Tag Archives: children and food

Children and Junk Food

Posted by Marianne Frederick

As we look again at the scourge of childhood obesity and early onset Type II diabetes in our families, we need to examine our tendency to choose fast food or junk food over healthier meals. Mac n’ cheese is okay once in awhile, but, it should not be a staple. If “you are what you eat,” your children are what you feed them.

Although I’ve loved French fries since childhood, I know if I eat them regularly I will have a weight problem. French fries are simply fat-drenched potatoes (starch) sprinkled with salt (sodium or potassium chloride). If you break down that silly oh-so-satisfying snack, the potatoes are healthful fiber, but a healthier alternative is bake and top them with plain, low-fat yogurt. We all know that junk food is more often than not, a faster alternative to time-consuming, thoughtful food preparation. Just drive to the local fast-food restaurant and the family can eat in the car, no preparation and little clean-up required! But do you know that an order of French fries can contain 13 grams of fat, 250 calories which is 20% of your daily recommended fat intake?

And as parents and caregivers, unless we change our behavior we can’t expect kids to change theirs. Here are some tips to recognize and avoid–or at least curb–your and your children’s consumption of junk food:

  • Read the labels to help recognize junk food: Candy, cookies, donuts, sugary breakfast cereals, ice cream, soda, sugary “fruit” drinks, food high in salt, foods high in fat, high calorie food with little nutritional value;
  • Take greater control of your family’s diet by planning sit-down meals in advance, so you know what you’re going to buy at the grocery store. This isn’t easy and sometimes the plan falls apart, but even thinking about a plan is a good way to aim to get more of the right things into your and your children’s diets;
  • In your family’s meal plans incorporate more foods low in fat, foods low in saturated fat, foods low in cholesterol, high-fiber foods, including whole grains, vegetables and fruits; foods containing moderate amounts of sugar or salt; calcium-rich foods; and iron-rich foods.
  • Children and adults need some fat in the diet, but better “fats” are unsaturated fats, so read the labels to make sure what you are buying is good to feed your family. Children under 5 years old need only about 45 grams of fat daily; adults need about 65 grams of fat–so note that your children’s fat requirement is less than yours;
  • Buy leaner cuts of meat; and if you buy ground beef, aim for the 90% lean. Incorporate more chicken and fish in your family’s diets. If you purchase pork products, make sure they are lean–most grocery store butchers will trim the fat for you if you ask. Low-fat lunch meats are also a help in supplying lean protein in your family’s diet; bear in mind that bologna and salami can contain more fat than leaner turkey, chicken, or ham.
  • Often high fat foods are “fast foods” like sausage biscuits, double cheeseburgers, nachos, corndogs, enchiladas, thick shakes and super-sized drinks, so you may want to reduce the number of trips to fast food places that don’t offer healthful alternatives such as side salads, grilled chicken or fish, and unsweetened beverages.

Remember, parents and caregivers, regarding your family’s healthful diet, you’re in the driver’ seat!

What Baby Eats–How Safe Is Establishing Preferences for Salt or Sweet?

A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), points to the fact that eating patterns favoring salt may begin in children as early as infancy and that this may have a serious effect in later life.

According to the HHS HealthBeat of February 27, 2012, Leslie Stein of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, PA, examined the “taste preferences” of babies fed starchy table foods which frequently contain additional salt.[1] The infants who received the starchy foods appeared to like “saltier water” and the salt preference continued as the babies aged. http://content.govdelivery.com/bulletins/gd/USHHS-3059d4

Children introduced to starchy table foods by six months of age had a tendency to like the taste of salt when they were in preschool.” This is significant because “eating patterns which favor lots of salt are associated with high blood pressure and heart disease in adults.” So, parents and caregivers, we are again cautioned to watch our child’s intake of salt–even in infancy. So, if you haven’t been reading the labels, be sure to check the sodium content, especially of processed baby foods. And, if your children are being fed “starchy” table foods, ensure that they are also eating vegetables, fruit, and the right amount of dairy and protein too.

An article in MedPage Today, February 7, 2012, entitled, “Baby’s First Foods Should Be Finger Foods”[2] pointed to the fact that baby-led weaning has had a positive impact on a child’s liking for carbohydrates–foods that form the building blocks of healthy nutrition (those found at the bottom of the food pyramid). The author of the article, Nancy Walsh, noted that there has been a lot of interest and support “for baby-led weaning, which encourages a less controlling parental style and can help ease maternal worries about appropriate feeding.”


Baby-led weaning emphasizes infant self-feeding with solid finger foods from the outset, rather than parental spoon-feeding, but using the self-feeding method exclusively, worries me–parents need to make sure that not too much, nor too little, food finds its way into baby’s mouth. Meanwhile, if parents and caregivers are encouraging baby to feed himself, babies still need to be closely supervised while they eat. A very young child does not know how much they can safely put in their mouth and swallow.

Walsh notes that the study performed by research scientists, Ellen Townsend, PhD, and Nicola J. Pitchford, DPhil, of the University of Nottingham in England, concluded spoon-fed babies preferred sweets. One might say that in health-conscious America of the 21st Century, establishing this sort of pattern for a child will no longer do! This pattern of eating may contain another cause for childhood obesity–or adult Type II diabetes–by establishing a child’s preference for sweets in early life by spoon feeding. So, as parents and caregivers, we are cautioned on both accounts–the salt and sugar content of our babies’ foods. Perhaps, after all the science, it comes back to a wise grandmother’s good advice, “Moderation in everything is best!”

[1] “Kids on Salt”, HHS HealthBeat, February 27, 2012, http://content.govdelivery.com/bulletins/gd/USHHS-3059d4

[2] “Baby’s First Foods Should Be Finger Foods”, Walsh, Nancy, MedPage Today, February 07, 2012, http://www.medpagetoday.com/Pediatrics/Parenting/31059?utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_ca