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Kicking a Junk Food Habit

By: Catherine Gough - Updated: 15 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Healthy Eating Fast Food Junk Food

Kids are often enthusiastic consumers of junk food. By ‘junk’ we mean food that gives very little nutritional benefit but contributes high amounts of fat and sugar, neither of which is healthy in excessive amounts.

If a child is hooked on eating such foods – like burgers, chips, pizzas, crisps, chocolate bars and sugary drinks – then parents would do well to help them move on to healthier eating habits. Not only are their children at risk of becoming obese: a poor diet can also lead to problems like heart disease and diabetes in later life.

Tell the Kids Why Healthy Eating Matters

Teach children why they need to make healthier food choices. Try not to be confrontational or patronising, but give them as much information as they need to understand – the library and the internet are both useful sources. Explain that junk food is OK every now and again if they’re in a hurry or would like a treat. But for an everyday diet, it’s not the best choice.

Start at Home

To wean a child successfully off junk food, everyone in the family needs to change their eating habits for the better.
  • Sit down to eat together as much as possible. Family meals should include plenty of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and unsaturated fats.
  • Kids hankering after their favourite junk foods might enjoy healthier home-made versions. Try grilled instead of fried chicken; grilled instead of deep fried fish; and baked potato wedges instead of chips. Make pizzas and burgers at home with good quality ingredients and plenty of vegetables. Choose wholemeal bread instead of white.
  • Don’t ban snacks – growing kids often need to eat between meals to keep up their energy levels. But do remove high sugar, high fat choices from the cupboard. Provide fresh fruit, whole grain breads and crackers, raw vegetables and whole grain breakfast cereals instead.
  • Don’t buy sugary drinks and fizzy pop. They have no nutritional value and are bad for children’s teeth. Low fat milk, pure fruit juice and water are all healthy drinks. Fruit smoothies are great too – have a look at our recipe ideas in the article Healthy Fruit Shakes and Smoothies.

Let Them Take Responsibility

Encourage children to help with planning, cooking and shopping for healthy meals. As they get older, get them to take responsibility for a complete family meal occasionally. If they feel consulted, they’re more likely to agree to the changes. Empowering kids to cook will also set them up for the day they finally leave home – and with a bit of luck, they’ll be setting out for the greengrocer rather than the local chippy.


Play down the idea of food as treats and get into the habit of offering non-food rewards. Remember though that food is one of life's pleasures so help kids to find out how many wonderful, healthy tastes there are from all over the world just waiting to be discovered! The chances are, they’ll go off junk food anyway when their taste buds have woken up to what else is on offer.

Praise Their Efforts

Give the kids lots of support and praise for their efforts to eat healthy food. They may feel under pressure from peers or from the barrage of advertising that inevitably comes their way, and will need plenty of self-confidence to swim against the tide.

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