Junk Food

Archived Q&A and Reviews


    Junky food from friends

    Oct 2007

    How do you handle it when your kids are offered food you don't want them to have? I have offended our neighbor because I said the snacks he offered my 2 yo had too much sugar for him, so no thank you. (I always offer his sons our snacks--at the local park--which they love.) How do I handle this as my son gets older and wants some of this really junky junk? I let him have some junk at a recent birthday party--I don't want to be an ogre--and he melted down and started crying (not usual behavior). Junk overload! Also, my concern is that he will start to reject his beloved kale and squash (we really got lucky--he is a great eater). Mom of a kale eater--for now

    Keep talking to your child about smart food choices, why you make them, what they do for your body, etc. Talk about the kind of food that's only okay for very special occasions. Talk about polite ways to decline any kind of food. If you keep modeling good, healthy diets, the idea of moderation, and polite behavior, then your children will follow your lead. Of course they will want to try the junky stuff - but they will also know what they really like. I've seen loads of different very young children politely turn down chocolate, birthday cake, candy, potato chips, fast food, popsicles, ice cream - all with a ''no, thank you - I'm don't really like it/not hungry/not in the mood for it/I'm allergic to it''. I've also seen tons of candy and cake go to waste with barely a bite out of it- one taste was all the child needed/wanted. I've got a classic ''picky'' eater child and a ''eat first ask what it is later'' child - and they both show moderation when ''junky stuff'' is offered. Some things get tried (and even liked), some things it's ''no, thanks''. Me - I Can't Say No to Chocolate

    I'd stop offering your neighbor's kids snacks - that way your neighbor may stop asking your kids if they want his ''sugary'' snacks. You can also say no thanks in a nice way, maybe say that your son has problems with too much sugar or that he's allergic to something. also, at age 2, your son's pallet may be different than when he was 1 or when he gets to be about 5. it's great he loves veggies but you can't block him from the rest of the world. i have the same problem as you, but when we are at a party or with family, i let him have one treat - it's not going to kill him and he will ask for it less if he gets to try it once in a while. right now, he absolutely says no to french fries even though 6 months ago he was dying to try them. and when he is given a piece of chocolate cake that's too big for him, he doesn't finish it - he has as much as he wants and knows that he doesn't have to finish it and that it won't be the last time he'll ever have chocolate cake. he's 3 years old, 10 months. and his favorite food is spinach quiche. he thinks apple juice is a rare dessert. anon

    Well maybe you could have just said ''Oh he doesn't need anything'' instead of ''That has too much sugar in it,'' which he obviously took as a criticism of his parenting. At some point, you will have to lighten up, because it is the kids who only ever get kale and never get sweets that really go crazy when they get a chance. One cookie is not going to kill anyone/sabotage all the healthy eating he does. I really understand about the sugar not agreeing with your child, which you can explain to people who really insist. But overall, just learn to decline politely and every once in a while, do have a little treat. anon

    Hi- I just had to respond. I am as healthy of a food nut as can be with my son. He too is junk food less. But I am must say, I wouldn't say ''sorry your food has too much sugar'' to a neighbor. That does sound sorta snooty.

    Granted my kid has never touched fast food or known the child delight of sugary cereal, but an occasional treat? Yeah, I will let him eat those gross Gogurts on a very slim occasion if offered by a friend's mom. He may get cranky after, but the way I figure, I ate much worse as a kid and my son is already light years ahead of me in health. One indiscretion now and then really won't kill 'em. And as long as you practice good eating habits at home your kale kid will stick around. hippy mommy

    I have a similar attitude toward junky food. However, in order not make it a big prohibited thing, I let my kids have it if others around them are having it. They actually limit themselves when they've had enough to a surprising extent. The fact that you provide good food and home and no junk will not go away if you let them have junk outside and I don't think their hime eating habits will change unless you change what you serve at home. Oh, and the sugar rush and crash - just expect that for a bit. plan to leave early if you have to. it actually gets less bad as they get a little older/ used to occasional sugar anon

    I'm not sure if it comes across this way when you decline food in person, but your post sounded judgemental about others' choices about food. I'm pretty careful about what I feed my kids but it is annoying to be judged about the occasional juice boxes they drink (which has happened to me). I think a simple ''no, thank you'' is enough unless you want to get into a big philosophical discussion. Or you could say, ''my son has a hard time with sugar and I don't like the way it makes him act'' (although birthday parties, especially for 2 year olds, are pretty meltdown- producing, for lots of reasons, not just the sugar). If the other person is offended by a polite, honest response, that's really about him, not you. I personally don't think that eating a tiny bit of ''junk'' now and again will affect your kid's love of kale. At least that hasn't happened with my 4-year old, who loves all veggies. (Now, my 18 month old is another story--he has yet to eat a veggie on his own.) Everything in Moderation

    First of all, it is quite common for a 2 year old to have a meltdown at a birthday party (even if that is not his usual behavor). There is a lot of excitement and overstimulation there. Junk food many have contributed, or he could have just been having a normal 2 year old reaction to the chaos.

    My policy is to always ask the parent quietly if it is ok before I offer her kid food, even if it is healthy. You never know about food allergies, or if she doesn't want her kid filling up on fruit just before a meal. All of my friends and family know my stance on junk food, and they have always given me the same courtesy. It is your right to decide what your child can have. Your neighbor was probably feeling defensive that you were basically calling the food he was giving his kids junk. He probably thought you were judging him, and let's face it - you probably were a little. Maybe if you had taken the focus away from the item being offered and put it more on your genereal rules about food, it would have gone over a little better.

    I am not sure what you consider ''really junky junk.'' I was pretty strict with what I would let my son eat for the first 2 - 2 1/2 years, and then I started to relax and let him have the occasional treat, usually when we are out of the house. We spend a lot of time with family, and there was only so long I could ask his cousins not to eat their cookies in front of him. Now he is almost 4, and he knows where the cookies are kept at my grandmother's house, and that there are usually popsicles at my parent's. He also knows that when I say ''just one'' that I mean it. I am more forgiving about baked goods than candy (he almost never gets candy - which made an m or a jelly bean a great motivator when we were potty training). I keep my house stocked with healthy food and snacks, he eats 3 balanced meals a day and always asks me for fruit or carrots if he is hungry in between. He knows that I don't have anything ''junky'' in the house, and never asks for it. He still doesn't like french fries much, but always eats his broccoli. I think that trying to shield him from any kind of junk food would only increase its allure. Plus, treats are super-yummy. There is a way that you can be balanced about it and let him have the occasional treat without him becoming a mush-mouth. Mom of a mostly-healthy eater

    Hi, My kids eat brown rice, brocolli and tofu, but they also get junky sugary foods from time to time and it's really ok. If the majority of the time your two year old is eating healthy is a good eater I wouldn't worry about occasional treats. Meltdowns happen. anon

    If you Google ''does sugar makes kids hyper'' you'll find lots of studies that say ''no - not true''. That said, it's very easy to just say ''no, thanks'' to any kind of food for any reason.

    One shouldn't need to explain whether it's against your religious beliefs, allergies, current diet or personal preference. A simple ''no, thanks'' with a smile for yourself or your child should be enough.

    If people press you for a reason, you can say something along the lines of ''I'm trying to limit junior's intake of sugar/wheat/dairy today'' Just another mom

    I think the way you phrased it offended the other parent. You could say something like, ''No thank you. He doesn't do well with sugar.'' Or, ''He doesn't tolerate sugar very well.'' The way you phrased it made it sound like you were passing judgement on the other parent's choices.

    In all, you get to decided what your kid eats, but he won't be living in your protective bubble forever. He certainly will be exposed to more and more junk as he gets older. It will be very hard to regulate, so you need to teach him whether he gets to say yes to it or not. My kids (8 and 12) regularly turn down the free kid's dessert at restaurants or treats from friends, either because they are full or because they already had a treat that day. And they do it themselves...I don't have to make the decision for them.

    Lastly, the occasional junky snack will not turn your kid off the healthy foods. We are very lax with our snack foods, but my kids love bok choy, tomatoes, spinach, chard, green beans, tofu, etc. Our family and friends marvel at how well they eat. So it is possible to have your kale and your cake too.

    I generally let my kids have the junk that is offered, in moderation. A couple of mini-marshmallows or cheetos are not going to kill the kids (no matter how nasty). I have a two and four year old. I keep things pretty healthy in our home and school lunches (actually, the schools require a whole grain, protein, fruits & veggies be packed every day in the lunch). My kids generally request grapes or apples as snacks. Just tonight they were bouncing at the table, pounding their utensils on the table (they didn't have naps -- my husband has learned his lesson that not giving them naps is not really a 'treat' for anyone) because I wasn't steaming the broccoli fast enough.

    That said, if it really bugs you, then come up with a nice way to deal with it. 'My kids really melt down when they have too much sugar' is an honest statement. You can add, 'we've really had to take it out of their diets so that they will act human.' which leads the 'junk-offerer' to believe that you are not disapproving of their choices, but just need to keep a look out for your kids. No parent likes to be judged. jan

    Loosen up a bit. Teach you child to eat well at home, and he will learn to eat well for life, although he may not always follow your desires as he is growing up and becomes independent. If you make a big deal about the ''junk'' food, he will probably desire it more than you had wanted as he gets older. Restricted food often is very tempting to kids. Let him have the junk food if it comes up at birthday parties, etc., but keep only the foods you enjoy eating at home. Restricting it too much only causes temptation. Kathy

    I really liked your question about how are you going to keep you son from wanting junk when he's older. I think our our mainstream food culture is awful and you are right, there is so much junk food easily available and there is nothing you can do to keep an older child from being exposed to that. I want to suggest a seemingly strange idea--let your kid have junk almost everyday. My best friend is from France and she can't get over how we in the U.S. demonize sugar and fatty foods. She gave me the idea of teaching my children portion control. Junk food is not a forbidden fruit in our house, but a tiny pleasurable part of our diet. Most days we sit down (and it's important to sit down and eat mindfully) and enjoy a small bit of something--a piece of chocolate, a few tablespoons of ice cream, a popsicle, a fun- size bag of M's around 3 pm or immediately after lunch. Depending on the day, I might have the kids eat some cheese or yogurt first to help stabilize the blood sugar. It's not that sugar and fat are so evil. Our body does the same thing with all foods, but it is the calories and the blood sugar crash that are bad. You can easily find ways to deal with the extra calories (lots of exercise) and blood sugar crashes (read up on the Zone and all that). I am happy to say that this approach seems to be working for us. At parties, my kids eat a bit of cake and a handful of candy. I was at the airport last week at treat time and let them each pick one thing out of a vending machine-full size candy bars-and they didn't finish them. Portion control may be something that works for you, too jane

    I'm probably going to sound harsh -- but you will not be able to keep junk food away from your child forever. To think that you will is simply unrealistic. In fact, I think it's better if you allow him to have some in moderation. I allow my son to have cupcakes at school birthday parties, half a donut at church functions, Halloween candy, an occasional ice cream cone. He willingly eats carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and spinach. He has a tendency to eat about a third of a piece of birthday cake, and then put it aside because he's just had too much sweet stuff. Now, I don't put cookies in his lunch every day (in fact, never), I don't keep sweets or chips in the house, and I don't allow junk (or anything else for that matter) an hour before meals. But with this balance, my son is fine in terms of diet. Karen

    Junk food - how much is too much?

    May 2003

    My toddler loves all the best junk food. In fact donut was one of the first words he learned. He was introduced to these delectibles by myself or his gramma or as a treat from babysitter. He really loves this stuff and asks for it. Well, I feel that I don't think it's necessary to totally restrict this stuff, but also not good to go overboard. But, my question, how much is too much? Does anyone have any approach to this stuff? I was brought up on junkfood and I still love and crave sweets. I don't think I am any worse for wear. But, I also wish I had a taste for more healthy food, like natural peanut butter vs. Skippy. I can only eat Skippy or Jif because of what I was brought up on. I feel guilty after yesterday. I fed him a donut in the am cheetos in the sfternoon and french fries at night. This is definately not the norm and overboard. But will it kill him once in a while? anon

    I am a pediatrician and I say just do your best and try to set a good example (or at least do what I do and sneak my candy fix when they're not around and choke down a little extra broccoli when they are)- I worry as much as any Mom, but you can't force feed your kids and you don't want to give them long term food ''issues'' by making a lot of judgements on this subject. There is so much food guilt going around. I hear people being critical of themselves for not being all organic, and people somehow think they should control their children's diet to the point of being healthier than their own. Don't try to be perfect. Just try to squeeze in the healthy stuff, too, and limit the total quantity- other than too many empty calories, most junk food is not toxic to children- but they do need to learn to eat their vegetables and moderate the processed food as they grow up. And a plain old chewable multivit is added insurance too. When we try to change a child's diet we always make the whole family work on ''heart-healthy'' eating, and make small, gradual changes. anon Dr. Mom

    I think it is important to start a child off with a taste for nutritious foods, so we have worked hard to keep unhealthy food out of our son's diet (he is 4). We keep most junk food out of the house, which virtually eliminates begging for it, because we just say we don't have it. We also have a one treat a day policy, which means that he can have one cookie or serving of sorbet/ice cream a day, if he asks for it. Sometimes he asks first thing in the AM, and I give it to him then, explaining that this is his cookie for the day. He really gets it and only has issues after overindulgent holidays like Easter or Halloween. To avoid relying on junk food, keep easy healthy snacks in the house like cut up fruit, frozen berries, whole grain crackers or pretzels, even chips paired with a healthy dip like guacamole or hummus. Fruit sorbets, yogurt, oatmeal cookies, whole grain muffins make healthy alternatives to sweet treats. Jen

    My toddler thinks seedless tangerines, fruit leather (from Trader Joe's - available in organic), Paul Newman cookies, pineapples, all kinds of berries, etc are the cat's meow. He has been given sweets - also by his Grandmother and Aunts, etc - however, when he asks I say ''Isn't that special that you get those treats at Gramma's house!'' He knows he can't get much from us so he doesn't try too often. And, like I said, there are so many sweet treats out there that aren't junk food. I grew up with lots of junk and am still learning to appreciate the goodness of good, whole foods. Good Luck. I hope this will be easy for you and a learning experience for all. Signed, A Pretty Healthy Mom

    I grew up in the opposite camp--I was totally deprived of junk food and now love to binge on it. I've decided I'll give it to my son in moderation only when he knows what it is and asks for it. To him, an orange is a big treat. Yesterday at a birthday party everyone was eating cake and all he wanted to do was play and eat pasta salad. I think for a toddler, it is okay to give junky treats once in a while but it depends on what ''once in a while'' means to you. A donut a week isn't going to be a big deal but if he's eating junk on a daily basis, he's not going to be hungry for more nutritious foods. My concern about allowing a lot of junk food is setting kids up for obesity or diabetes which are becoming more common for children in our increasingly sedentary society. Fellow junk food lover

    First off, I want to tell you that even though you've felt no ill effects from eating junk food to date, you could still develop problems. Diabetes and heart disease usually don't start until one's 50s or later, but can start much earlier, and eating lots of junk food definitely contributes (either through increasing your weight, or through clogging up your arteries). Junk food may also contribute to other problems such as cancer, although the evidence is less clear. So even though you don't think you're the worse for wear, you can't be sure. I just developed diabetes (and I'm not even forty yet), so I know what I'm talking about. Now to your question Most reasonable nutritional experts I have read recommend giving your child junk food (chips, cookies, ice cream, french fries, and so on) no more than twice or three times a week. Also, don't make a big deal of the junk food versus other kinds of food. It's just a food he gets sometimes, like every other kind of food he gets sometimes. Otherwise he'll learn that junk food is ''the best'' kind of food.

    Think of it this way you are trying to teach him all kinds of things that will make his life easier and better. Liking vegetables, fruits, whole grains... that will definitely make his life better, and if he doesn't (like some of us do) have to force himself to eat them rather than chocolate chip cookies, his life will be a lot easier and healthier. By the way, healthy food has a lot less to do with type of peanut butter, and a lot more to do with eating lots and lots of veggies and fruits. Karen

    I think most of us love the taste of ''junk-food'' however with time, we could learn to love the taste of healthier foods, too. The ingredients of concern mentioned in donuts, cheetoes, and french fries... are hydrogenated fats containing trans-fatty acids , repetetively heated oils (usually hydrogenated fats) , artificial colors,flavors, and high salt in cheetoes, and finally ''empty calories'' in the donuts and cheetoes. Trans-fatty acids Latest research published in prestigious medical journals have shown a correlation with eating hydrogenated fats w/ trans-fatty acids (found in shortening, and any hardened vegetable oils called partially or just hydrogenated fats) to breast cancer in women. The definition of cancer is that there is no threshold for toxicity. I.e. one exposure could initiate the cancer. The more we expose ourselves to transfatty acids, each time we may be risking cancer later. Second, when oil is used over again and again, it breaks down and free radicals are formed, which is known to cause mutations. If you're unlucky, one of these mutations may mess up the developing central nervous system, and can manifest in a serious disease later on, particularly if a child is exposed during its rapidly developing period before the age of 6. Third, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives are linked to ill-health effects which I have no room to get into right now. Although these studies are not as conclusive, many studies link artificial ingredients with a variety of illnesses including ADD, ADHD, and even cancer. Finally, snacks that are very flavorful and tasty and full of calories displace the child's need for nutritious food. I.e. the child will eat less of the nutritious food he/she needs for development. Even giving more than 4-6 oz. of fruit juice /day/3 yr old is not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Sugar is not so bad in itself, but it tastes good and the child will eat that juice first and then is not hungry for the nutritious foods. Most preschools provide kids with snacks that contain transfatty acids. Out of 70 schools I've visited in the East Bay, I have only seen one school that does not provide trans- fatty snacks as a policy. And only one other school provided water over juice as a policy. There is much need for child care facilities and parents to become informed. children's cancer has been going up each year since 1970, since I was 7... to where it's about 33% higher now. ADD, ADHD, Autism, and other neurodevelopmental diseases have skyrocketed, along with asthma, allergies, and chemical sensitivities. Researchers are also finding that higher frequency of diagnoses is not the reason. There may be answers to keeping our children from falling into the statistics. Please check out www.pfse.net for info on an upcoming conference to address these and many other often preventable problems. Susan

    The best way to improve your child's diet is to improve your own. He will eat what you eat, and it's really not fair to expect him to do ''better'' than you do. Naturally this is hard, but it will pay off in so many ways. I'm a big fan of junk food myself (although, sadly, I prefer expensive, high quality junk food to things like Cheetos!) and count myself lucky that somehow I ended up with a son who loves broccoli and bananas (both of which I hate) almost as much as he loves cookies.

    Anyway, if you're providing your son with a variety of good, nutritious foods from which to choose, the occasional Twinkies binge won't hurt him. Try to focus on what he's eating over the course of a week or a month, not what he's eaten at any one meal or in any one day, and try to limit junk to a small overall portion without making an excessive amount of fuss over it. Holly

    In the past year, a lot of information has come out about the harmful effects of junk food on children. Among the many reputable sources that discuss some of the research are - National Association of School Nurses article at http//www.nasn.org/positions/softdrinks.htm - A book called ''Feeding Your Child for Lifelong Health'' by Susan B. Roberts (good source for info on toddler nutrition, and the importance of ''imprinting'' healthy foods early) - Consumer Reports (recent article on fats, particularly the harmful effects of ''trans-fats'')

    The information on ''trans-fats'' is particularly sobering the research shows that there's simply no safe level. Coca Cola and ''trans-fats'' will be to our children's generation what cigarettes have been to our ours. All of that being said, my kids eat a doughnut about once a week and the occasional nasty hotdog, and we all adore chocolate, indulging in it about once a month -- but we don't keep any of these food items in our home. If you know they're getting the right stuff MOST of the time, you don't have to worry so much about what's going to come at them from the rest of the environment -- and come it will. Pamela

    Playgroup junk food sharing

    Feb 2003

    My 16 month old attends a playgroup a couple of times a week and, of course, likes to eat everyone else's snacks. We all share our child's snacks with the group but I don't want my son to eat the unhealthy snacks the other parents bring because they usually contain refined flour and sugar. I always allow my son to share but I also try to entice him with the snacks I bring so he won't be as tempted with the junky snacks. I don't know if I'm being too uptight about this, especially because he eats very well at home. Amanda

    Certainly with kids as young as yours, you should feel comfortable limiting what she eats. Others may feel you are too restrictive, but as her parent, it is your choice. Since she eats well otherwise, you may choose to be a bit lenient at play-group, but it should be because you have decided that's o.k., not because OTHERs feel you are too restrictive. With my kids, the rule was always to ask mommy (or daddy) before accepting any food from anyone. I was not only concerned about sugar, etc., but also found that some young chldren were given foods that might lead to choking, or foods that had been sucked on by the others. Even among friends, kids should be in the habit of getting permission before accepting any food (and asking other children's parents before offering to share their own snacks.). Perhaps you could talk with the other parents about instituting this (yes, it is kind to offer, but you have to check first). Chldren can be taught to ask the other child's parent (''is it o.k. if Susie has some of my raisins?) This will also help if you encounter kids with food allergies, religious food restrictions, etc. R.K.

    Yes, you're being too uptight about this. :-) An occasional junky snack isn't going to hurt, and it's well worth learning to share and enjoy 'social eating'. Plus, the more you restrict your son's diet, the more likely he is to binge on junk when he's a bit older and can obtain it for himself. Teaching him that junk food is a once-in-a-while indulgence is likely to be much more successful than trying to keep him from having any at all. However, you ought to bring up this issue with the other parents in the playgroup and agree on some snack ground rules. The only way to avoid your son eating other kids' junk food is to make sure the other kids don't have junk food. Perhaps everyone would be happy to provide some better things. (I think 'no refined flour' is a little out there, but packaged sugary things could probably be avoided.) If the other parents don't want to improve the nutritional value of the snacks their kids have, then live with the junk or form a different playgroup. Holly

    Hey, you are not uptight for desiring the best for your child - to NOT ingest nutrition-less food, loads of empty calories (sugar), chemical additives, and dyes, preservatives and harmful pesticides - the list goes on! Pat yourself on the back for swimming against the tide and making a more intelligent choice for your precious children's health now and for the future. You go girl! anony

    If your son eats really well at home, I think I'd just relax about a couple of times a week at playgroup. Much of the reading I've done says things like chips, goldfish crackers, cookies, ice cream and the like are OK a couple of times a week -- as long as your son is getting enough fruit and vegetables, protein, usually eats whole grain, that kind of thing. Let's face it, as your son gets older, he will definitely eat stuff with refined flour and sugar in it -- he won't be in your control all the time. If you never allow junk food, it may very well become an obsession. If you allow it once in a while, it is less likely to. It seems like ''only at playgroup'' is an especially convenient way to limit it to ''once in a while.'' Karen

    Try thinking of ''three-quarters'' (or four-fifths or whatever works for you): I feel my kids will be healthy and well- adjusted and not feel deprived if they eat healthy foods at least three-quarters of the time, walk rather than drive three- quarters of the time, and engage in learning-type activities rather than watching TV at least three-quarters of the time. LC

    You did not say how often your playgroup meets, but I had the same problem with my little ones. My oldest was (is!) a very picky eater and eats very little, so I found myself getting worked up about WHAT she ate, since it was very little period. I didn't want her eating junky stuff because that would be it for most of the day -- she was no longer hungry after eating the junk. What I finally did come to realize was that we only met once a week and it was less important for me to stress over her sharing other snacks that I did not want her to have than to make a huge deal about it and get everyone upset because I was stressed about her eating their kids' junk! Not worth it! All of the rest of the time that she is with me, she has healthy choices. I don't offer her the junk, but if she gets it once a week, is that really a big deal in the larger scope of her life? I decided not and would make the conscious effort to take a deep breath when snack time came around at playgroup ... then let it out and let it go! Yes, it's refined sugar, but I don't want to totally restrict her from it for fear of her seeking it out as soon as she is older and out of my sight for 10 minutes. This way, she gets a ''treat'' (augh!) once a week, and I do not make a fuss about it AT ALL -- just let it go. Good luck! Trish