Chips, donuts, hot dogs, cookies, candy bars…is junk food a staple in your family’s diet? These 10 practical strategies from Circle of Moms members can help you break your kids’ unhealthy food habits, and get started down the path to better nutrition.
1. Don't Buy It
Remove food temptation from your house by clearing out existing stashes of junk food, and then strictly limit how much junk food you buy. As Sandra S. recommends: “Plain and simple...don't buy it! … No coercing, no bribing, just do not buy it and don't serve it. If it is not there, they can't eat it.”
2. Find Healthy Alternatives
“The trick is to find healthy alternatives,” Cheryl advises. “Just saying no doesn't work. If you are going to take something away make sure you replace it with something else..that is better for them." Moms like Jo S. agree, suggesting pita bread pizzas and homemade lean grilled burgers instead of greasy fast food.
3. Encourage Choices
Choice can be a powerful tool for changing a child's eating habits. As Samantha A. shares, “With my kids, the thing that works the best is to let them have a choice, but limit it...try asking: do you want green beans, broccoli, or squash with the chicken?" Similarly, Rebekah B. recommends incorporating your children's input while you're in the grocery store: “Take your kids to the store with you and let them pick out healthy snacks and foods. You would be amazed at how much they will enjoy being a part of the choosing.”
4. Introduce Variety
A healthy diet doesn't have to be a boring one. Try to frequently introduce new healthy ingredients and recipes to keep the family interested. “Make a chart of different fruits and veggies that none of you have ever tried before," Krystyna K. suggests. "Find recipes for them on the Internet and use one of those items [from your list] each week in your menu to discover something 'new' and delicious together.”
5. Explain Risks
Many Circle of Moms members stress the importance of explaining the family's diet changes, and that some foods will help them grow strong and healthy while other foods will not. Tia V. shares: “I explained all the bad things junk foods do to people's bodies like heart disease, obesity, liver trouble, strokes, diabetes. You could show them online pics of what a blocked artery is and the long term effects bad eating habits can have...reminding them that you love them, want them to have long healthy lives and that you aren't punishing them by taking away their favorite foods."
6. Get Your Kids Cooking
Having your children help you make meals is a great way to inspire interest in eating better. "We have cookbooks for kids and each kid gets to pick something out that they want to make," explains mother-of-three Sarah H. "If they make it themselves they usually want to eat the results!
7. Instate an Eat-Only-in-the-Kitchen Rule
As Alison L. shares, restricting where your children can eat certain foods is another simple way of cutting down on unhealthy snacks: "I have a colleague who has a rule that no food can be eaten outside of the kitchen with the exception of fruits and veggies."
8. Offer Rewards
Other moms recommend rewarding healthy eating with non-food prizes. Rachel C. explains: “Make a deal: if [they] eat healthy meal[s] they get points. Trade points in for treats/fun things.”
9. Gradually Transition Some Foods
Swapping white breads and pasta for whole grains isn't always easy given the difference in taste and texture. In such cases, Karen C. suggests a gradual transition: "To wean my kids onto whole wheat pasta I used 3/4 plain white and 1/4 whole wheat then gradually increased the amount until we ate just whole wheat. The kids didn't notice and neither did my healthy eating phobic husband."
10. Do Allow Occasional Treats
You don’t have to completely give up junk food, some moms argue, and in fact, it can be particularly difficult to prevent kids from indulging in treats during holidays like Halloween and Easter. Instead, limit it to particular occasions or days. As Alison L., suggests: “Why not make Friday night your junk food night? Personally, I really enjoy the bad stuff on occasion. Give them free reign to eat as much of whatever they want between 8:00 and 10:00 on Friday.” Tia V. takes a similar approach: "I also leave Saturday as our official 'Junk Food Day.' That means soda, pizza, chips, ice cream...whatever they want in reasonable amounts.”