How do I keep my toddler from becoming a “junk-food junkie?!” Although we try to serve him only fresh, organic foods, he has been exposed to cookies and other snack foods when spending time with his friends, and now he has developed a real liking for sweets! Is there any recommendation for how often a toddler can safely have the occasional sweet treat, and how can I direct his attention to more healthy foods when with friends?
Children eventually will be exposed to less healthy choices of foods as they grow up. From marketing on TV to exposure from friends or to kids’ menus in restaurants, these exposures cannot be avoided. Realize that you are still in control of the foods that enter your house and what you will serve. The Golden Rule is that it is the parent’s job to pick and choose what to serve; it is the child’s job to pick and choose what and how much to eat. As children age and are in other environments away from their parents, you will not be able to control everything. Here are a few principles to follow when they are young:
- Don’t tell children that foods are ‘bad” and “good.” You might talk about “growing” foods and “slowing” foods instead. If they eat the “bad” foods, they might believe that they are bad or doing something wrong.
- Use lots of fresh foods (fruits and vegetables), and show your enjoyment of eating them. Set a good example.
- Keep fresh cut up fruit or vegetables readily available in the refrigerator, and limit sweets and snack type foods from being easily available in the kitchen. When your child’s friends are at your house, offer fruits with any other snacks that you are offering. Make snacks fun – take a banana, roll it in yogurt, cover with raisins and call it “ants on a log.” Try making smoothies with yogurt, fresh fruit and 100% juice (like JUICY JUICE™) – let the kids have fun by pushing the button on the blender.
- Your only control of what occurs at his friend’s house is to talk to the parents and see if you can gently encourage them to offer healthier choices. You might even make suggestions for foods that your child likes that are healthy.
- Educate your kids as they age about the intent of advertising. Let them know that commercials they watch may not always have their best interest in mind.
- Limit television time, opt for channels without commercials or use videos. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV under two years and no more than one to two hours a day of combined screen time for older kids. The average child watches 55,000 commercials a year, and two-thirds of these advertise food.
- Encourage them to pick the fresh foods when you are grocery shopping with them. Ask them to choose five apples or see if there is a fruit or vegetable that they would like the family to try.
- Denying sweets and treats may backfire on you, by increasing his desire to have them. Allow your child to eat these foods on occasion, and don’t judge them as “bad” for choosing the treat foods. Find the balance for your family of portion control and moderation with desserts.
- Make healthier desserts – mix fruit and top with vanilla yogurt with a little honey (do not offer honey to babies under a year of age). Bake sliced apples and add some cinnamon and raisins on top. Offer muffins that have oatmeal, bran and fruit in them.
- Look for healthier alternatives to some of the snack foods. Rather than potato chips, offer spelt pretzels (a high fiber grain), or try whole grain crackers.
- Let them understand that families make different choices about their foods, their cars and their homes and why you choose to make your choices for your family.