heart conditions.

A busy family lifestyle can make it difficult to have a constant flow of healthy, home prepared meals available. Often a quick fix at a drive-through on the way home from school or a last minute microwave meal can seem like the quick and easy option at the end of a long day. These choices are very often devoid of many of the good nutrients that growing bodies require. Many are high in salt and processed carbohydrates and flavour but low in nutritional value.

Breaking the bad

Many parents fall into the trap of the quick fix or slipping back to saying yes to junk food despite a previous decision to kick the junk to the curb. The rule is simple. If you do not want your children to have a certain food or treat, don’t buy them in the first place. Your home is the one place where you can control what food your children are exposed to.

Choice doesn’t have to include food that provides instant gratification. Treats should be for special occasions, pocket money days or as a reward for good behaviour. Use these opportunities to motivate your children during the week, only giving treats or special meals such as a take away when it is earned or as part of a special occasion. Save the less healthy options for when you’re away from home.

It may seem like a daunting task but it won’t take long to establish the boundaries relating to meals and treats. Decide on your approach, discuss your house rules and involve your children in the process. Tell them that you will be making some changes to ensure that they are healthy and active, you would value their input about treats and special occasion foods. Let them suggest when a certain food may be appropriate and together you can iron out the details so that they feel part of the process and prepared for the changes you’re implementing.

Prepare in advance

A little time spent preparing will save not only time but is quite likely to save you money too. Plan your meals a week in advance, precook and freeze healthy meals ahead of time. Prepare some pre-portioned snacks into containers or bags, making them available to your children at school pick up or at home to avoid uncontrolled snacking and last minute meal decisions. You may want to have little bowls of fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts or popcorn on the table so that if your children are peckish between meals, a healthier option is available instantly.

By keeping healthy snacks available by placing them on low shelves in the fridge or in the cabinets so your children can reach them when hungry and you’ve not left anything out for them, you know that whatever the scenario, your child will have options that are healthy rather than convenient. This will take time to implement but it’s an investments in your child’s health.

Shop smart

Plan your food shopping before you go. Too often we are taken in by clever marketing tricks or supposed savings for bulk buys or special offers. These often seem like good deals in the moment but the long term payback isn’t as good. Healthy food needn’t be unappetising either. Ask your children what they’d like when it comes to healthy, natural food and snack options. You may be surprised by their choices if they are included in the decision making.

Don't ban treats or less healthy food completely

This is not to say that treats are not an option, but it is better to let them earn a sweet treat or less health option at the end of the week or on a particular day that has been predetermined, in doing so, you create the boundaries and your children know what to expect.

If you completely ban treats or less healthy options, your children may be more likely to sneak around or find ways of getting them without your approval. The reality is that as soon as they are old enough to access vending machines, local shops and other places where junk food is freely available, they will be more likely to head for the tills with their stash if they have been deprived in the past. Teach your children about moderation and how good feels to enjoy something special less often as that is what makes a treat special rather than an everyday ‘want’ or bribe. There will be plenty of birthday parties, pocket money days and treats from grandparents or friends. Look at food as a necessity for healthy growth rather than as negotiating tool or easy option. Teach your children to make healthy choices and more importantly, why it is good to make those choices.

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