5 House Rules I Set Around Kids and Junk Food
Sugar- and salt-laden packaged foods are a fact of modern life. But they don’t have to dominate your family’s home food environment. See which boundaries work for my family, and that might work for yours!
Many of you may be surprised to learn that my healthy kids don’t always eat healthy foods! It’s tragic, I know. The sad reality is that some of them are old enough to make their own choices when they aren’t home, and they don’t always choose green peppers when chips are an option.
As a mother, I’ve thought long and hard about this. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to let me kids make their own food choices. But that I don’t have to throw up my hands and stop teaching and modeling healthy habits.
The truth it, we can’t control the amount of junk food our kids will encounter in the world. But we CAN create a home environment that champions different food values and makes healthy food normal and available.
And we have to trust that the lessons we teach our kids at home will last into adulthood when it’s time for them to make their own choices all the time.
Here are the five household rules I set around junk foods with my kids. You are free to use my rules as your own, or come up with your own. This is what works for us.
1. I Do Not Use My Grocery Budget to Buy Junk Food
Don’t worry that you’ll be depriving your kids by not buying junk food. Between school, church, little league and grandma’s house, today’s kids have loads of opportunity to eat junk food. The foods we never buy and bring home include:
- Chips (deep fried potato chips- you can totally make your own!)
- Commercial fruit snacks (void of fruit, nutrients, and full of sugar)
- Commercially packaged desserts like cookies. (We’re not anti-sugar on this site and I love to bake cookies with my family. But there is no reason to buy them already made in a box.)
- Soda pop (seriously, overpriced and no one needs it!)
- Candy (although we do make exceptions to this on holidays like Halloween. I just don’t stuff my pantry with Swedish fish for any time the kids “need something sweet!”)
To have these in our pantry would send mixed messages about our desire to be a healthy family. These foods are not forbidden for my kids. In fact, no food is off limits for my kids! But they’re not part of our regular grocery purchases.
2. I Commit to Stocking My Fridge and Pantry with Healthy Foods
It’s not enough to avoid buying junk food. We also need our kids to have access to a variety of healthy foods! Fill your fridge and counter with fruits and vegetables. Stock your pantry with dried fruits, nuts, seeds, or homemade granola. Kids learn that they can eat what’s available. And they’ll develop a taste for nutritious food.
3. I Limit Screen Time
I consider this part of my snacking strategy for two reasons. One: being engroseed in an iPad screen lends itself a little too well to mindless snacking. When kids are active, or in a social setting, they tend to have more awareness about their habits and appetites, compared to when they’re in front of a screen.
And two: Junk food ads aimed at children are still prevalent, and they’re more or less designed to get kids to beg their parents to buy sugary treats and processed snacks. Nutritionist and food activist Marion Nestle gives a compelling talk on this topic here. Limiting screen time means kids have less exposure to junk food ads.
4. I Keep My Kids Connected to Our Family Food
Kids like to know what to expect. So I let my kids know what’s on the meal plan, and I let them help me decide what to make. I also shop with them, grow our vegetable garden together, and most importantly, eat with them as a family. The more we can integrate our healthy lifestyle with our kids’ when they’re young, the more ingrained those lessons will be when they’re grown.
5. I Don’t Strictly Prohibit Junk Food
Tightly restricting kids’ access to “treat foods” can backfire, leaving them curious and craving all those colorful, appealing snacks. You’re doing enough when you make your home base a healthy place. When kids are out in the world, letting them taste and explore lots of different kinds of foods is part of supporting their healthy relationship with food.
So there you have it! Parenting is hard. My favorite quote is, “if you think parenting is hard, you are doing it right!” It’s easy to ignore or minimize the importance of teaching your kids to have a healthy relationship with food, but the sooner you can do these things, the sooner the lessons will be learned.
Do you have any tips to help keep your kids away from junk food?
I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.Learn More about Natalie
Amen! Thanks for this post!
Hi wanted to say I love this Blog, health of children is very important to my work. I write a blog a recently have been focusing on Health of Children. I would love any feedback you have http://www.fitjoypersonaltraining.blogspot.com. I also like to post articles from guest bloggers i sthis something that may be of interest? keep it up
Great post! I think my kids eat very healthy because I don’t make junk food available in my own kitchen. If we go to a party or a friend’s house, I let them eat whatever they want. I don’t micromanage their choices, but at home, their only choices are healthy!
That is exactly what I was trying to get across… but sometimes it’s hard for me to verbalize it. You said it perfectly!
Loved reading and knowing I am not alone in this quest. Thnx!
We haven’t had TV in years and it has made such a difference in what my children ask for. They don’t ask for any junk food they’ve seen on TV and their Christmas list is almost non-existent. They ask for unique things such as a wooden turtle etc..It is so much easier to make them eat healthier food when they don’t have the outside influences..We also homeschool so that makes it easier too, I can control what they and they are not around children eating junk for lunch or candy for snacks.
I LOVE your blog! I am passionate about feeding my kids healthy and teaching them WHY we eat the way we do. It encourages my 6 yr old son to know that he is feeding his muscles so they can become stronger when he eats protein. I have also explained that they are equipping their “soldiers” – white blood cells – to be strong in battle against “the enemy” – sickness – with their food choices! They love that one! LOL. I am excited to explore your blog and tryout your ideas! Thanks
Thank you for your comment Ashley! I love your thoughts, and I’m glad we can connect!
[…] your kids clamor for junk food as much as mine do? Be sure to check out these 5 tips for protecting your kids from junk food from Super Healthy […]
This is great and helps a lot to a parents to discipline their kids in eating habit.
Love this article I think in addition to watching TV is watching what images come up on the computer. My daughter (3y) is always over my shoulder when I’m on the computer, and when she sees images of fruits and veggies, she says “That’s yummy! That looks good!” Then images of soda or something, she says “That’s junk.” Of course, candy is still “I like that.”
I love that! It’s so true. In fact, I browse foods sites often, obviously, and I find myself craving foods that I see pictures for all day! It’s hard to be a food blogger, and not eat too much . lol
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I just joined your blog and I really love it! I live in Mexico city, #1 in infantile diabetes in the world after the US, and all these great ideas and recipes will help a lot with my kids! 🙂
Hi Amy! Just discovered your blog and I love it, so many ideas for promoting health and fitness to my parents and students! I love your favorite quote and when you say; “the sooner you can do these things, the sooner the lessons will be learned.” I tell my kids “Learn it from me who loves you or from the world which doesn’t but you are going to learn it”! Great job thanks for all your hard work!
hi.i recently have an interest in switching my families food choices to more healthy cutting out junk food. my problem is i have a 15 13 5 abd newborn. any suggestions to make this transition smoothly as possible:). Thanks so much
I wanted to send a quick message in support of your blog and let Danielle know that a great transition is the menu plans! I started with just adding whatever fruits and veggies were in the plan over the past two years so we got used to it. Now we (family of 5 w/ kids 9,7,4) try at least one new recipe per week as we learn to adapt our family recipes to healthier (for instance – smoothies with spinach – you can’t taste it but healthy and yummy). Good luck!
Danielle! that is tough when you have teenagers! But, as Lisa said below, strarting with a meal plan that your entire family eats from is a great way to go. It’s a way to focus on all the foods your family should be eating in a day, RATHER than focusing on the foods you don’t want your family to eat.
I will immediately grab your rss as I can’t to find your e-mail subscription link or newsletter service.
Do you have any? Kindly permit me know in order that I may just subscribe.
Love this! How do you influence your husband to not buy junk food and Coca Cola?
Great post! I’ve been following your blog for a little while now to get inspiration for healthy snacks and meals for our family. Unfortunately, quite a few ingredients are hard to get over here in Europe. At least in Belgium. Not even in health stores. But I get enough ideas to make our food healthier. Luckily, our kids (two boys age 4 and 6) love fruit and even quite some veggies. No raw veggies though, except for tomatoes. So fruit is usually the snack between meals, but I don’t cut all pre-made stuff and junk out of their choices (I don’t have a full pantry, but a drawer with some sweats and cookies). I let them choose, with a bit of ‘guidance’, and most of the time they will actually choose the healthy options. And veggies they don’t like (for whatever reason), I ‘hide’ in soups and sauces. These are usually packed with veg and that’s where my blender comes in :-). And gradually, I leave more and more veg peaces whole and they start to actually like them. I feel lucky and blessed that our boys are not really picky eaters, as I listen to other parents struggling to get (healthy) food into their kids. Maybe it helps that we have never forced our kids to eat anything they don’t like (i.e. really distaste). There is one rule: you have to at least try. If you really hate it, you don’t have to eat it. But they have dicovered so much food they do like, that they are always wanting to try something new. And with blogs like yours, there will be so much more they can try 🙂
Nicole- thanks for sharing! I think you are doing a fabulous job!
Yes, what heather says! My husband is the culprit when it comes to buying junk food. He buys a Coke every time he is at the store and anytime he takes the kids on an errand, he buys them a candy bar. He frequently will buy himself donuts or candy bars too when I send him to the store. Often, he will bring donuts or other junk home just because. And with regard to TV–I wish I could cut it out entirely, but my husband cannot live without it. When we did go one year without cable TV, he would pop in DVD after DVD to watch. I enjoy watching movies and don’t want to get rid of the DVDs but my husband is a grown man who makes his own choices and I’ve given up trying to convert him to a person with healthy habits. Sometimes it makes me angry thinking of how his parents did not teach him to be healthy growing up.
Royal Bird & Heather- I feel your pain! I used to get more comments like this when I was first blogging. So, even though these are OLD posts, I started a few called “The Healthy Wives club” lol.
Here’s one https://www.superhealthykids.com/healthy-wives-club/ and here’s the other https://www.superhealthykids.com/for-the-ladies/
Thanks for the post links. I read them but I don’t think there is anything I can do that I’m not already doing. I don’t buy junk food and never have. I’ve always done what your post here suggests. My husband works in fast food as a manager and his dad too so he was always around that lifestyle. Since we’ve been married (14 years and six kids) he has put on about 60 pounds while I haven’t, even through six kids. He drinks soda all the time. At work, he goes through at least two 32 oz containers, sometimes more than that. When we eat out on a date, he’ll order a soda and get at least three refills, sometimes more than that. It doesn’t matter that I always order water. He never will. He went off soda at least three different times in the last few years but even after going without it for a month, it didn’t change his habits. He gave himself a “cheat day” and had a soda and then had a hard time not having it again. It really was the way he was raised. They always had treats and anytime his parents had money, they would eat out or go to the movies. He can’t go to a movie without a big Coke and a large popcorn and 3-4 types of candy. He can’t go on a drive, even for 30 minutes, without a Coke to drink while driving. I remember when we were engaged and living in Southern California. We would drive with his family down to visit his extended family in other parts of the LA area, usually one hour or more from where we lived, and they would ALWAYS stop at a gas station as they were leaving to grab a big soda and some junk food to snack on for the drive. For a ONE HOUR drive.
So despite the fact that I cook breakfast and dinner every day and I do all the grocery shopping and for the sake of budget and health, I don’t buy the junk, he still eats it. Like I said, he’s a grown man who has decided that he doesn’t care about being healthy. He won’t even go see a doctor unless he’s really in pain. Even if I schedule him an appointment, he’ll find a way to get out of it. I have given up. As my mom said when we talked about this, I have made sure he has a good life insurance policy and if he dies young, at least we’ll be taken care of financially. I wish it weren’t so, but really, what do you do when your husband resists every attempt for you to help him be healthy and live long? I should mention that his own dad passed away at the age of 46 of colon cancer but he had a whole host of other health problems as well, due largely to the fact that he had such an unhealthy lifestyle. My husband was 20 when his dad died and misses his dad terribly but it hasn’t changed anything about how he chooses to live his life.
I feel your frustration! I’m sorry he doesn’t feel the same way about his health that you do. Unfortunately, as you said, he’s a grown man, and he can purchase any foods and drinks he wants to. Unless he’s willing to change, it would be very difficult to persuade him.
You lost me when you spelled “M O A T” like a little dust mote.
We have taught our son from a very early age-starting at around 18 months old the nutrients each food is giving his body, how it helps. now that he is older five we talk about what foods we should eat based on how our bodies are feeling. We do talk about what junk food does to your body and we have ice cream and chocolates occasionally, but always in moderation and always after we have given our bodies what they need to be healthy and strong.
I agree with all of this except depriving them of television.
This is great, thank you for this post. My fiancé and I are expecting a baby and I’ve been thinking of all the sports or dance classes or anything physical to make sure our kids are active and healthy, but then I thought about the food that they should/shouldn’t eat and didn’t know how to make sure that they would eat healthy when they’re older and independent. I don’t want them to binge on mcdonalds if I don’t allow it to them when growing up. But I have faith this will work, thank you so much!!
Thank you we are an adopted grandparents her mother takes her whenever she feels like being a mom and the only thing she feeds her is junk food microwave food and candy at her fingertips and when we get her back we can’t give her to eat anything healthy
Serve your child mainly healthy snacks, such as fruits and vegetables or whole-grain crackers and cheese. Keep healthy snacks available by placing them on low shelves in the fridge or in the cabinets so your children can reach them when hungry. Keep a bowl of fruit out so children can help themselves since they are more likely to eat foods that are visible.
Thank you for the tips. Being a mother, I am always concerned about eating habits of my kids. I prefer giving them healthy snacks like fruits/vegetables.
I don’t know why that first tip hit me so hard… but what an obvious way to keep junk out of the house! How have I not done that!!! Ugh, I’m so guilty of grabbing a box of wrapped candies for when I “need something sweet.” Definitely will be implementing this in my house, and even telling my own mom about this!
What a great blog I really appreciate this content thank you for sharing this informative content.
Very well said totally agree with you here no doubt rising a healthy family isn’t easy. It is important for you and your kids to have a healthy diet with a healthy lifestyle. The balance diet is one of the difficult battles for many working parents.
Thank you for giving me the idea not to include unhealthy snacks and junk food in my grocery purchases to prevent my kids from eating them. I’m trying to make them eat healthier after noticing that their food preferences only revolve around sugar and fast food take-outs that aren’t entirely good for their body. It might also be a good idea to schedule an appointment with a pediatrician to ensure that they don’t have any underlying conditions that I should be aware of.