Toddlers and junk food
Posted by kathryn in Junk Food
Research from the University of Sydney shows that toddlers are getting up to a quarter of their daily energy intake from junk foods: cordials, biscuits, lollies, chips and so on. Of the 429 children in the three day study (all aged between 6 and 24 months), only one child had no junk food.
- 41 percent of kids had cordial every day
- more than half had hot chips every 2 – 3 days
- a third ate chocolate every other day
For one in five kids, 37 percent of their total daily kilojoule intake was from junk. The kids who ate the most junk food didn’t have significantly more total kilojoules and they weren’t necessarily overweight, but the junk foods were replacing healthier foods in their diet.
What’s the problem?
Biscuits, chips, cordial, pastries are not great foods. Firstly they’re high in sugar, as well as saturated and trans fats – all the food areas we should be keeping to a minimum.
Moreover, all these foods, while being high in energy, are empty foods. If you compare a packet of chips with a punnet of strawberries, the chips have lots of fat, a small amount of carbohydrate, tiny amounts of fibre and probably quite a lot of sodium. They are energy dense, but have little else in them. Whereas the strawberries are low in overall kilojoules, but they’re packed full of nutrients: fibre, vitamin C, potassium, bioflavonoids, antioxidants, strawberries are loaded with goodness. Strawberries are nutrient dense.
The problem with lots of junk food is therefore two-fold
- they’re eating a lot of salt, sugar and bad fats
- plus, they’re missing out on other foods which have a higher nutritional value.
Every time kids eat biscuits and chips, they’re not eating fruit, yoghurt or a sandwich. The former provide energy, whereas the latter provides energy plus nutrients and these nutrients are important, not just for adults, but also for kids. They are needed to help little bodies to grow and be healthy.
In this study parents had to weigh the food given to toddlers and then subtract the leftovers and I suspect many parents were shocked by the results. It’s easy to lose track of exactly what your little one is eating, particularly if food has become a battleground. If the healthy dinner is rejected by the toddler, it’s often backed up with something easy, that you know will be eaten and these are often the more junk style foods.
If this is happening on a regular basis, then while the initial meal may be healthy, that’s not what the child is actually eating, it’s not where they are getting their nutrition and kilojoules.
What to do?
I’ve blogged before about strategies for getting kid and adults to eat more vegies and fruit. Part of the problem is kids generally do love sweet and fatty foods. They’re also very quick to learn, that leaving their main meal can lead to them getting the foods they actually want. It sounds tough, but if your little one won’t eat their dinner, cover it with clingfilm, put it in the fridge and bring it out again later, when they’re hungry.
If that’s too extreme for you if your toddler won’t eat, rather than resorting to junk foods try to back the meal up with something better, for example:
- a yoghurt and a little box of sultanas gives calcium, iron, potassium, fibre and B vitamins
- a vegemite sandwich on wholemeal bread gives fibre, magnesium and lots of B vitamins
- a light cream cheese and jam sandwich also gives fibre, protein, calcium and the Bs
- vitaweats with hummous and tomato is full of protein, fibre, vitamin C, essential fatty acids, zinc
- beans on toast has loads of protein, potassium and fibre
All of these are nutrient-rich options and are giving your child more than just empty kilojoules.
The last thing you want is for food and meal-times to be a battle between you and your kids and in busy lives it’s hard to pay attention to everything. Food is important however, it’s how we get the protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that our body runs on and that keep us healthy.
Treats are part of a balanced diet, but they’re not every day foods. Make the chips, biscuits and cakes occasional foods, say once or twice a week. For every day meals for you and your kids choose from meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, dairy and cereals, these are the nutrient rich foods that will build healthy bodies.