Slowly but surely I am learning the importance of junk food. Yes, you heard that right…the real food blogger said that junk food (in moderation of course) is important! Figuring out when and where to fit junk food into our lives though has honestly been as challenging as cutting it out in the first place. While our original 100 Days of Real Food pledge was an amazing and eye-opening experience, I struggled to make the “right” decisions about our junk food consumption once it was over. The four of us had just proved that we could easily survive without a single ounce of sugar or white flour or anything deep-fried (among other things), and now it was up to me to decide when eating that kind of junk would be okay? That was a difficult task.
I recently had some interesting discussions with a few friends and readers about their childhood experiences with junk food (or lack thereof). Those that were completely restricted from any and all candy, cakes, soda, and cookies as children were not afraid to binge and splurge on those items at friends’ houses. What was forbidden became even more desirable…whenever they could get their hands on it. My ideal goal is to educate my daughters about real food vs. junk food so that they not only know how to make good decisions on their own, but so that they want to make those good decisions. Again, this is the ideal goal and we still have a long way to go, but I don’t think we’ll get very far in life if my girls only avoid junk food because “mommy said so.”
Let’s get back to the importance of having at least some junk food in our lives. I am learning that a good healthy balance with junk food is what will make it easiest for us to only indulge on occasion. Most anyone that’s been completely restricted will eventually splurge. Plus, there is honestly nothing wrong with eating cakes, cookies, chips, fries, etc. in moderation….sharing these foods with others can be an integral part of life! So we recently started indulging in one special treat a week. Sometimes my girls get their “treat” at birthday parties, and sometimes we make something yummy together at home (like the pictured brownies). And if there happens to be more than one celebration in a week (which occurs more often than one would think with a child in public elementary school!) I do my best to not make a big deal about it. If I never buy or store junk food in my house (with the exception of our special weekly treat) then by default my children will only be eating junk food in moderation.
As we’ve been working through these decisions and figuring out our “new normal” in the real food vs. processed food world, I got excited about some things I recently read in a Dr. Sears interview (in Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine). Some of what he said really hit home, and I was thrilled to get some reassurance about our choices…
P&C: How can families learn to make healthier choices instead of giving in to cravings for junk and sweet treats?
Dr. Sears: It’s a three-step process. One, shape young tastes early in childhood. When children grow up being served only real foods (like fruits, veggies, and whole grains), they learn to crave real food rather than the artificially sweetened and fatty foods. And you can reshape tastes at any age.
P&C: What’s the second step?
Dr. Sears: Banish junk food from the house. I know this sounds drastic, but if you don’t buy it, it won’t be available, and out of sight is out of mind – and out of tummy. The eye and stomach are closely related. If you crave chips and the chips are there, that reinforces your cravings. Keep bowls of fruit around the house and cups of yogurt in the fridge. When a child has a craving, that’s what he’ll see, and that’s what he’ll reach for and eat.
P&C: And the third step for liming our junk food cravings?
Dr. Sears: Walk away from them. Get moving rather than eating. Kids and adults who are bored or stressed are more likely to crave carbs. So when you or your kids feel the urge to eat junk, try to get up and run around…learning to curb cravings with physical activity is a valuable tool for young children to learn.
P&C: Should families limit desserts and indulgences during special occasions like holidays or birthdays?
Dr. Sears: By all means, allow for treats! Kids can certainly be taught this concept, and they (and you) can absolutely have a treat once a day or once in a while. It can even help keep cravings at bay. For example, say to yourself and to your kids that it’s [a holiday], so we’re having a special treat…let yourself have that square of chocolate each day if it will keep your cravings in check and stop you from overindulging later. Also remember to offer healthier sweet substitutes such as [plain] yogurt with fruit toppings, yogurt with cinnamon and honey, or even a special batch of healthy muffins if that’s what your child craves.
After almost 6 months since our original 100 Days of Real Food pledge ended, I feel like we are finally in a well-balanced place when it comes to junk food. Although, there is one last issue that I still struggle with on occasion. It’s the fact that I divide “junk food” into two very different categories…
Traditional Junk Food vs. Artificial Junk Food
For lack of a better word, “traditional” junk food includes things like homemade (from scratch) treats, chocolate bars, simple potato chips and fries. Artificial junk food includes items that don’t even come close to resembling “food” like gummy bears, lucky charms, and “fruit” roll ups. Then there are items that resemble food, but only on the outside. Like grocery store made cupcakes that are unfortunately full of artificial flavors and coloring. So when it comes to educating my girls about junk food, I am trying to teach them that if they could pick one piece of candy out of a bag it would be best to choose something like a piece of chocolate versus something that is the same color pink as their shirt. My older daughter recently attempted to carry out this advice by choosing a tootsie roll out of a party favor bag….so while that piece of candy resembled chocolate it unfortunately was made with anything but real chocolate. I was very proud of her for trying to make the best decision, but obviously we still have lots more to learn around here!