Crackers, pop-tarts, chips, fruit roll-ups, and cookies. How many of these items are in your pantry?
As a nation, we love convenience and efficiency. Boxes and bags are easier to handle than pots and pans and easier to use than peelers and knives. For the busy parent (and what parent isn’t busy?), it’s easier to rip into a bag or open a box for the nagging child in the backseat, or getting to your next mommy task quickly.
Convenience foods may appear several times a day in the diet of a child. School events, day care, and other family homes expose your child to processed foods and consumption can mount quickly. Not only are we tempted by the convenience, our children think they taste good too!
Food commercials target and entice our little ones. If you have ever shopped with a child, you see firsthand, the impact of advertising. Children remember tag lines, colorful box decorations, and chummy characters. When they find these products in the store aisles, be ready for the onslaught of begging, negotiating, promising, and all-out tantrums if you don’t buy the desired product!
What’s a parent to do?
Take charge: Determine how many convenience items you will allow in your home. If you are liberal with processed foods in the pantry–your child will be liberal in eating them. Replace bags and boxes, colors and dyes, and unidentifiable ingredients with satisfying “real food” snacks such as whole wheat bagels with peanut butter, whole grain cereal with low-fat milk, or low fat yogurt with fresh fruit and granola.
Set Limits: If bags and boxes are a part of your regular diet, try adjusting your purchases and eating habits to skew to healthier foods. Try to aim for 90% of your child’s daily intake to come from healthy, “growing” foods such as low fat dairy, lean meats, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Leave the remaining 10% for “fun foods”– soda, cookies, chips, and candy. Placing the emphasis on healthy foods and allowing occasional and small amounts of “fun foods” keeps the balance in favor of good nutrition.
Talk About It: Create opportunities to talk with your child about healthy foods and not-so healthy foods. Differentiate the two, keeping a neutral perspective. Emphasize foods that come from the earth and those in their natural state. While the temptation to eliminate and label processed foods as “bad” may exist, it is better to acknowledge their presence, taste, and usage on an occasional basis, so that your child will be able to navigate the wide world of food as he gets older.