Kids get 27 percent of their calories from junk food?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  March 3, 2010 08:13 AM

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According to a new study released today in the journal Health Affairs, kids in the US now get more than a quarter of their daily calories (27 percent) from junk food, snacking on salty and sugary treats three times a day -- in addition to their regular meals.

Dessert consumption was down, but only because kids seem to be eating those cakes and candies between meals instead of after them.

The nearly continuous eating gives kids an extra 168 calories a day -- most of which are so-called "empty calories" with little to no nutrional value -- is locking kids into unhealthy eating habits that are hard to break, the study found. It's also contributing to the country's already serious childhood obesity problem, and the rising obesity rate has other consequences as well: Overweight or obese children are 59 percent more likely to miss more than two weeks of school than kids who are not overweight, and 32 percent more likely to have to repeat a grade, another study shows.

"Our study shows that some children, including very young children, snack almost continuously throughout the day," said Barry M. Popkin, a professor in the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and lead author of the paper.

The study focused on data from more than 31,300 U.S. children from 1977 to 2006. From 1977 to 1978, 74 percent of children ages 2 to 18 said they snacked outside of regular meals, according to the study, but from 2003 to 2006, that number had skyrocketed to 98 percent -- and most of the kids reported that their go-to munchie was salty chips or crackers or sugary candy.

I thought the age group with the largest snacking increase would be teenagers -- they eat pretty much everything that isn't nailed down, right? Wrong. Young kids, age 2 to 6, were the ones who consumed the most calories via snacks, the study found.

On Monday, First Lady Michelle Obama -- who is leading a White House-backed initiative to end childhood obesity -- told the School Nutrition Association that parents, educators and policymakers share responsibility for the trend.

"Our kids didn't do this to themselves," Obama said. "From fast food, to vending machines packed with chips and candy, to a la carte lines, we tempt our kids with all kinds of unhealthy choices every day."

I agree that the problem is complex, but the 2 to 6 year olds in the study aren't buying their snacks at vending machines, they're not pouring their own soda or juice instead of water or milk, and they're not driving themselves to McDonald's. So how to explain the fact that they're getting 27 percent of their daily caloric intake in the form of junk food?

My 5- and 3-year-olds say that their favorite snacks are carrots, granola bars and apples, but the truth is that they would happily chow down on chips, cheese puffs, marshmallows and sugar cookies if they thought those were actually options. Which, I'll be honest, they sometimes are -- a recent road trip saw plenty of decidedly unwholesome eating, and there's a Costco-size container of jelly beans on my kitchen counter right now, left over from Valentine's Day, of which I've had more than my fair share. (Let's face it: As parents, we don't always make the healthiest choices for ourselves, either.)

I guess it comes down to this: Kids can't make healthy choices for themselves until parents make those healthy choices first.

What's your child's favorite snack? Do you eat as healthily as they do?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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17 comments so far...
  1. My kids are at school most of the day, and I pack their lunch. Because I don't pack junk, they don't eat junk there. They may not finish all their carrots, apples, or cheese, but that's their choice. At least I know I am doing everything I can to send them with healthy stuff.

    At home, the rule is that cookies, ice cream, or other sweets are for dessert after dinner, period. If you are hungry before dinner, you can have fruit, cheese, carrots, or yogurt. If none of those appeal, wait for dinner - we eat fairly early. I don't really keep any chips or other junk food around the house because I have zero self control when it comes to that sort of stuff. Since I am the only one at home many days, I keep it out of the house so I don't snack on it. My kids are much better than me - they'll stop after 2 cookies, or 1 dish of ice cream. I try to follow their example.

    Posted by BMS March 2, 10 02:55 PM
  1. My daughter's school doesn't offer junk food. About once a month there's a special ice cream sundae fest after lunch. I wouldn't swear that her lunches are 100 percent healthy, but she's given a piece of fruit and all the salad she wants every lunch, and she takes it. Only milk and bottled water are available for beverages. She probably gets a less salty, less sugary diet from school (we're in a crummy district, but, for someone, the cafeteria is pretty good, and the district puts money into it!) than she would if I packed her lunch. As for home and restaurants, I would say she's far more conscious than I am about healthy eating. We rarely do fast food. She does, however, hate carrots. (But loves brocs and sprouts.)

    168 calories of non-nutrious food doesn't sound like much for an active child, but for the less active child, that could be an extra 3 - 4 pounds of unneeded weight (depending on the child's weight). OTOH, the First Lady is making a cult of her cause, and she make a lot of parents and children alike very nervous about their food consumption.

    If a First Lady is well-liked, as is Mrs. Obama (and, usually, justifiably so, what's not to like about her?), folks tend to take advice from her. (But, fortunately, I'm not buying those boring cardigans and J Crew outfits. I'll take Jackie committment to the arts, and Lady Bird's Leep America Beautiful campaign.)

    Rabbit food gets to be a drag after a while. I feel we **can** have our cake and eat it too - all in moderation.

    Posted by reindeergirl March 2, 10 04:36 PM
  1. Have you ever been to a playgroup or park and seen the moms who have bags packed to the brim with crap? And the kids finish one snack and get another one? And then the moms complain that their kids never eat anything at meals? I'm not surprised at all. In fact, I wonder how many of those calories are from juice boxes. My kids get no more than 1-2 a week, otherwise it's milk at meals and water in between (other than parties and as occasional treats).

    My kids will happily eat junk, and they usually get a small serving most days in their lunchbox for snacktime at school (something like cheez-its or graham crackers). Snacks at home are typically fruit or veggies.

    Posted by akmom March 2, 10 05:09 PM
  1. I dunno...this seems kind of like the studies that show how kids are watching more hours of tv in a week than there are actually ARE in a week. Not true in my house. I will not go so far as to say that my kids prefer fruits to junk food, but as I type they are eating home made pizza with peppers on top and apple slices on the side. For a snack this afternoon they had blueberries and graham crackers. For lunch they had cheese sticks and whole wheat bread. For breakfast they had yogurt and fruit. My Mom brought them each a fun-size Hershey bar they can have later. It's been a typical day.

    Posted by RH March 2, 10 05:37 PM
  1. I find kids don't often need snacks as often as the adults think they do. My kids rarely ask for in between meal snacks, even when there is no particular barrier to having a snack. When they were very small, we never provided in between meal snacks unless a meal was going to be hugely delayed, so they never got in the habit.

    Posted by bms March 2, 10 09:32 PM
  1. The study says the largest *increases* in snacks came from salty and sugary snacks. That is actually quite different from saying that salty and sugary snacks account for most of the snacks.

    For example -- say in 1980, 50% of kids snacked on fruit and 10% on chips, and then in 1990, 55% of kids snacked on fruit and 30% in chips. Biggest increase goes to the chips, but chips do not account for most of the snacking. (These numbers are made up -- I could not access the entire study, but only an abstract -- but per the abstract, the junk food stat is about the increase, not about the actual amount.)

    So that does not necessarily mean the young crowd -- the 2 to 6 year olds -- are eating junk food. Snacking throughout the day is another way of eating, and can be quite healthy when done right: it is called "grazing": A grazer -- as opposed to a 3-square mealer -- is going to seem like a snacker. It means eating small portions often, rather than 3 large portions. I'd be curious to learn more about the actual intake of the small crowd, with information about what they are eating. My little 5 year old nephew eats snacks all day long, and only snacks, really. But the snacks are fruits, cheese, etc.

    Posted by jlen March 2, 10 09:59 PM
  1. Adults, esp. people in power, need to set a good example for children. Unfortunately, Mrs. Obama lost her credibility when she didn't publicly object when her husband appointed an obese doctor as our new Surgeon General.

    Posted by Mark March 2, 10 11:28 PM
  1. Right now, the "treat" in our household is to share a sugar-free, all-fruit, lime popsicle as either dessert or an afternoon snack. But A's favorite snacks are: apples, pears, goldfish (parmesean flavor), cheese or mangoes. She gets two cups of juice (I check the sugar content and take the most "natural" options, and then water it down by 75%), but the majority of her fluid intake is milk and water.

    Oh. Her other favorite treat? Ice. Yep. Frozen water. Go figure.

    Posted by Phe March 3, 10 07:29 AM
  1. The research is excellent - and it shows what most parents are intuitively sensing - there are too many junk food snacks. Check out http://www.snack-girl.com/ for healthy and kid friendly snack ideas.

    Posted by snackgirl March 3, 10 08:29 AM
  1. I have a 9 year old son that won't eat fruits and veggies, I try but nothing works if anyone has any secrets great share them with me.

    Posted by Lori March 3, 10 11:44 AM
  1. I have a 16 month old who has failure to thrive issues. She only weighs 16 pounds, so for her getting calories into her period is a bigger priority than what she's eating. Our gastroenterologist and nutritionist have set up meal plans that are heavy on the "bad" foods just to up her calorie intake.

    As a result, we're the awful house that doesn't do low cal organic snacks. Whatever.


    Once she's doing better (or they figure out the underlaying cause and it's dealt with) yes we will place an emphasis on healthy eating...but there's healthy eating and then there's taking it too far. I seriously have zero issue with a little bit of "junk" food every day assuming your child has a healthy lifestyle and metabolism that can handle it.

    Posted by c March 3, 10 11:58 AM
  1. This was a very enlightening article, and also very sad.

    I don't think the swarm of marketing that kids see while watching cartoons is particularly beneficial, either. I mean, come on. There's Pop-Tarts ads, fruit snacks and the like. The worst part is, they advertise these things as having "real fruit" so it sounds healthy, but the reality is, it's nothing but junk and chemicals. What are we teaching our children?

    In addition, you have the industry advertising that high fructose corn syrup is made from corn, so its okay. But do they tell you that it is manufactured in such a way that the body cannot digest it properly and that is comprised of fructose AND sucrose? No wonder we all crave sugar, because it's in everything!

    As a parent, our biggest responsibility to our children is to teach them good eating habits from the beginning. My son eats only whole foods, nothing processed. His favorite snacks are fresh fruit and carrot sticks. And he's rarely sick.

    Since we lead by example, why not set a good one for our kids?

    Christian Aguirre, Personal Trainer
    http://www.eastbaytrainer.com/east-bay-health-clubs-fitness-industry-secrets-blog/

    Posted by Christian Aguirre March 3, 10 12:05 PM
  1. Reindeegirl - When you say your kid's school provides only healthy choices and that "Only milk and bottled water are available for beverages," one of those milk choices is likely chocolate milk which is loading with sugar and not even close to a healthy food. I just read some study that most kids choose chocolate. One school took it off the shelfs and parents were pissed. While kids do need the calcium and D from milk, they do not need as much as you all think and all the sugar makes it like soda with calcium.

    Even At 80 calories/cup for skim milk (the only type your over 2 year-olds should be drinking), the calories can add up if that is all the kid is drinking. My kids get 10-12 oz of skim each day and 6 oz juice, the rest is water (sparkling or tap).

    I am luck to have kids that love vegetables and fruit, but they will choose starch over anything, so that hits the plate after they finish the veggies and protein.

    Posted by Lacedog March 3, 10 01:46 PM
  1. Lacedog,

    It's this 'one size fits all' type of edict ("the only type your over 2 year-olds should be drinking") that turns rational discussion into a battle. I have a naturally lanky 10 year old who drinks 2% milk (maybe 8 oz a day) with breakfast and dinner. The rest of the day he drinks water. There is no reason he 'should' drink only skim milk, and at the moment he needs the calories. Please don't make this kind of statement - it effectively puts an end to reasonable, open-minded discourse.

    Otherwise - limited access to sweets and other 'junk' seems just fine to me. My son has some combination of hummus, carrots, grapes, guacamole, tortilla chips, spinach triangles, etc., in his school lunch every day, and eats a healthy breakfast and dinner (he likes almost all vegetables, but tends not to like fruit). He actually hates fast food, so that's never an issue for us, and the only chocolate he likes is very dark chocolate. He does, however, like cookies and chips, just like any other kid, and he can have them in reasonable amounts.

    It's been shown again and again that forbidding certain foods makes them more appealing to kids (and adults!), so teaching kids how to balance treats with healthy foods is the best approach. And, as others have noted, the best way to teach them is to eat that way yourself.

    Posted by Cathy March 3, 10 06:07 PM
  1. Lacedog, there is actually no good reason for a healthy child (or anyone, for that matter) to drink fat-free milk. I could go on and on about why we drink the milk of another species at all, or the benefits of raw milk over pasteurized, but those are other topics entirely. From a Reuters news release in 2008:
    ***
    According to a review of the published scientific literature, claims that low-fat dairy products or calcium can help people lose weight are untrue. Neither dairy products in general nor calcium intake promote weight loss.

    Out of 49 clinical trials, 41 showed no effects of diary or calcium on weight, two showed an increase in body weight with a dairy regimen, and one showed a lower rate of weight gain. Only five showed weight loss.

    An association between calcium or dairy intake and weight loss has been seen in some "observational" studies, possibly due to other factors such as increased exercise, cutting out high-calorie foods with little nutritional value, or other diet changes.
    ***
    So that whole "Milk Your Diet" campaign is bogus - there is more literature out there that shows that switching to reduced fat milk causes weight gain - there are elements of butterfat in natural, whole milk that support thyroid function and regulate weight. I used to be a skim milk die-hard and have switched my kids to whole (they are thin any way). We're considering switching to raw. I think our understanding of how messing with food (pasteurization, removing fat) messes with our bodies is very primative.

    BMS, I could have written your first post!! Sugar was entirely banned in my family for 5 years when I was a kid (it was suspected to contribute to my brother's seizure disorder...it didn't). We were the healthiest kids in the world, but I still gravitate towards those "forbidden" foods as an adult. My kids have a more "everything in moderation" attitude. For them, a cookie or ice cream after dinner are no more appealing than popcorn or fruit and yogurt.

    Posted by Jen March 4, 10 09:31 AM
  1. First, I think the use of the terms "snack" and "meal" is really causing people to miss the point. The issue shouldn't be about when or even how often kids eat. It should be about WHAT they eat. If a child has yogurt and apple slices for snack and Kraft mac and cheese for dinner, is the problem with the snack? Plus, there's a legitimate argument for kids and adults that "grazing" is better than concentrating on three meals a day. In fact it was recommended to us for our daughter by her doctor.
    Also, I completely relate to the mom who posted about her daughter who has failure to thrive issues. My daughter didn't have failure to thrive, but did have GI issues as an infant (resolved by age 2) and was very low on the weight charts. The doctors were only concerned about her getting enough calories at that point and encouraged us to always have food where she could access it herself. Now that she's 3 her issues have resolved but the eating habits she developed have benefited her well. She eats when she's hungry and doesn't when she's not and enjoys a healthy balance of fruits, veggies, proteins, carbs and fats. It's not uncommon for her to pick from a bowl of brocolli and a bowl of ice cream alternately. That's what I consider healthy balance.

    Posted by Ellen March 4, 10 04:07 PM
  1. I grew up on junk. My mother was a stay at home mom and cooked homemade meals each night and that was the healthiest it got. For breakfast I had cereal (Coco Puffs, Cinnamon Toast Crunch with whole milk), snacks were ring-dings, funnybones, candy, you name it... Mom would bring all 4 of us grocery shopping with her and we'd load the carriage with soda, candy, ice cream, snacks, anything but fruit and veggies! Funny things is, all 4 of us were skinny as rails and extremely healthy kids. Fast forward to adulthood and we all have an INSANE sweet tooth... I crave sugar all the time. My brothers and sister are the same way. But... still we're all thin without exercising and while still indulging in sweets and crackers. None of us have any health issues. I just don't know what to think... maybe it's all genetic? I do wish I had learned healthier eating habits as a child because it makes it difficult now but what can you do? Everyone though I had the best lunches and coolest mom around, haha!

    Posted by MC March 5, 10 09:46 AM
 
17 comments so far...
  1. My kids are at school most of the day, and I pack their lunch. Because I don't pack junk, they don't eat junk there. They may not finish all their carrots, apples, or cheese, but that's their choice. At least I know I am doing everything I can to send them with healthy stuff.

    At home, the rule is that cookies, ice cream, or other sweets are for dessert after dinner, period. If you are hungry before dinner, you can have fruit, cheese, carrots, or yogurt. If none of those appeal, wait for dinner - we eat fairly early. I don't really keep any chips or other junk food around the house because I have zero self control when it comes to that sort of stuff. Since I am the only one at home many days, I keep it out of the house so I don't snack on it. My kids are much better than me - they'll stop after 2 cookies, or 1 dish of ice cream. I try to follow their example.

    Posted by BMS March 2, 10 02:55 PM
  1. My daughter's school doesn't offer junk food. About once a month there's a special ice cream sundae fest after lunch. I wouldn't swear that her lunches are 100 percent healthy, but she's given a piece of fruit and all the salad she wants every lunch, and she takes it. Only milk and bottled water are available for beverages. She probably gets a less salty, less sugary diet from school (we're in a crummy district, but, for someone, the cafeteria is pretty good, and the district puts money into it!) than she would if I packed her lunch. As for home and restaurants, I would say she's far more conscious than I am about healthy eating. We rarely do fast food. She does, however, hate carrots. (But loves brocs and sprouts.)

    168 calories of non-nutrious food doesn't sound like much for an active child, but for the less active child, that could be an extra 3 - 4 pounds of unneeded weight (depending on the child's weight). OTOH, the First Lady is making a cult of her cause, and she make a lot of parents and children alike very nervous about their food consumption.

    If a First Lady is well-liked, as is Mrs. Obama (and, usually, justifiably so, what's not to like about her?), folks tend to take advice from her. (But, fortunately, I'm not buying those boring cardigans and J Crew outfits. I'll take Jackie committment to the arts, and Lady Bird's Leep America Beautiful campaign.)

    Rabbit food gets to be a drag after a while. I feel we **can** have our cake and eat it too - all in moderation.

    Posted by reindeergirl March 2, 10 04:36 PM
  1. Have you ever been to a playgroup or park and seen the moms who have bags packed to the brim with crap? And the kids finish one snack and get another one? And then the moms complain that their kids never eat anything at meals? I'm not surprised at all. In fact, I wonder how many of those calories are from juice boxes. My kids get no more than 1-2 a week, otherwise it's milk at meals and water in between (other than parties and as occasional treats).

    My kids will happily eat junk, and they usually get a small serving most days in their lunchbox for snacktime at school (something like cheez-its or graham crackers). Snacks at home are typically fruit or veggies.

    Posted by akmom March 2, 10 05:09 PM
  1. I dunno...this seems kind of like the studies that show how kids are watching more hours of tv in a week than there are actually ARE in a week. Not true in my house. I will not go so far as to say that my kids prefer fruits to junk food, but as I type they are eating home made pizza with peppers on top and apple slices on the side. For a snack this afternoon they had blueberries and graham crackers. For lunch they had cheese sticks and whole wheat bread. For breakfast they had yogurt and fruit. My Mom brought them each a fun-size Hershey bar they can have later. It's been a typical day.

    Posted by RH March 2, 10 05:37 PM
  1. I find kids don't often need snacks as often as the adults think they do. My kids rarely ask for in between meal snacks, even when there is no particular barrier to having a snack. When they were very small, we never provided in between meal snacks unless a meal was going to be hugely delayed, so they never got in the habit.

    Posted by bms March 2, 10 09:32 PM
  1. The study says the largest *increases* in snacks came from salty and sugary snacks. That is actually quite different from saying that salty and sugary snacks account for most of the snacks.

    For example -- say in 1980, 50% of kids snacked on fruit and 10% on chips, and then in 1990, 55% of kids snacked on fruit and 30% in chips. Biggest increase goes to the chips, but chips do not account for most of the snacking. (These numbers are made up -- I could not access the entire study, but only an abstract -- but per the abstract, the junk food stat is about the increase, not about the actual amount.)

    So that does not necessarily mean the young crowd -- the 2 to 6 year olds -- are eating junk food. Snacking throughout the day is another way of eating, and can be quite healthy when done right: it is called "grazing": A grazer -- as opposed to a 3-square mealer -- is going to seem like a snacker. It means eating small portions often, rather than 3 large portions. I'd be curious to learn more about the actual intake of the small crowd, with information about what they are eating. My little 5 year old nephew eats snacks all day long, and only snacks, really. But the snacks are fruits, cheese, etc.

    Posted by jlen March 2, 10 09:59 PM
  1. Adults, esp. people in power, need to set a good example for children. Unfortunately, Mrs. Obama lost her credibility when she didn't publicly object when her husband appointed an obese doctor as our new Surgeon General.

    Posted by Mark March 2, 10 11:28 PM
  1. Right now, the "treat" in our household is to share a sugar-free, all-fruit, lime popsicle as either dessert or an afternoon snack. But A's favorite snacks are: apples, pears, goldfish (parmesean flavor), cheese or mangoes. She gets two cups of juice (I check the sugar content and take the most "natural" options, and then water it down by 75%), but the majority of her fluid intake is milk and water.

    Oh. Her other favorite treat? Ice. Yep. Frozen water. Go figure.

    Posted by Phe March 3, 10 07:29 AM
  1. The research is excellent - and it shows what most parents are intuitively sensing - there are too many junk food snacks. Check out http://www.snack-girl.com/ for healthy and kid friendly snack ideas.

    Posted by snackgirl March 3, 10 08:29 AM
  1. I have a 9 year old son that won't eat fruits and veggies, I try but nothing works if anyone has any secrets great share them with me.

    Posted by Lori March 3, 10 11:44 AM
  1. I have a 16 month old who has failure to thrive issues. She only weighs 16 pounds, so for her getting calories into her period is a bigger priority than what she's eating. Our gastroenterologist and nutritionist have set up meal plans that are heavy on the "bad" foods just to up her calorie intake.

    As a result, we're the awful house that doesn't do low cal organic snacks. Whatever.


    Once she's doing better (or they figure out the underlaying cause and it's dealt with) yes we will place an emphasis on healthy eating...but there's healthy eating and then there's taking it too far. I seriously have zero issue with a little bit of "junk" food every day assuming your child has a healthy lifestyle and metabolism that can handle it.

    Posted by c March 3, 10 11:58 AM
  1. This was a very enlightening article, and also very sad.

    I don't think the swarm of marketing that kids see while watching cartoons is particularly beneficial, either. I mean, come on. There's Pop-Tarts ads, fruit snacks and the like. The worst part is, they advertise these things as having "real fruit" so it sounds healthy, but the reality is, it's nothing but junk and chemicals. What are we teaching our children?

    In addition, you have the industry advertising that high fructose corn syrup is made from corn, so its okay. But do they tell you that it is manufactured in such a way that the body cannot digest it properly and that is comprised of fructose AND sucrose? No wonder we all crave sugar, because it's in everything!

    As a parent, our biggest responsibility to our children is to teach them good eating habits from the beginning. My son eats only whole foods, nothing processed. His favorite snacks are fresh fruit and carrot sticks. And he's rarely sick.

    Since we lead by example, why not set a good one for our kids?

    Christian Aguirre, Personal Trainer
    http://www.eastbaytrainer.com/east-bay-health-clubs-fitness-industry-secrets-blog/

    Posted by Christian Aguirre March 3, 10 12:05 PM
  1. Reindeegirl - When you say your kid's school provides only healthy choices and that "Only milk and bottled water are available for beverages," one of those milk choices is likely chocolate milk which is loading with sugar and not even close to a healthy food. I just read some study that most kids choose chocolate. One school took it off the shelfs and parents were pissed. While kids do need the calcium and D from milk, they do not need as much as you all think and all the sugar makes it like soda with calcium.

    Even At 80 calories/cup for skim milk (the only type your over 2 year-olds should be drinking), the calories can add up if that is all the kid is drinking. My kids get 10-12 oz of skim each day and 6 oz juice, the rest is water (sparkling or tap).

    I am luck to have kids that love vegetables and fruit, but they will choose starch over anything, so that hits the plate after they finish the veggies and protein.

    Posted by Lacedog March 3, 10 01:46 PM
  1. Lacedog,

    It's this 'one size fits all' type of edict ("the only type your over 2 year-olds should be drinking") that turns rational discussion into a battle. I have a naturally lanky 10 year old who drinks 2% milk (maybe 8 oz a day) with breakfast and dinner. The rest of the day he drinks water. There is no reason he 'should' drink only skim milk, and at the moment he needs the calories. Please don't make this kind of statement - it effectively puts an end to reasonable, open-minded discourse.

    Otherwise - limited access to sweets and other 'junk' seems just fine to me. My son has some combination of hummus, carrots, grapes, guacamole, tortilla chips, spinach triangles, etc., in his school lunch every day, and eats a healthy breakfast and dinner (he likes almost all vegetables, but tends not to like fruit). He actually hates fast food, so that's never an issue for us, and the only chocolate he likes is very dark chocolate. He does, however, like cookies and chips, just like any other kid, and he can have them in reasonable amounts.

    It's been shown again and again that forbidding certain foods makes them more appealing to kids (and adults!), so teaching kids how to balance treats with healthy foods is the best approach. And, as others have noted, the best way to teach them is to eat that way yourself.

    Posted by Cathy March 3, 10 06:07 PM
  1. Lacedog, there is actually no good reason for a healthy child (or anyone, for that matter) to drink fat-free milk. I could go on and on about why we drink the milk of another species at all, or the benefits of raw milk over pasteurized, but those are other topics entirely. From a Reuters news release in 2008:
    ***
    According to a review of the published scientific literature, claims that low-fat dairy products or calcium can help people lose weight are untrue. Neither dairy products in general nor calcium intake promote weight loss.

    Out of 49 clinical trials, 41 showed no effects of diary or calcium on weight, two showed an increase in body weight with a dairy regimen, and one showed a lower rate of weight gain. Only five showed weight loss.

    An association between calcium or dairy intake and weight loss has been seen in some "observational" studies, possibly due to other factors such as increased exercise, cutting out high-calorie foods with little nutritional value, or other diet changes.
    ***
    So that whole "Milk Your Diet" campaign is bogus - there is more literature out there that shows that switching to reduced fat milk causes weight gain - there are elements of butterfat in natural, whole milk that support thyroid function and regulate weight. I used to be a skim milk die-hard and have switched my kids to whole (they are thin any way). We're considering switching to raw. I think our understanding of how messing with food (pasteurization, removing fat) messes with our bodies is very primative.

    BMS, I could have written your first post!! Sugar was entirely banned in my family for 5 years when I was a kid (it was suspected to contribute to my brother's seizure disorder...it didn't). We were the healthiest kids in the world, but I still gravitate towards those "forbidden" foods as an adult. My kids have a more "everything in moderation" attitude. For them, a cookie or ice cream after dinner are no more appealing than popcorn or fruit and yogurt.

    Posted by Jen March 4, 10 09:31 AM
  1. First, I think the use of the terms "snack" and "meal" is really causing people to miss the point. The issue shouldn't be about when or even how often kids eat. It should be about WHAT they eat. If a child has yogurt and apple slices for snack and Kraft mac and cheese for dinner, is the problem with the snack? Plus, there's a legitimate argument for kids and adults that "grazing" is better than concentrating on three meals a day. In fact it was recommended to us for our daughter by her doctor.
    Also, I completely relate to the mom who posted about her daughter who has failure to thrive issues. My daughter didn't have failure to thrive, but did have GI issues as an infant (resolved by age 2) and was very low on the weight charts. The doctors were only concerned about her getting enough calories at that point and encouraged us to always have food where she could access it herself. Now that she's 3 her issues have resolved but the eating habits she developed have benefited her well. She eats when she's hungry and doesn't when she's not and enjoys a healthy balance of fruits, veggies, proteins, carbs and fats. It's not uncommon for her to pick from a bowl of brocolli and a bowl of ice cream alternately. That's what I consider healthy balance.

    Posted by Ellen March 4, 10 04:07 PM
  1. I grew up on junk. My mother was a stay at home mom and cooked homemade meals each night and that was the healthiest it got. For breakfast I had cereal (Coco Puffs, Cinnamon Toast Crunch with whole milk), snacks were ring-dings, funnybones, candy, you name it... Mom would bring all 4 of us grocery shopping with her and we'd load the carriage with soda, candy, ice cream, snacks, anything but fruit and veggies! Funny things is, all 4 of us were skinny as rails and extremely healthy kids. Fast forward to adulthood and we all have an INSANE sweet tooth... I crave sugar all the time. My brothers and sister are the same way. But... still we're all thin without exercising and while still indulging in sweets and crackers. None of us have any health issues. I just don't know what to think... maybe it's all genetic? I do wish I had learned healthier eating habits as a child because it makes it difficult now but what can you do? Everyone though I had the best lunches and coolest mom around, haha!

    Posted by MC March 5, 10 09:46 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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