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If you ask any parent about the biggest challenge they have concerning their child, making sure their kids eat the right food at the right time will always be in the top 3 of those challenges. By themselves, kids take a while in getting into the right groove of eating healthily. This is further made difficult by the almost pervading presence of fast food at every corner of the neighbourhood. The allure of the visuals and the lovely aroma makes it difficult for little kids to resist it, leading them to constantly crib about eating more and more of it. But there is a reason it is called junk food.
What Attracts Kids to Junk Food
Most of the times, the fast-food establishments are located in such a setting that promises fun and exciting moments when you visit them. In the initial times, this is what attracts the kids to enter the joint in the first place. The barrage of advertisements, large billboards showing delicious food items, the various events that are organized by the joints, all play a vital role in getting the child excited to come there.
Many restaurants make it even more enticing for kids by bundling the meal with a toy. These are either based on any cartoon characters that are currently popular with the kids or related to an upcoming movie as a promotional campaign. Combined with a known celebrity to invite children, these strategies work in bringing a large number of children to the restaurants and gorge on fast food items.
What Contents of the Food Makes it Junk
1. Additional Sugar
Various junk food items contain artificially added colours, flavours, and sugars that make them look attractive and taste delicious. Furthermore, these are usually paired with aerated beverages which also have the same constituents in them. These altogether combine to form a large quantity of additional sugar that is not good for the body.
2. Unhealthy Fats
To further make their food items drool-worthy, all the food items that fast food restaurants offer, including burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and so, usually have multiple layers of cheese in them. Some of the items come with mayonnaise or have it as a separate dip for flavouring. Many of them are fried in oil. All of these aspects add to the fat content in the food item, most of which are not suitable for children.
3. Processed Substances
Fast food barely contains any fibrous elements and none of the other nutrients that are essential to give the body the necessary energy. All fast food does is make you feel full with processed food items, essentially rendering them junk.
4. Food Toppings
Many toppings that various burgers and salads have or the sauces and dips that accompany them are usually mayonnaise in generous quantities, ketchup or other flavours. All of them usually have a lot of salt in their preparation, which passes on to your kid’s body.
Harmful Effects of Junk Food on Children
Consumption of such junk food with all these constituents can be quite harmful to children and result in many adverse effects.
1. Reduction in Comprehension Speed
Where today’s age is all about getting there first and faster, all of this can be achieved only when the brain has had the right nutrition to develop itself. Junk food works only to fill the stomach for a while and barely provides anything to help develop alertness. This results in kids generally lacking concentration when engaged in tasks, failure to remember things for a long time, and generally be weak at learning.
2. Issues With Heart Later in Life
The substantial portions of cheese and other fatty ingredients is inseparable from junk foods. These play a key role in increasing the presence of cholesterol in the body, which begins to deposit along the lines of the arteries. Habitual consumption of junk food opens doors to the presence of various heart-related problems later in life.
3. Growth Retardation
A child’s body undergoes quite some growth and development since the dental region and the bone structure take a while to reach their full maturity. Eating junk food begins to result in fatty deposits in various regions of the body, especially the hips and the thighs, as well as the additional sugar, gets exposed to the teeth. This can set in bone-related issues early in life and lead to dental decay as well.
4. Digestion Issues
Junk food is junk primarily due to the high presence of processed food items that lack any necessary nutrients, primarily fibre. This makes it difficult to digest as well as restricts proper bowel movement. All of these are responsible for the onset of constipation or any other intestine related disorders too.
5. Risk of Obesity
All the tasty and irresistible flavours of junk food are a result of fatty substances used in it. These fats simply get stored in the body but do not provide quick energy, making your child lethargic. Inactivity of the body in the early stages of life sets the very foundation for a kid becoming obese and causing body image issues later on.
6. Risk of Diabetes
Sugar levels are the highest in junk foods and the beverages that accompany them. And since sugar begets the consumption of more sugar, all these colas and sodas get consumed in large quantities. This directly impacts the liver, causing insulin secretion issues and could even result in type 2 diabetes very early in life.
7. Kidney Problems
The increase in fats and cholesterol puts pressure on the heart, leading to increased blood pressure, too. This consequently brings about an impact on the function of the kidney, resulting in water retention within the body due to high levels of sodium. Doctors look for such signs to diagnose a kidney that doesn’t function properly.
8. Lower EQ
The presence of sugar and many other flavouring agents begins to affect the hormones that are thriving in a young kid. This results in children having extreme mood swings, sometimes resulting in tantrums or even depression.
9. Risk of Fatigue
The feeling of fullness that comes immediately after consuming junk food may satisfy the stomach but provides no energy source for the body in any forms of proteins or carbohydrates. This causes children to be tired and lethargic all the time.
10. Weak Circulation
High levels of salts present in junk foods provide a boost to the blood pressure but not in a good way. Salt contains sodium which is what results in BP problems later in life since it ends up in not developing the circulation system properly.
When to Worry About How Much Junk Food Your Child is Eating
As a parent, you know that junk food is not good for children or for anyone. But it’s hard to convince kids to not eat it. The presence of burger and pizza outlets in every neighbourhood and the oh-so-convenient option of home delivery makes our resolve weak, and we give in to our kids’ demands once or twice, every week. While occasional consumption of junk food is fine, but if that starts falling into a pattern or reaches extremities where your child refuses to eat anything but junk food, then that’s a serious problem.
How to Encourage Your Child to Eat Healthy Food
Junk food gets kids excited and interested. That’s the core that needs to be targeted and it can be addressed using healthy home-cooked food as well.
1. Have Happy Meals at Home
Make sure your family enjoys lunch or dinner together in a fashion where food is the focus. If you have any party or event at home, avoid bringing junk food.
2. Adhere to a Plan
Stick the day’s or week’s menu on the refrigerator or someplace. This will let your child know in advance what to expect.
3. Reduce Television Time
Restrict television to only those moments for the cartoons they enjoy. Opt for recorded episodes or internet streaming to avoid ads altogether.
4. Make Healthy a Habit
The more healthy the environment is, the lesser the chances of junk food cravings. Let your fridge have the necessary options, too.
5. No Fast Food with Grocery
Keep the usual grocery items as ‘needs’ and fast food as ‘luxuries’. The frequency of consuming junk food will drop down almost immediately.
6. Avoid Lectures
Constantly telling kids to eat healthily will make it unattractive in their heads. Present them with healthy and tasty options instead.
7. Cook Together
Let your child enjoy the feeling of cooking a meal. He will be more attached to healthy food emotionally, too.
8. Start Gardening
Begin from the roots and let your child grow his own veggies in a small patch. Make a side dish using it to instil a feeling of pride in your child.
Healthy Alternatives to Junk Food
Here are some healthy alternatives you can opt for as well.
1. Homemade Jelly
Satiate the sweet taste buds with a healthy and tasty option.
2. Brown Bread Snacks
Combine these with corn to make a wonderful snack for the evening.
3. Grilled Fish Sticks
Push the burger aside and grill your kid’s favourite fish.
4. Granola Bar
These are not only filling but quite nutritious and a good source of energy.
5. Homemade Potato Chips
Rather than buying commercial ones, make potato chips at home in healthy oil to make them tasty and fit for your little one.
Fast food for kids can easily get addictive and then become a tough problem altogether. Take measures to nip the problem in the bud, inculcate healthy eating habits, and let your child be a model for other kids as well.
Also Read: Brain Development Foods for Kids