Dr Richard C Woolfson
It’s disheartening to watch your child shovel down junk food with enthusiasm and scowl the minute a healthier eating option is put in front of him. Many children between the ages of three and four years would much rather munch their way through burgers, chips, pizzas and fish fingers than tackle a wholesome plate of fresh fruit and vegetables. But you can change this pattern and stop junk food from becoming a lifelong habit, especially at this stage, when his eating habits are still being shaped and refined.
DUMP THE JUNK ACTION PLAN
1. Understand Options
Before you try to make any positive changes to your child’s eating habits, you must first learn about the types of food that make up a healthy diet, such as fresh fruit, dairy products, fish and meat. This knowledge base will help you plan healthy snacks and meals.
Likewise, your kid is much more likely to make healthy food choices and to steer himself away from junk food once he knows what his options are. So explain the different food that he needs to consume in order to grow fit and healthy. This will help him make the right eating choices at home and when you are not with him to guide him.
2. Explain Impact
It’s not enough for your growing child to know what he should eat in order to be strong and healthy – he also needs to know why he should eat it. Your child is heavily influenced by your views. So explain to him that he should avoid the junk food habit because what he eats affects his rate of physical development, his bone growth, complexion and even the appearance of his hair.
He will be more committed to eating more healthily when he realises the impact they have on his growth and weight. Your child will listen to you because he instinctively wants to be fit, healthy and to look good.
3. Provide Opportunities
Whether your child is at home, in preschool or at a friend’s house, do your best to give him access to healthy snacks or meals that include the sort of food you would like him to eat.
Make sure the snack is visually attractive, easy to eat and tastes good – remember that this has to compete with the temptation of junk food from other sources.
Remind him to steer clear of foods such as sweets, fizzy drinks, and junk products. Tell him that these contain too much sugar, chemicals and other substances that are best avoided.
When faced with the opportunity to swap his normal snacks with a friend’s chips, sweets or sugary drinks, your child may be strongly tempted to eat what you don’t want him to – junk food looks very appetising, after all. Advise him to remind himself at these times about the long-term benefits of healthy eating.
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4. Don’t Be Extreme
Although you may be disappointed to discover that your child ate junk food, say, when he was on an outing with his friend’s family, remember that what matters is his overall food intake, not one specific meal. Having junk food ocassionally won’t do him much harm, as long as his food choices are generally healthy and eating junk food doesn’t become a lifelong habit.
If your child does not make a healthy food choice when he is with his friends, try to react calmly. Once again, point out all the positive reasons for healthy eating and encourage him to make a better choice the next time around. If you react angrily, he’ll simply conceal the junk food he eats from you altogether.
Also pick up useful tips here on how to turn breakfast into brain food for your child.