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Junk Food and Children

Junk food can be considered any food that is unhealthy and/or has poor nutritional value.   Junk food contains high levels of saturated fat, salt, or sugar and numerous food additives. At the same time it lacks nutrients, proteins, vitamins and fibre, among other healthy attributes.  Generally, junk foods are relatively cheap to manufacture/buy, are convenient, easy to purchase, requires little or no preparation, and is packed full of flavour. Its little wonder junk food is such a hit with todays society!

 

In todays’ world of indulgence, food temptations are everywhere.  Convenience foods and junk food is enthusiastically promoted which means children today are bombarded with exposure. This coupled with the time pressures of contemporary society has resulted in many children becoming passionate consumers of junk food. This is contributing to the ever increasing weight and broader health problems for our children and society as a whole.

Yum Yums View

As lovers of everything about food, our view on ‘junk food’ is a pragmatic one. If you want your child to have a ‘normal upbringing’,  avoiding junk food is almost impossible. So our approach is based on managing it and approaching it in moderation.

In our opinion, the biggest problem with junk food is the fact that generally it is highly processed with large quantities of unknown additives, preservatives, and chemicals. ‘Junk’ food offers very little in terms of benefiting your child nutritionally AND is full of empty calories which can contribute to weight and health problems.

We believe that whole, seasonal and ultimately organic foods are best for growing bodies and the emphasis for parents should be to empower children with information and knowledge about food to allow them to make good life choices in relation to food. Food is one of lifes’ pleasures and it should be enjoyed – unless you live in a vacuum, ‘junk food’ will feature in your child world…..as a parent you just need to ensure that junk foods’ place is appropriate.

Overall focus on the big picture and try to ensure your child -  

  •    Eats a variety of foods
  •    Balances the food they eat with physical activity
  •    Chooses a diet with plenty of grain products, vegetables and fruits
  •    Chooses a diet low in saturated fat, and cholesterol
  •    Chooses a diet low in refined sugars and salt
  •    Chooses a diet that provides enough calcium and iron to meet their growing body's requirements.

Keep it in perspective – there is no such thing as ‘BAD’ food! Some foods are more healthy and should be eaten everyday whilst other foods should only be eaten occasionally. It is the quantity of junk foods (i.e. high fat, high calorie) that is the biggest problem. And remember, this must always be tempered by maintaining a healthy weight and daily exercise program.


Everyday  Foods

Ensure your child has the following in their diet:

  • meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts or seeds or alternatives – 2 portions daily
  • bread, cereals, rice, potatoes and pasta (preferably wholegrain) –pre schoolers 4 potions daily, school children 5 portions daily
  • fruit and vegetables – 5 plus portions daily
  • dairy produce and other calcium-rich foods – 4 portions daily

Sometimes Foods

All the other foods like chips, chocolate, lollies, sweets, pies and soft drinks should only be consumed sometimes and only in small amounts. 

For more information see articles - Age by Age Feeding Guidelines and A Child's Nutritional Needs


Yum Yum Tips

Foods high in fat, salt or sugar are best to leave for occasional treats.

What about Takeaways?  

Fast food or takeaways are not inherently ‘bad’. Many are however high in salt and fat and can contribute to excess energy intake as they are low in nutrients relative to their density. You can make takeaways healthier by the choices you make some – look for lower fat alternatives – kebabs, burgers, grilled fish, rice or noodle based dishes with veges. Request no added salt and/or no MSG. 

Another alternative is to make home made ‘takeaways’ – grilled fish and chips, homemade burgers with quality ingredients or homemade pizza with all your child's favourite toppings.

What about Sugar?

Taste preference is something that is learned from birth through the age of six. If sweet foods are offered frequently, a child will be more likely to develop a preference for sweets.  

But sugar in itself is not inherently ‘bad’… there is a place for it in moderation (it’s not poison).  Consider some healthy alternatives….if your child has a sweet tooth, you can replace refined sugar with natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, fruit juice or barley malt.


Other articles of interest