Charlotte Markey, a health psychology professor at Rutgers University, allows her two children some sweets for dessert, instead of telling them they can’t have any.
As a grad student at The Children’s Eating Lab at Penn State University, Markey saw for herself what happens when families ban junk food at home. Researchers first asked parents whether they allowed certain snacks, before setting their children up in a room filled with those said snacks. Observing away from the room, they saw that the kids whose parents restricted snacks ate more treats than other kids, and displayed a “making up for lost time” behaviour.
While the intentions of parents are altruistic, it looks like complete prohibition does more harm than allowing some within a controlled environment. One method is also to make children understand why excessive junk food is not good. At the same time, negotiating a trade-off with your children may also help ease the tension from yearning for the forbidden fruits.
By setting the stage for a well-balanced exposure to different foods, including some junk food or treats in moderation, parents can still ensure that kids have an overall healthy diet.
Some other tips that could be handy for parents:
1. Eat healthy 80% of the time
Go with the concept of "80/20" – 80% of your diet consists of good healthy stuff, while allowing 20% of the tasty, and maybe less healthy, treats. This rule means junk food will never dominate your kid’s diet mind, yet the occasional unhealthy snack even in a small amount feels like enough.
2. Start meals with the good stuff
Start the morning or a meal with a fruit and veggie, then allow them milk and cereal, or a cookie.
3. Make cooking at home the norm
Getting your kids used to eating home-cooked meals with the family most of the time establishes a standard that allows minimal or controlled junk food. When they do eat out, there is then flexibility to allow something else that qualifies as a treat, such as ice cream after a dinner outside.
4. Expose your kids to the best produce
Let your kids learn about the produce you shop for at the market. Make them curious or excited about what you buy to make their meals. Expose them to the variety of fruits available at your supermarket.
5. Offer treats that aren't junk food
While excessive sugar and salt are best avoided, you can try buying or even making other treats at home using ingredients you control. Check out this article for some treat ideas.
Just as importantly, know your own limits, set your own parameters, and cultivate eating habits that will not send your children into a frenzy when they see other children having what they can’t.