Crackers, pop-tarts, chips, fruit roll-ups, cookies. How many of these items are in your pantry? If you have a lot of these types of foods in your pantry–the ones that come in boxes and bags–you have a processed food pantry and a lot of food manufacturing stocked away. Processed, manufactured, colored, preserved, artificially sweetened, and added to.
Most foods, eaten in a moderate fashion, are OK. The problem is, we aren’t moderate about processed foods. Why? Because we LOVE convenience and efficiency. Let’s face it, boxes and bags are easier to handle than pots and pans. Easier than peelers and knives. Especially for the busy parent (and what parent isn’t busy?), it is easier to rip into a bag or open a box for the instant gratification associated with quieting the nagging child in the backseat…or getting to your next mommy task quickly.
Processed foods may appear several times a day in the diet of a child. School events, day care, other family homes…the exposure to processed foods can be widespread and your child’s consumption of them can mount quickly. Many parents will express how increasingly difficult it is to keep these manufactured foods at bay. Not only are we tempted by the convenience, but our children think they taste good! Do food manufacturers sprinkle “magic yummy dust” all over their products to glean taste-bud loyalty from our young people?
Food commercials target and entice our little ones. If you have ever shopped with a child, you see firsthand, the impact of advertising. Children remember ad tag lines, colorful box decorations, and chummy characters. When they will find these products in the store aisles–oh, boy! –be ready for the onslaught of begging, negotiating, promising, and all-out tantrums if you don’t buy the desired product!
What’s a parent to do? Take charge. Set limits. Dialogue.
Take charge: Determine how much processed food you will allow in your house. If you are liberal with processed foods in the pantry–your child will be liberal in eating them. Replace bags ‘n boxes, colors and dyes, and unidentifiable ingredients with satisfying “real food” snacks such as whole wheat bagels with peanut butter, whole grain cereal with low-fat milk, or low fat yogurt with fresh fruit and granola.
Set Limits: If bags ‘n boxes are a part of your regular diet, try adjusting your purchases and eating habits to skew to healthier foods. Try to aim for 90% of your child’s daily intake to come from healthy, “growing” foods such as low fat dairy, lean meats, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Leave the remaining 10% for “fun foods”–think soda, cookies, chips, and candy. Placing the emphasis on healthy foods and allowing occasional and small amounts of “fun foods” keeps the balance in favor of good nutrition.
Dialogue: Create opportunities to talk with your child about healthy foods and not-so healthy foods. Differentiate the two, keeping a neutral attitude. Emphasize foods that come from the earth and those in their natural state. While the temptation to eliminate and label processed foods as “bad” may exist, it is better to acknowledge their presence, taste, and usage on an occasional basis, so that your child will be able to navigate the wide world of food as he gets older.
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: September 27, 2009
Updated on: February 13, 2016