Today I want to talk about finding balance when it comes to healthy eating and junk food. This topic is on my mind because my 12-year-old son had a birthday sleepover this past weekend, and he had some very specific junk food requests. If you had seen my grocery cart on Friday, I guarantee you would not think that I was a health coach! My basket was full of items that I don’t normally purchase such as Doritos, Cheese-It crackers, chocolate milk, orange juice and Oreo cookies (for his cookies and cream cake). Here’s the thing, my son eats very healthy most of the time, and he accepts the fact that I do not pack junk food in his lunchbox, or stock the fridge with Gatorade and sodas. He understands that there is a time and a place for junk food. He understands why he can’t have these foods on a daily basis and why they are unhealthy.
As a health coach, I would love it if my family ate healthy food 100% of the time. As a busy mom, I realize that our schedule doesn’t always allow for that. Plus, like most kids my boys like junk food and sugar, and nothing I say to them is going to change that.
When my boys were younger, I had complete control over what they ate and it was easy to provide them with good choices all of the time. Now that they are older, junk food is often available at a friend’s house, a school party, or an extracurricular activity. So what can I do to prevent them from eating it? Nothing. All I can do is teach them healthy eating habits at home and hope that they make good choices when I am not around.
Honestly, I am not that concerned with my kids eating a little junk food once in a while because I know that at home (which is where they eat 80% of the time), they are eating healthy, nutritious food. My main concern as a mom and a health coach is that they are getting the nourishment they need to grow and focus in school. My issue with junk food is simply that most kids eat way too much of it!
In my previous post Why Child Nutrition Is So Important, I talked a little about how food can affect moods, behavior, and our overall health. This is especially true if the majority of your child’s calories are coming from foods full of sugar, refined carbs, and the wrong kinds of fats. If they are filling up on empty calories, there isn’t much room left for the foods they need.
Growing kids need a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, protein, whole grains, and healthy fats. They also need about 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. If they drink juice boxes or sodas a couple of times a day, chances are they are not getting enough water.
Healthy eating doesn’t have to be all or nothing! You can make sure your child is getting the nutrients they need and continue to allow an occasional treat. Better yet, you can learn to make some of their favorite treats healthier. Every single change you make to help them get more of the right foods and less of the wrong foods is worth the effort. Simple switches in your child’s diet can really make a difference in their overall health. Reducing sugary drinks, providing healthy breakfast options, and swapping out a packaged snack for a piece of fruit are all easy ways to provide better nutrition.
My approach to healthy eating is fairly simple. We don’t really bring junk food, processed foods, or sugary drinks into the home. I do not buy them unless it is a special occasion. Instead, we eat three balanced meals a day, and in between the boys snack on fruit, whole grain muffins, stove-top popcorn, smoothies, homemade Zbars or granola bars. They drink water with every meal or occasionally have a glass of milk.
I have discovered that if a child is truly hungry for a snack, they will be happy to eat one of these healthier options. If they don’t want something healthy, then they will probably be just fine waiting until their next meal. On the other hand, if they have access to a pantry full of chips, cookies, crackers, pudding cups, or gummy fruit snacks then of course that will be the choice they make. I do believe there is a place for junk food in their diet, after all they are kids! I just don’t think it should have a place at every snack and meal.
For my family, eating nutritious, healthy foods 80% of the time and then eating not so healthy foods the other 20% is the perfect balance. You may have heard of the 80/20 rule before, which is basically what we follow. This way I feel confident that my family is getting the nutrition they need, but they still get to enjoy the occasional cheeseburger out or a trip to the ice cream shop.
Changing the way your family eats is not an overnight transition. It takes time and there is definitely a learning curve. Six years ago, if you had opened my pantry you would’ve found Sams Club size boxes of chips, microwave popcorn, gummy fruit snacks, granola bars, and juice boxes. Once I understood why making these changes for my family was so important, I had to learn how to shop for and prepare healthier options. Learning to read ingredient labels, modify favorite recipes, and getting my family involved in these changes took time and patience.
Making small, simple changes is the key to long-term success. Trying to switch or restrict too many foods at once is a recipe for failure, which is why most diets fail. Learning to make healthier choices one step at a time will ensure that you stick with a change permanently.
As a Certified Family Health Coach I can help you prioritize your health goals, teach you how to incorporate healthier foods into your diet, and cut back on junk food.