Junk Food vs. Healthy Nutrition For Children

For many parents, helping children develop healthy eating habits is a struggle. With the hectic pace of many families' lives and with more women working full time, even health-conscious parents are finding it easy to tolerate less than desirable eating habits.

"A lot of parents don't want to struggle with the issues so they give up, letting kids make their own choices," says Jane Rees, director of nutrition service/education in adolescent medicine and lecturer in pediatrics at the University of Washington schools of Medicine and Public Health. "But children's judgment is less mature and they still depend on parents to guide them."

It is best to start training children about foods as soon as they can talk since they are most influenced by their families during the preschool years. Additionally, research has shown that heart and blood vessel disease can begin very early and that hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis) can be associated with a high-fat diet.

Parents should carefully read food labels to check nutrients and ingredients. Most kids are attracted to the advertising and packaging of food, including highly sugared cereals. Rees suggests fitting them in occasionally as a treat in an overall diet that is focused on low sugar, low fat, and unprocessed foods.

Although it's a myth that children become hyperactive by eating too much sugar, sugary food is still bad for oral health, can be stored as fat, and aggravates diabetes, says Rees. However, completely denying children sugar will only make it more tempting.

Rees suggests involving young children in the food preparation process. For example, teach children how to set the table during their preschool years. Take them grocery shopping. Let them choose some fruits and vegetables as well as the occasional treats, advises Rees. "You will see their capabilities grow astronomically," she says. "However, if parents don't follow the natural signs that kids are ready to help, they will lose the window of opportunity."