One Dad’s Junk Food Fight

Raising healthy eaters is a battle royale

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, I made a solemn vow that no child of ours would ever eat junk food or drink soda.

Fast forward 15 years and I just watched one of my sons down a serving of french fries and a vanilla shake.

What happened? You could say this parent got mugged by reality: Junk food tastes better than regular food.

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“I like chicken, tacos, and chicken soup,” said one of my teenaged sons. “That’s about it.”

“I’m not interested in vegetables,” his brother added helpfully.

“I like chicken, tacos, and chicken soup,” said one of my teenaged sons. “That’s about it.”

Junk food is everywhere — from birthday parties to the synagogue to the 7-Eleven. It’s all but impossible, frankly, to get through the day without your kid’s digestive tract being exposed to sugar, salt, fat, preservatives, chemicals, and Lord knows what else.

What’s a concerned parent to do? Hang onto your resolve, be realistic, and make a few smart moves. They’ll serve you and your family well, even if your kids occasionally indulge in the forbidden fruit.

1: Shop selectively. 
With so much unhealthy food available everywhere else, the wisest choice a parent can make is to keep the home free of, well, anything that tastes good and that children like to eat.

That’s a slight exaggeration, of course, but only just.

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What my wife and I try not to do is bring home ice cream or candy. If the kids are going to find junk food, we feel they should at least work for it a little bit.

2: Try to model healthy eating.
It’s hard to look your kid in the eye and tell him to step away from the junk food when your mouth is full of potato chips or a fudge sundae.

The old “do as I say, not as I do” is surprisingly ineffective here.

Be sure you consume vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean meats and other healthy options in front of the kids.

3: Beware the drive-thru lanes.
When my kids were about 7 or 8, a friend babysat for us one night and told us we were the greatest parents in the history of the world.

“How come?” I asked.

“Because your kids have never heard of Ronald McDonald,” she told me.

My simple rule, which I realize is not everyone’s: Fast food isn’t food.

Half the time, it isn’t even that fast, either.

4: Buy gluten-free snacks. 
We go gluten-free for two reasons. First, few humans today lack a sensitivity to wheat and grain, given the way it’s processed. So buying gluten-free ensures your kids won’t be exposed to stuff that affects their health and their mood.

Related: Praise the Lord, Pass the Veggies

Second, by and large, gluten-free snack food doesn’t taste as great as regular snack food, although there are exceptions, and this is changing. So your kid will likely eat less of it.

5: Keep your kids moving. 
We could do a much better job of limiting our kids’ exposure to online games and videos, but we’re pretty good at getting them involved athletically. In addition to the regular gym I attend, I joined another one nearby where I can take my three older kids — one 14, plus 12-year-old twins — to work out, stretch their legs and get their hearts pumping.

We dash through puddles in the rain, whatever it takes.

We also do 10K and 5K runs with them. We dash through puddles in the rain, too, whatever it takes. When kids are moving, they can’t complain or fight, which is an added benefit.

The bottom line: It’s a fool’s errand to try to keep our kids Simon-pure when it comes to junk food. So we limit their intake by limiting access. Do they desire, or sneak, the occasional treat? No doubt. Do they look like they’re turning into junk food junkies? So far, not.

It’s an uphill battle, but we parents just won’t give in.

Snickers, anyone?
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