The Importance of Junk Food

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.

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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!

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42 thoughts on “The Importance of Junk Food”

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  1. I think it is a great gift to your children to make eating healthy food normal to them. Growing up my mom always made “fruit shakes” just a mix of frozen and fresh fruit with water & vanilla in the blender and I still eat them almost everyday and it never feels like a sacrifice because its part of my “normal”. Unfortunately most other healthy food choices are a sacrifice for me but I”m trying so that my kids find eating healthy to be their own “normal” as they grow up and it won’t so hard for them.

  2. when i ate junk food,i can tell that its the better taste ever.when i ate local food the most bad taste ever,but i know it contain a lot of vitamin than junk food..

  3. I think this is such a great post! Moderation is such an important concept to remember when it comes to eating. I think it is so easy to go way overboard one way or the other. Obviously, we can go too far on the junk food side and make a lot of unwise choices, or we can go way too far the other way and become paranoid about every single thing we eat and take all the joy out of eating.
    I also agree (and am so happy to see you say it) that I think there is a BIG difference between real junk food and artificial junk food- WELL SAID! “Junk Food” made at home does not contain so many of the preservatives and chemicals and other weird non-foods that packaged and processed cookies and ice cream , etc. does.

  4. Balance is so important! I have been overindulging in junk food a lot lately and I really need to chill out with it. I’ll have to remember this blog the next time I grocery shop and avoid junk food. Lately my local store has been having sales on fruit and frozen fruit, so I try to stock up for snacks and smoothies.

  5. This is so so true! If you deny yourself these simple treats, you only set yourself up for failure. Thanks for recognizing and pointing out that you can still live your life with real food without completely restricting your palate.

  6. Hi, we’ve been diving into this lifestyle change and love your info! What do you think of izze sodas made with sparkling water and fruit juice (not sweetened)?

  7. Some of my kids Favorite(real food junk food) 1.Dried Fruit I use my food dehydrator to do this so that there are no added sugars nitrates etc… They especially Love mangos,papya,and watermelon like candy but they also like dried apples and pineapple. 2.the love Carob bars its a fudgey treat I make its like brownies but Gluten and Casin free Basicaly its peanut butter with melted carob chips and then you mix in cereal I use rice crispies. 3.fruit smoothies/slushies we use our juicer and they can pick whatever fruit that they want in there and then I add a few veggies for good measure and then we will either blend it up with yougurt or keifer or leave it plain… then I put it in the freezer for about 30 mins and it becomes like a slushy or milk shake the kids love it :)

  8. Hi
    I’m just starting this journey. This really caught my interested because I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with all the candy that my 6 year old brings home from birthday parties. What do you do?
    Also, we sometimes need to eat in a hurry (like in between evening church and bedtime). We usually make this our once a week eating out. Do you have suggestions for avoiding the typical fast food kids meals?

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      You can offer your kids coins or rewards in exchange for the candy (or even a better more natural candy alternative). Also, I think it’s important to “make your own convenience food” by having leftovers or frozen soup/dinners you can pull out on busy evenings.

  9. I 100% agree that by banning certain foods (unless they are for medical reasons) is not the best way to stop your children from eating them. I talk to my kids about listening to their bodies and making healthy choices so when I’m not around, they can make decisions for themselves (I also encourage this when I am around of course!!)I love your blog BTW and am now an avid follower.

  10. I made chocolate truffles the other day that were so delicious! They had no refined sugar (sweetened mainly with dates, with just a drizzle of maple syrup) and the main ingredient was cooked black beans! I know, sounds disgusting! But it really wasn’t – you honestly cannot taste the beans at all, only moist chocolaty goodness (with protein and fibre to boot!). These are the kind of treats I don’t mind serving my kids (still in moderation of course!).

    1. Chocolate Truffles

      •1 x 19 oz. can black beans, rinsed & drained
      •1 ½ cups raw pecans
      •1 cup pitted medjool dates (about 12 dates)
      •½ cup raw cacao powder
      •1 tsp vanilla extract (or liqueur of choice, such as Grand Marnier)
      •½ tsp salt
      •Drizzle of maple syrup (to taste)
      •2 cups of selected topping

      For the topping, you can choose either shredded coconut, or ground pecans (or do some of each). You’ll need about 2 cups total of whichever one(s) you choose. For the nuts, I recommend blending them in the food processor before you make the balls because then you don’t have to clean it out.

      In a food processor or blender, blend the nuts for your topping (if using) and set aside.
      Add beans, pecans, dates, cacao powder, vanilla (or liqueur), and salt. Blend until almost smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Leave the nuts a little chunky, if desired. If it is too dry to blend well, drizzle in maple syrup until the mixture is your desired sweetness. If more liquid is required, add some rice or almond milk, a teaspoon at a time.
      Scoop out the dough a tablespoon or so at a time and roll into balls, then roll the balls in the topping until they are coated, and put them in the fridge for about an hour to firm up.

      1. Of course, it’s even better to cook your dried beans from scratch (rather than buying canned).

      2. 100 Days of Real Food

        I cannot imagine eating a dessert with black beans…I don’t even like black beans that much in regular food. But I am kind of tempted to try your recipe!!

      3. Lisa: I was really skeptical about this, but I tried it, and it was REALLY good! As soon as it’s blended, you can’t even tell that there are black beans in it. And they help the truffles have that dark chocolate taste. Very good!!! Just thought I’d let you know. :)

      4. 100 Days of Real Food

        Good to know b/c I have not made it yet, but I did print out the recipe. Thanks!

  11. I have to eat gluten free and I use this recipe for gf brownies and I think it’s pretty healthy too. I just thought I’d share. It tastes pretty good too! :) Not my recipe though, someone else gave it to me. :)

    Bean Brownies:

    1/2 cup cocoa
    1/3 cup canola oil
    1 can (15 ounces) black beans or kidney beans, drained
    1-1/4 cups sugar
    3 eggs
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts (Optional)

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8 x 8 inch or a 7 x 11 inch baking pan. In a large food processor or blender, combine all ingredients except nuts. Blend well until very smooth. Stir in nuts. Pour batter into pan. Bake 35 – 40 minutes or just until set in the center. Do not over-bake.

    For a flourless, chocolate cake and an elegant presentation, pour batter into round cake pan. Cut into wedges and serve with raspberry or strawberry sauce.

    Note: The brownies can be reduced in calories by substituting the 1 ¼ cup sugar with 1 cup sugar and 1/4 cup Splenda.

    Serves 20
    Nutritional Information per serving:
    Calories: 115
    Fat, gm.: 5
    Protein, gm.: 2
    Carbs, gm.: 16
    Cholesterol, mg.: 25
    Fiber, gm.: 1.9

  12. Good post! In our house I say “candy” is important. Candy is authentic – you know when you eat it you are eating sugar. Same with cookies and cakes and jello. The thing that is so frustrating to me as a parent (and is why I created SmartyBars) is that the rest of the food landscape is so deceptive (which you learned on this journey). Majority of the packaged foods on the market are nothing more than food-like substances and they are amped up on sugars that are named in 20 different ways! I’ve talked to parents that say “Oh, I never allow candy in my house because I don’t want my kids to have sugar.” But, then they hand their child an “all natural” Cliff Bar, give them “tomato” ketchup made with corn syrup, but “maple flavored” syrup for pancakes and let them drink “natural sodas” with agave. Kids are not only still getting the sugar the parents swear against, but they’re being raised to think candy and junk food are the only enemies!

    By allowing junk food we give a real face and understanding of foods that must be eaten in moderation. This approach, however, will only truly work if we strive provide a foundation of clean, whole food eating. Junk food is lurking under “all-natural” and “wholesome” these days. Our goal as parents is to equip our children to see foods in their true light. (This is also why I’m so opposed to the “deceptively delicious” movement, but that’s a comment for another occasion :) )

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      You are so right…it is astonishing how many food products contain sugar or some sort of sweetener! And I couldn’t agree more about teaching kids to understand and appreciate food, which doesn’t exactly happen when kids don’t even realize their veggie was hidden in their food.

  13. There is an other thing to this, which is to involve children in the making of it. It teaches them cooking skills, what’s in their food, it gets them involved and it gives you quality time with them.
    Your oldest can easily break the eggs (in a separate container), your youngest stir, they can help you put the cupcakes/muffins dough in the pan/ shape the cookies, etc.
    If there’s one thing I’ve learned from baby sitting is that kids love to be involved in the kitchen.
    They will also very often eat anything they’ve helped prepare. And it allows them to be patient, to know it takes time to make that treat and this is also why one can’t have them all the time.
    Bake pies with them, make the dough, refrigerate it, pick the berries to go in the pan, or the apples. It’s so rewarding for them and for you. And yes, it makes more of a mess in the kitchen but they learn so much from such experience.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      That is great advice, and I try to get my girls involved in the kitchen whenever I can. I recently started letting my 6-year-old pick out and cook one dinner recipe a week. She is loving it and my soon to be 4-year-old doesn’t want to be left out of the fun either. They are both great helpers, and I agree it is worth the extra time that it takes (and the mess!)

  14. Great post! I grew up in a household where packaged food was simply not around. If we had treats, they were almost always from scratch. To this day, I can’t stand the taste of fake junk food.

    I did have a rebellious stage when I was a teenager, drinking lots of soda, eating fast food, and other junk, but I couldn’t do it for long. My body was not use to such abuse and I quickly developed chronic stomachaches and felt lethargic all the time. If I hadn’t grown up eating a well balanced diet, I would have never known that feeling that way was not normal.

    I’m confident that your daughters will appreciate all you do to teach them about making healthy food choices.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      Thanks for sharing your point of view! I cannot stand the taste of fake junk food anymore either…it is amazing how your palate can change.

  15. I’ve been trying to figure out the same thing, but mostly for myself because I have such a sweet tooth. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. They help me when I’m trying to make decisions.

  16. I have been making homemade ice cream (from your recipe!) and using that as our once a week treat. I feel like at least our 3 year old is getting some nutrition from it, and I know exactly what’s in it. I also use homemade banana muffins, blueberry muffins, pumpkins muffins, etc for treats. They are special and “cake” like, but I can control the ingredients and they have some nutritional value!

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      Aubre -That is my most favorite thing ever…when my girls feel like they are getting a special “treat,” but it is nothing more than whole-wheat muffins or dried dates mixed with nuts!

  17. Love this! Especially the Dr. Sears interview. I’ve found even if we have treats available in the house I always make sure to tell my son that he needs to eat something good before he can have a cookie, whether it’s fruit or homemade granola bar or whatever. Then by the time he’s finished what he’s taken instead of the cookie, he doesn’t remember the treat anymore, or doesn’t care as much.

  18. I am so happy that you posted this. I whole heartedly agree.

    It is important to remember that part of what we both are doing is to teach our children to eat better but also to LOVE food. I am passionate about food, and you are too. I love cakes and cookies and fried foods, growing up in the south this stuff was EVERYWHERE!! Haha! You know about that! Bu I have found that I can make cookies with whole wheat flour and organic pastured butter that really taste better. My plan for getting my guys to eat treats in moderation is to make homemade stuff that tastes alot better than the prepackaged thing. That way when they go to a friend’s house or get something from a vending machine later in life the taste will pale in comparison and they’ll eat less. And they will come rushing home to mama’s house for some real treats. Haha–that is my stealth plan for making sure that my sons never leave me. But sadly I am already setting their future wives up for failure. LOL!

    No but really, you can make things like cookies and brownies in a way that isn’t even really all that bad. Life is about living and loving and for me that includes food. We have both given up so much of the things we used to enjoy. It is important to find foods that inspire us as well as meet our new high standards.

    But also–have you ever foudnd rapadura sugar? It is made by a company call Rapunzel. I have gotten it from Whole Foods (you have never mentioned WF, so I don’t know if you have one near you). Also sucanat sugar which is even coarser. These sugars are just dried cane juice with nothing removed. Consider trying them. It is a bit like switching to whole wheat flour. My kids don’t know the difference.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      You are right Christa… appreciating food is an important part of life. It is not just for sustenance! Also I have been slowing doing what you mentioned…making our special weekend treat with half whole-wheat flour, etc. So even though we are eating chocolate chip cookies or homemade brownies I still don’t feel that bad b/c there is some wholesome to it. And it hardly tastes any different too! I have not heard of rapadura sugar. I get a little overwhelmed with all the sweetener choices sometimes. I have my guard up with things that sound “new” to me because I am worried about being tricked!

      And great minds think alike b/c I was already telling my husband that when our girls go away for college I hope they want to come home b/c they crave all my homemade goodies! LOL I hope they are never gone for too long :)

  19. This is a great post. My kids and husband think they need “dessert” after every meal. It drives me insane! My husband grew up having dessert after every meal so he doesn’t see a problem with it. Desserts were not big in my house growing up so it’s not as important to me. Dessert has come down to a piece of candy after dinner unless I have something else that I’ve made from scratch. I think balance is the key, but breaking old habits, especially when my husband isn’t on board is very difficult. I’ll keep trying though:)

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I grew up the same way as your husband…and not only did I have dessert after every meal, but I also had to have it immediately! I was struggling at the beginning of our 100-day pledge, but my cravings have improved quite a bit over time. It is definitely hard to break habits, but it can be done!

      1. C’est parce que vous etes francaise, j’imagine! The French have it figured out – high quality treats in moderation, around a table, with family members. “Dessert” is typically cheese, yogurt or fruit. And the French are generally thin and have a healthy relationship with food!

      2. 100 Days of Real Food

        We can learn so much from you! Thanks for your email explanation by the way…I read through once and am saving it to go through again!

    2. I grew up that way too, because my dad grew up that way. I still have dessert after almost every dinner, but it’s usually a handful of strawberries, or a banana with honey and cinnamon, or a yonanas treat. I honestly think its psychological.. Haha

      1. I did, too. I find that something small and sweet at the end of a meal is some kind of trigger to my brain that the meal is over. Purely psychological, I’m sure, but so long as I keep it to something small and preferably natural (like half of a Kit’s organic chocolate almond bars).