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When kids want to eat junk

It's so much easier to feed kids healthfully when they're little and you're in charge of everything they eat. You breastfeed, then offer them the most nutritious foods you can make or find.

Then the outside world intrudes, and suddenly nothing is simple any more.

The first casualty in our household was a concoction known as "brown brown oatmeal," made by mixing oatmeal and bran in a bowl with milk and microwaving. I'd add enough brown sugar to make it tasty. That was a standard breakfast for my daughter until she went to kindergarten. That's where she -- and, later, my son -- made friends and began visiting other houses for play-dates.

And that's when I started hearing about the wonders of chocolate-chip pancakes made with Bisquick. Frozen waffles to heat in the toaster. Wonder bread instead of whole-grain. My brown brown oatmeal just didn't cut it any more.

And it wasn't just breakfast that was threatened. The kids made friends with a family whose kids ate very little other than buttered pasta, morning, noon and night. That family was also, I believe, the one that introduced my kids to packaged cookie dough that they ate straight from the tube. And I'll never forget the day I took my kids to have lunch at my friend's house and she made them their first Fluffernutter sandwiches.

It wasn't long before I found myself buying Bisquick, cookie dough and Fluff.

We hear a lot about how television commercials and product placements in kids' shows influence our children's eating behaviors. In my experience, though, other families and other kids have had the strongest impact on what my kids want to eat.

It's not that I'm averse to indulging in fun foods; I imagine that kids who visit our house are amazed by the amount of pizza that gets eaten around here. I don't want to deny my family treats to the extent that they rebel and turn off to the healthful stuff altogether. But there's always a new challenge; as I write in this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, I'm currently grappling with my son's desire to drink energy drinks (which are heavily marketed in ways that appeal to 13-year-old boys).

How do you manage your kids' junk-food yearnings? Please share your strategies in the comments section -- and vote in today's poll.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  May 4, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health , Me Minus 10 , Motherhood , Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity , Prevention , Teens  
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Ok, the problem is not really that your kids found fluffernutter. The problem is this sentence right here: "It wasn't long before I found myself buying Bisquick, cookie dough and Fluff." As the famous Pogo line goes, "we have met the enemy, and he is us."

Yeah, I know, this sounds weird, since I'm usually the one railing against the advertising culture. But I still control what goes into my own kitchen. And if I really think that my kids should eat oatmeal instead of fluffernutter, then, dangit, that's what I'm going to buy for them. Do they whine? Of course -- they're kids! That's their job!! But that doesn't mean I have to listen to it! In my house, "but X's mom lets her have it" is met with "wow, she must have a really nice mom. Too bad you don't."

Of course, I do let them have periodic treats (my mom was so strict on the "healthy" food that I rebelled and spent many years in box-M&C-and-brownie-mix land, so I want my kids to learn more of a balance). And if fluffernutter is your version of the periodic treat, and you're just using it as an example to spark a column, ok. :-) But personally, I just view the friend issue as more advertising to be pushed back against -- it's just a little more indirect than Toucan Sam peering out of a cereal box.

Posted by: laura33 | May 4, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I am a mother of twin boys and I hear you.It is hard not to cave in when I go grocery shopping and they ask for candy or processed snacks but I think we have to do what it is best for them. Once in a while I let them have a hot dog for dinner or a cinnamon roll as a treat but we, as parents, should make the right choices. Hopefully they will stick to a good eating habit and stop calling me the Worst Mom Ever :)

Posted by: Nina17 | May 4, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

And when your child is 13 and some friends are drinking beer will you find yourself going to the liquor store for little cupcake?
I don't think that some junk food is bad but parents who cannot say no really cause problems for our society,

Posted by: alterego3 | May 4, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

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