Here's how you can wean your kids away from junk food

Can you imagine a kid who shuns fast food restaurants and says no to candy? But it's a battle you are fighting and it is up to you to plan your ground strategy.

Let's take a minute to define junk food. Pre-packaged snack food, chocolates and packaged sweets, carbonated soft drinks, and fast food like pizza and burgers are all examples of junk food. Manufacturers process the raw ingredients, often adding hydrogenated oils, trans-fats and monosodium glutamate to enhance taste and prolong the shelf life of the product.

A high intake of trans-fat can raise low-density cholesterol levels and increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. Trans-fats are mostly found in fast food items like French fries, cakes, hamburgers and in packaged foods such as crackers, chips, cookies and biscuits.

Why are junk food and fast food so popular?

Junk food is easily available, convenient, needs little or no preparation, and is usually consumed on the go. Just what a young person is looking for! Children, especially over 12 years of age, tend to eat away from home much more than kids did 20 years ago. Fast food is often the default choice. Not only is it convenient and easy to grab, it's also tasty and cheap. And fast food joints also serve as great teenage hangout places.

Never order “super size” items just because it's a cheaper deal.

Avoid two-for-the-price-of-one offers because your children will just end up over-eating.

Catch 'em young

Sometimes, even children who have healthy eating habits may move towards ready-to-eat, high-fat processed food as a preferred choice. Often these influences come from peers who may not have parental supervision at home.

The older children become, the more difficult it is to modify their eating habits. By about 10 to 12 years of age, as you have probably discovered, kids develop high levels of resistance and refuse to follow instructions! It is therefore best to teach and train them in the early years.

Say no to extras such as bacon and more cheese

Try a mixed salad on the side, corn on the cob or some fruit.

If your child appears bored, try to get him interested in a toy or game.

If your child wants some of your time, take a few moments and give him your attention.

If your child is hungry, provide a healthy snack.

Once-in-a-while

If your daughter is a lollipop lover and can't do without her daily quota, you might be tempted to put a stop to the junk food habit. But instead of forbidding the treat, it's better to allow an occasional indulgence, in controlled amounts. To make sure poor eating habits do not interfere with good nutrition, restricting junk food is vital.

Q. Then the question arises, is junk food bad food?

A. No food is bad. But when food contributes more calories than nutrients, the problem of empty calories versus nutrition becomes something to consider. While junk food cannot be banned or excluded from a child's diet, the quantity and frequency of consumption must be controlled.

Art of substitution

If you can get away with total substitution, nothing like it. Offer alternatives that are do not compromise on taste, but are high on nutrition. After all, if your children can be sold on a food product, thanks to some clever advertising, you too can use the same communication skills to get your kids hooked onto home-made goodies!

Here are some options to try:

Popcorn instead of a packet of chips

Frozen fruit juice ice lollies instead of ice cream

Whole wheat base pizza instead of a regular pizza

Veggie cutlet multigrain burger instead of a regular burger

Fruit smoothie instead of milkshakes

Roti roll with spicy chicken/paneer filling instead of a Frankie

Home-made nimbu pani instead of fizzy drinks

Whole wheat pasta instead of regular pasta

Grilled/roasted chicken nuggets instead of deep fried chicken

Do's and don'ts for healthy eating

Do keep ready-to-eat healthy snacks accessible when your child gets hungry.

Do provide structured eating and snacking times each day.

Do encourage small, “try it” portions of a tablespoon or two.

Don't eat on the move, or while rushing off somewhere.

Do help your child cultivate an adventurous approach to different foods and textures.

Don't encourage that habit of eating at fast food joints.

Do restrict pocket money spent on junk food.

Do eat together as a family and offer nutritious choices.

Do encourage your child to sit down and eat slowly.

Don't use dessert as an incentive or a way to beat boredom or stress.

(The writer is a certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, Lifestyle and Weight Management Specialist.)