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 they’re 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 ways I set boundaries around junk foods with my kids.
1. I Do Not Use My Grocery Budget to Buy Junk Food
What a waste! If you think you’ll be depriving your kids, think again. Between school, church, little league and grandma’s house, kids today 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 Stock Healthy Food in My Fridge and Pantry
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.
I Limit Screen Time
Junk food ads aimed at children are everywhere, 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.
I Keep My Kids in the Loop
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.
I Share Food-Filled Celebrations With My Kids
Food is part of our celebrations, gatherings, and culture. Eating dinner together as a family comes with loads of benefits, and family parties can be a great place to teach kids how to enjoy healthy food during fun occasions. This message is so important in a world where too many kids are learning to eat by themselves in a dark room in front of a screen. This type of eating almost inevitable comes with processed junk 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?