5 Ways To Protect Your Kids From Junk Food

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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 are old enough to make their own choices when they aren’t home, and they don’t always choose green peppers when there are chips around. As a mother I’ve thought long and hard about this, and although I feel like my years of influence are quickly going away, there are still a few things I can do to instill the desire for healthy eating in my kids.

Most importantly, it is possible to create a home environment that is different from the world. It can be an island where we control what happens!  Your home should be a place where junk food doesn’t permeate your pantries, and where healthy food is always part of the environment.

As parents, we can dig a moat around our island we call home!  A deep enough moat, where high paying junk food advertisers and peer influences can’t cross over.  We can do this and we can keep our kids healthy, despite what the world is doing to them.

Here are my 5 ways in which I think we can dig this moat deep enough to have an impact on our kids.

1) Do not use your grocery budget to purchase junk food!  What a waste!  If you think you will 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:

  1. Chips (deep fried potato chips- you can totally make your own!)
  2. Commercial fruit snacks (void of fruit, nutrients, and full of sugar)
  3. Commercially packaged desserts like cookies.  (You know.. Oreo’s!  We are 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.)
  4. Soda pop (seriously, overpriced and no one needs it!)
  5. 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.  That is not what I am saying.  They are free to choose and have many times chosen to take a pop instead of water.  BUT- That does not mean I have to spend my grocery money on this things and stock my pantry with them!

5 Ways To Protect Your Kids From Junk Food. You don't have to be neurotic about food choices, but you can give your kids an environment where THEY choose health!

2) Let healthy food be a natural part of your kitchen’s environment.  It’s not enough to avoid buying junk food, but you also need your 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 granolas. Kids will learn that they get what’s available.  While they are young, they can not go purchase their own hot dogs when they have a craving.  What you include in your kitchen is what they can eat.

5 Ways To Protect Your Kids From Junk Food. You don't have to be neurotic about food choices, but you can give your kids an environment where THEY choose health!

3) Limit television!  There is something amazing about having a leprechaun send you on a magical adventure with shooting stars and horseshoe marshmallows.  What kid wouldn’t get excited about eating tasty red hearts and green clovers.  I used to not consider that my kids were that easily influenced until one year when we didn’t have cable.  I remember that year, they always knew which toys were being offered at the fast food joint, and they begged me to take them.  Their Christmas list was literally a full page long.  The next year we had no cable.  I did not have one single request for fast food, and they couldn’t think of ANY thing to put on their Christmas list… so interesting!

4) Be united.  Get your kids on the same page with your plans for healthy eating.  Print out a meal plan, and hang it on your fridge.  Kids like to know what to expect.  You can look at your meals for the week, and decide together who is going to help make the meals! You can shop together, you can grow the food together, and most importantly, you can eat together!  Work them towards independence where they are packing their own school lunches with the things you think they should be packing.

5 Ways To Protect Your Kids From Junk Food. You don't have to be neurotic about food choices, but you can give your kids an environment where THEY choose health!

5) Celebrate food, together!  Food is part of our celebrations, our culture, and our gatherings. While I detest using food as rewards, I think food as part of our social landscape is a great part of human culture.  Eating dinner together as a family comes with loads of benefits, but also 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 kids are instead 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.

5 Ways To Protect Your Kids From Junk Food. You don't have to be neurotic about food choices, but you can give your kids an environment where THEY choose health! 5 Ways To Protect Your Kids From Junk Food. You don't have to be neurotic about food choices, but you can give your kids an environment where THEY choose health!

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?

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34 Comments

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!

Danielle,
That is exactly what I was trying to get across… but sometimes it’s hard for me to verbalize it. You said it perfectly!

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

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.

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 🙂

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.

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.

Royalbird,
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.

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.

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!