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Should We Ban Junk Food from Our Kids?

Should We Ban Junk Food from Our Kids?

I have a bone to pick with the local public school my child attends. Granted, I am seen by the mass majority of people as reactionary, if not sanctimonious, when it comes to plying my child with all manner of junk food, but I can say with certainty that frosted supermarket cupcakes and candy corn have no reasonable place in the classroom. For this, I am sure I am not popular with some parents, but for other parents, who feel certain foods have no inherent value or place in the mouths of young children, I am a kindred spirit.

Moving beyond the difference of opinion, when considering certain foods, whether they be “treats” or junk food, is it fair to make some foods utterly verboten? I personally would like to put Spiderman cupcakes and orange-flavored soda on the “do not eat until the apocalypse” list for my child. That said, by prohibiting our child from indulging, are we sending the wrong message about their budding relationship with food?

Casey Sidenberg, co-founder of Nourish Schools, a D.C.-based nutrition education company, seems to think so. Sidenberg, who is also a parent, feels that, considering how many children grow up with eating disorders and unhealthy associations to food, it is best to take a stance that stresses an emphasis on healthful foods, but with measured tolerance for those junky items that make many parents cringe. In writing for The Washington Post, Sidenberg shares a few key suggestions to help develop in your children a positive association with food, in general. Here are a few key points:

Food, especially unhealthful food, shouldn’t be used as a reward. The common incentive used by parents “Eat your vegetables so you can have dessert” clearly communicates to children that vegetables are to be avoided and desserts are to be desired.

Labeling a food as “bad” can cause children to feel guilty or bad themselves when they eat it. Instead label unhealthful foods “sometimes foods,” as they really are the foods we should eat only sometimes.

Food should not be used as a punishment in any respect (for example, taking away dessert sends the message that dessert is a “prize”) and unhealthful foods shouldn’t be labeled “treats” either.

In addition Sidenberg puts emphasis on maintaining a critical distance between consumption of food (or drink) and celebration. This is all in the effort of reinforcing those positive associations with family, activity and friends over the sweet rewards of a pack of Twizzlers. Easier said than done, I know.

I would certainly like to add to this getting your child more involved with growing, cooking, and purchasing food, and giving them the tools to make informed and empowered choices. Allow them to make some mistakes (i.e. buying something junky, or even trying a food that may not be to their liking) and generate their own preferences and their own pride in keeping their bodies healthy, and their taste buds engaged. So as much as some of us may hate to admit it, short of caffeinated gum, we may want to step back a bit and allow a bit of experimentation with the junky realm of the food world, while promoting the pleasures of whole, nourishing foods.

How do you foster a positive relationship with food in your own children? Has it backfired? Do you have food rules or tips and tricks? Are there some foods you would never allow your child to consume?

Read more: Blogs, Caregiving, Children, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Family, Food, Healthy Schools, Parenting at the Crossroads, Teens, , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

91 comments

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4:39AM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

Thanks for the share.

4:34AM PDT on Aug 18, 2012

Thank you.

4:34AM PDT on Aug 18, 2012

Thank you.

8:28PM PDT on May 23, 2012

thanks

9:17PM PDT on May 21, 2012

good points...junk food should never be given as a reward, dessert should not be used as a reward for eating veggies, or a punishment for not. and kids shouldn't be made to feel guilty about certain foods. i think training your kids to eat healthful foods and let them occasionally have something junky but without the stigma. above all, moderation.

3:50AM PDT on Apr 30, 2012

Absolutely not, I dont believe in blocking or banning stuff just because they are bad for your kids, whether that is ideas or food or whatever. Educate them and have faith in them and hopefully they wont make any huge, life-ruining mistakes.

5:26PM PDT on Apr 29, 2012

I mostly agree with this, except for separating food and celebration. I don't think that associating cake with birthdays will cause bad eating habits. Just as I associate latkes (potato pancakes) with Chanukah and matzoh ball soup and matzoh with Passover. I think it's okay to feel that there are certain special foods we eat at certain special times. It's not like if the child grows up to eat cake every time they have a birthday it will be a significant problem for their health. It seems to me a healthier message to associate with those foods than that they are rewards or okay to eat more casually. Food is often an integral part of a celebration, and I don't think that causes problems.

I do think it's good to encourage the eating of healthy foods and to let kids eat less healthy ones from time to time, while teaching them balance. Even with healthy foods, balance still matters. A healthy diet is about getting the right amount of nutrients and a good ratio of produce, protein, carbs, and fat. None of those things is inherently bad for you, but too much of one at the expense of too little of the others or too many calories is. Nuts are a fantasticly good for you food, but you can eat too many of them. So, teaching kids that a good diet is about eating a reasonable balance of different types of food is best. And that includes the fact that the right percentage of sweets is a very small one.

1:50PM PDT on Apr 29, 2012

not banning it. but make sure your child learns to respect their bodies and feed their bodies well, with nutritious foods, not junk

7:03AM PDT on Apr 29, 2012

Unhealthy food is a comparatively recent and localised idea. For centuries, and in many parts of the world today, just getting enough of anything edible was a challenge.

6:38AM PDT on Apr 29, 2012

Berny P - I share your sentiments - kindred spirits we surely are!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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