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Toddler

4 Ways to Manage Junk Food

Jill Castle, MS, RDN
January 3, 2019 . 3 min read

1. Junk food is everywhere

We all know junk food is a bad thing, but how and why is avoiding it worth the effort? Studies have shown that more than eight out of 10 toddlers consume soda, sweets, and processed foods. Studies have also shown that obesity is more prevalent among preschoolers than ever before.  Children learn which foods they like best and how to eat healthy early in life, and those habits continue to affect them for years to come. The choices you make for your child now can follow them into adulthood.

2. Sugar, salt, and your baby

The first and most important thing you can do is put off your child’s first taste of junk food for as long as possible. Your baby was born with a strong preference for sugary and fatty flavors, so the first taste (and subsequent tastes) will only reinforce that preference. As early as 6 months old, your baby can develop a taste for something salty. The longer you can avoid giving your child junk food, the easier it will be to keep it out of his or her diet.

3. Focus on nutrients

Your toddler needs over 40 nutrients each day for a healthy diet. They also need lots of healthy fats, like monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and DHA, to support the rapid growth of their brains. Now, consider how small your toddler’s stomach is — that’s a lot of nutrients to fit in such a small space. So, next time it seems easier to give in to a request for junk food, consider how the sugary or salty treat will take up valuable space in your child’s tummy. Focus on filling him or her up with the good stuff, so that there’s no room left for the bad.

4. Absolutely NO caffeine

How easy would it be to kick your morning coffee habit? Pretty difficult, right? That’s because caffeine is a stimulant drug. Not only is it addictive, it can be harmful for children and is considered inappropriate no matter the age (but especially for toddlers and babies). Possible side effects might include nutritional deficiencies that affect growth and development, upset stomach, headache, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and trouble sleeping and concentrating.

5. It isn\’t forever

As you strive against your child’s requests for junk food, remember that you won’t be struggling forever. In the early days, you have to focus on establishing healthy habits, but children over 2 years old can have a sweet treat every now and then. Introducing these food items at the right time and in moderation will further teach your child how healthy choices are made.

Sources:

  • 2008 FITS study.
    Castle & Jacobsen
  • Chapter 2
  • IN: Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School.
    American Academy of Pediatrics. Energy Drinks (caffeine) intake and children.
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preschooler obesity rates.
    KidsHealth.org. Caffeine and Your Child.
    National Institutes of Health
  • Caffeine Use in Children: What we know, what we have left to learn, and why we should worry.
    MedScape. AAP Guidelines Nix Energy Drinks for Children, Teens.

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