Kids and “Forbidden” Foods | Finding the Balance

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Feeding little humans (aka kids) certainly has its challenges. I have 2 young children of my own, and I provide nutrition education to children and families as part of my career. I get it! It is not an easy task! But oh what an important task it is! Nutrition and food habits established early in life can have lasting effects into adulthood.

One important area to navigate well is the use of “forbidden” foods. By “forbidden” foods I mean those that are high-fat, high-sugar, relatively low-nutrient foods such as sweets, chips and soda. For children (as well as adults) incorporating such “forbidden” foods is a balancing act. Here’s why:

  • If you give a child unlimited access to these easy-to-like foods, he or she will likely fill up on them. It’s the easier road, so unfortunately that child will miss many important opportunities to learn to like more challenging foods such as vegetables.
  • However, going to the other extreme and restricting all access to these foods is also detrimental. Children need to learn how to incorporate these foods in a balanced healthy way. This sets a foundation for when he or she can get unlimited access later in life.

Here are some recommendations to help you find the right balance:

  • Don’t restrict “forbidden” food. You might be able to keep these “forbidden” foods away from your child when he/she is really little, but your ability will diminish with your child’s increasing independence. Research shows that children whose forbidden food intake is restricted eat more of them when they get the chance, and they are heavier than they might be otherwise. The best approach is to teach your child to be relaxed and matter-of-fact about all kinds of foods.
  • Make wise use of forbidden food
    a. Include chips or fries at mealtime and allow everyone to eat their fill. Unlike sweets, high fat foods don’t compete with other mealtime foods.
    b. Put a child-size serving of dessert at each person’s place. Let them eat it before, during, or after the meal. But no seconds on dessert. With my kids I tell them, “When it’s gone, it’s gone.”
    c. Periodically offer unlimited sweets at sit-down snack time. For instance, put out a plate of cookies with a glass of milk, and let your child eat as many cookies as desired. By offering unlimited sweets in this way, the sweets are not competing with other meal-time foods.
    d. If you drink soda, maintain a double standard. Better yet, moderate your intake as well. Explain to your child that soda is a grown up drink. Around middle school age, arrange to have soda occasionally for snack or along with a particular meal (like pizza).

For more information on this, and other child feeding topics, visit www.EllynSatterInstitute.org


Written by Katie Sonnek, RD, LN