Dec 1, 2015

10 ways to deal with junk food consumption in children

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Last night, I had prepared noodles for dinner after a very long time. Not the instant noodles that you think :-) Plain noodles boiled and mixed with sautéed veggies and paneer. My 4 year old got so excited that she was jumping in joy when I told her that I'm making noodles. She doesn't have much exposure to noodles since I don't make it at home often, she hasn't seen that many ads in TV and she wouldn't have observed noodles being eaten by other kids in school, given the strict lunch box restrictions.

Yet, her excitement got me thinking deeply about how times have changed. As parents of today's generation, we have to deal with the onslaught of junk food everywhere - be it the attractive ads, colorful packaging, the add-on plastic toys/goodies that come with each pack and peer pressure from other kids. Here are 10 ways by which I manage junk food consumption at home.

1) Be aware of ingredients
Check the labeling for transfats, sugars, sodium and overall calories. If the pack has very high quantities for a serving size, then try to avoid them as much as you can. Give some random excuses to kids like "shop uncle will not let us buy this", "this is very spicy" etc. Older children may not buy into such silly excuses and so put on your thinking caps and whip up some believable excuses :-)

2) Do not deprive junk food completely
This makes them crave for such foods and they start to pounce on them the minute they see them elsewhere (birthday parties, family outings etc). Make them understand that these are not good for their health if eaten often. Kids as young as 2-3 years old can understand this message, believe me!

3) Try making it from scratch from home
Instead of instant noodles or instant pasta, buy the plain ones and make the dish from scratch. Instead of ordering expensive pizza, make it at home, including the pizza base. Add some colorful veggies, paneer or cheese to increase the nutritive quotient. You can also flavor them with pepper, ginger and garlic, which would help the kids fight common viral infections prevalent in winter. It doesn't take a lot of time and this could be a nice family activity for the weekends.

4) Set shopping quota
Whenever we take D with us for weekly grocery shopping, I used to be worried of the fact that she is going to load the shopping cart with cookies, chocolates and packaged juices. But a couple of months back, I tried a new strategy. She can only take 1 item of her choice. So if she brings say, a packet of cream biscuits and a tetra pack juice, I ask her "Which one she wants?" and let her take the item of her choice. Through this method, we let her experience control and decision making.

5) Allow one cheat per day
Children being children love lollypops, candies and other colorful stuff. While we as adults don't have any attraction towards them anymore. So it's okay if they enjoy a piece of candy. We don't have to be so hard on them or on ourselves. This is a lesson I learnt in the past 2 years. Be aware of their daily diet and allow one cheat in a day. If they had already munched on say, a couple of biscuits, then tell them that they can enjoy the candy tomorrow. Delayed gratification is something all of us need to become better at, including our children. If they throw tantrums, try not to give in easily :-)

6) Do not hand over the whole packet
Eating directly from the packet is a strict no-no. I always cut open a pack of biscuits/chips and give her a few pieces in a small bowl. This way, I can monitor the intake and ensure she doesn't gobble up the entire pack.

7) No junk when unwell
This is a strict rule we follow at home and D also understands that well. When she has cold/cough, we don't let her eat any candies, chocolates, pastries or ice creams. We tell her that she will get to eat them once her cold stops. She advises the same to her toys during her pretend-play sessions ;-)

8) Talk to your extended family members / Control the onslaught
Gone are the grandparents who will pamper the grandkids with homemade healthy laddoos and snacks. With easy availability and variety of packaged food, children end up with a lot of gifts from grandparents and other relatives whenever they visit us (or we visit them).  It's no more a single bar of chocolate but 5 big bars of different variety :-) I used to get so angry and irritated earlier when the bounty of these packs arrive as gift for D. No amount of convincing grandparents with logic or reasoning would help when the comments were as below:
"All her milk teeth are going to fall anyway. So why bother about tooth decay?"
"She will put on good bit of weight if she eats a lot of milk chocolates and pastries. Give her chocolates everyday"

Nowadays, I promptly collect the packs from D's hands and hide them in a "secret" cupboard which D doesn't have access yet (dreading the day when she figures out this spot ;-) ). I let her eat only one or half a bar of chocolate in a day.

9) Stock up on healthier alternatives
Children's appetite are small and they do like to munch on something in between meals. Have plenty of healthy alternatives stocked up such as dry fruits, nuts, chikki bars, roasted peanuts and fruits. Always have cucumbers and carrots handy so you can quickly cut some sticks and serve.

10) Set an example
Last but not the least, be the example for your child. Stop eating packaged food yourself or if you MUST, eat them when they are not around :-)

Hope this helps. Is there anything more that you'd like to add? Please share in the comments below.

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