By Dr Richard C. Woolfson
The problem with fast food is that it has all the qualities your preschooler wants in a meal: It’s familiar, full of favourite ingredients that trigger all her taste buds and easy to digest. It can be eaten on the go and doesn’t require the use of cutlery.
No wonder she wants fast food every weekend. Sitting down to a healthy plate of fish and vegetables served at the table pales in comparison to hamburgers and fries served in a plastic container, as far as she is concerned. You face an uphill battle when trying to beat her fast food fascination.
BEAT THE FADS
While fast food doesn’t necessarily mean unhealthy food, it does often have additives to make it appeal especially to children’s palates (for instance, extra salt or added sugar), and it doesn’t encourage the habit of family meals. So, although there’s no harm in the occasional fast food experience – as a special treat – you’re unlikely to want your kid to eat like this every weekend.
The first step is to explain why she shouldn’t eat this way too often. Children nowadays are very health-conscious, so tell your four-year-old what she should eat in order to be strong and healthy, and why she should eat it. Emphasise that she should avoid too much fast food because what she eats affects her rate of physical development, bone growth, complexion and even hair appearance. She will be more committed to eating good, traditional family meals when she realises the impact this will have on her growth and weight. She instinctively wants to be fit, well and look good.
HAPPY MEALS AT HOME
Next, make meals at home that are interesting, varied and healthy, using fresh fruit, dairy products, fish and meat. You can get lots of recipes from magazines, local library and the Internet. True, you’re not running a restaurant at home, but a reasonable variety of simple meals will decrease her urge. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly she adapts to healthy eating when you serve this type of food consistently at home.
Remember, too, that the appeal of fast food is not just about the food itself; it’s also about using hands instead of cutlery, and disposable containers instead of porcelain crockery. Why not take this approach at home sometimes, too?
A baked potato with cheese, served on a paper plate and eaten using a plastic fork (which you can wash and re-use) is much more fun than serving it at the table on a plate. And she’s much more likely to wolf down homemade pizza with cheese, tomatoes, vegetables or fish when it’s cut into small finger-size slices so that she can eat it using her fingers. Not every family meal has to be at a table. Sometimes, you can eat together while sitting in the living room or balcony.
Another potential barrier to beating her fast food fascination is that other parents might not share your concerns. So you may be disappointed to discover your child ate fast food when she was on an outing with her friend’s family, despite all your efforts to discourage this. If this does happen, react calmly. Simply point out all the positive reasons for healthy eating once again. If you overreact angrily, she’ll simply conceal future episodes of eating fast food from you altogether.
(Photo: Antonio Diaz/123RF.com)
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