Junk Food Monsters

It doesn't take long for kids to discover sweets and junk food. Just like adults, it is not good for young kids to eat too much of these foods. Diets filled with chips, cookies, candies, soda pop, and fast food is often the main cause for weight problems, both in adults and children. The reason? These foods are usually chockfull of calories, sugar, salt, and fat. So, how can you avoid turning your child into a junk food junkie?

In the Home
Junk food isn't necessarily a negative part of a person's diet just so long as it is eaten in moderation. Allowing your child a little everyday is okay but the key word here is "little." Having one treat a day (a cookie or a popsicle) is fine. If your toddler is eating two cookies after lunch, a few candies for a snack and then a bowl of ice cream for desert, there's a problem.

If you're tempted to completely remove junk food from your child's diet, you might want to think again. Eliminating junk food will make it forbidden to your child and therefore more desirable. The same goes for using it as a form of reward or punishment. Elevating the status of junk food in anyway will give it a greater importance to your child. It may be difficult, but it is important to strike a balance between making sweets and treats a limited food but at the same time a part of their everyday diet.

Also, keep in mind who it is that does the food shopping and controls what foods come into your home. It's not your child. If you have a food drawer or cupboard that is especially for your little one, take a look at what's in it. Junk food can easily fill the cupboards because they are easy finger foods that kids (and adults) can nibble away on without realizing just how much they've eaten.

Looking at the Labels
Food labels these days all seem to advertise how their product is improved or better for you than other food products. But it can be hard to decipher just what the labels mean.

Reduced fat, low fat, and fat free do not mean the same thing. A product that says it is fat free means that it has less than 0.5g of fat per serving, while a low fat product has less than 3g of fat per serving. Food that is labeled as "reduced fat" will have at least 25% less fat than the original product.

Often, foods will say that they are low in saturated fats. This does not necessarily mean that the product is low fat. Rather, it is low in the particular saturated fat. Saturated fat is often seen as a big no-no in peoples diet. This is because it can raise cholesterol levels and increases the risk of heart disease. Your child's diet should have about 30% of its calories coming from fat. However, only about 10% of this fat should be saturated. The rest should be made up of monounsaturated fat.

Products labeled as low in cholesterol will contain no more than 20mg of cholesterol per 100g while cholesterol-free food will have a maximum of 3mg per 100g. However, both will still have up to 2g of saturated fats per serving with 15% of its calories coming from saturated fat. Plus, the product can still be high in fat, so be sure to read the label.

Foods that advertise as being calorie-reduced mean that they contain at least 50% less calories than the original product. Light products often allow people to assume that it has a lower calorie content, but this isn't always true. A product may just have a lighter amount of salt but still have the same amount of fat and calories. If you see the words "light" or "lite" on the package, make sure you know what it is light in.

There are many alternatives to junk food that can be jut as delicious and even seem like junk when it's not. Some easy ways to give your kids a healthier sugar fix include putting a bit of brown sugar on top of a bowl of hot oatmeal or serving some cinnamon toast made with whole wheat bread.

When it comes time for dessert, fruit is a great choice that can be just as sweet. Berries, melon and peaches are great solutions to a sweet tooth craving. Serving fruit after meals will also help your child to associate nutritious choices as delicious dessert options.

If nothing but the real thing will do, remember you still have healthier options. When buying ice cream, look for lower-fat versions or sorbets. There are also some great fruit popsicles available made entirely with fruit and fruit juices. These are low in fat and calories but taste even better than their sugary cousins. Instead of buying regular chips, pick up some baked potato or tortilla chips, which are lower in fat.

Meal Time
It's not just snacks that can be problems in your children's diet. Some of the most popular menu items with children can also pack an unhealthy punch when it comes to their nutrition. Hamburgers, fish sticks, hot dogs, French fries and pizza are easy to buy frozen and throw into the oven for a quick meal. But they also tend to have a lot of unhealthy fats and can be quite high in calories. To make these quickies a bit healthier, look for lower fat versions.

Buying fish sticks that are baked instead of fried, hamburgers and hot dogs made with leaner meats and french fries that are low in saturated fats are easy ways to reduce the amount of fat in your child's diet. Also, consider buying vegetarian burgers and hot dogs. These are often low in fat and have just as much, if not more, nutritional value than their meat counterparts.

Fast Food
Just like at home, the staples of a fast food diet are generally not that healthy. If your family only eats out once in a while, then there is not much reason to be overly concerned about the high fat content (although it doesn't hurt to make healthier choices). However, if fast food has become a weekly fixture, then it is necessary make a conscious effort about your food choices.

Pay attention to how the food is prepared. If something is deep-fried (like fish and chicken burgers or French fries), it will contain a lot more fat and calories. Pizza can be a good choice if it has lots of veggies with only a little meat piled on top, but steer clear of deep-dish pizza.

Sauces and dips can be hidden sources of fat in many food items. Salad dressing is well known for being high in fat, so ask for yours on the side or see if they have a light option. Likewise, burgers that come with "special sauces" often contain mayonnaise, which will send the fat content through the roof. However, old-fashioned favorites, like ketchup and mustard, rarely have much fat in them, so enjoy!

Many fast food restaurants have started producing healthier items on their menu; often stating just how much fat is in a particular "light" item. If the restaurant you're at doesn't have a "light" menu, then look for items that are made with fresh vegetables or whole grains. Most fast food places these days also offer nutritional information about their food; you just need to ask your server.

When They Grow Up
As your kids grow up, you may start to worry about the influence of junk food in school. Laying the foundation for healthy choices when it comes to sweets and treats now will make it easier for your child to make the right decisions later on.