top of page

I think there needs to be controls on junk food

Getting kids to eat right

Conventional wisdom tells parents to control what their kids eat. Supposedly if we give them only healthy foods and limit bad foods we'll train their bodies to eat healthy. Curiously it has the opposite effect and causes exactly what the parents hope to prevent.

The following article links to several studies on the effects of restricting foods. As one researcher notes, “research to date shows more about what doesn’t work than what does.” Radically unschooling parents are essentially doing informal research by trusting that choice allows their children to discover what works for them. 

Why Food Restriction Backfires


Researchers Leanne Birch and Jennifer Orlet Fisher first examined the effects of food restriction in 1999. When restricted from a palatable food item, preschoolers increased their selection and intake of the target food. In their 2000 study, seven-year-old girls ate a standard lunch followed by free access to snack food afterward.  The girls who were restricted at home not only ate more of the snack foods, they had negative feelings about their eating.


Population-based studies show parental restriction is linked to higher weights and poor eating habits in children. In one study tracking eating in girls from ages 5 to 9, high levels of restriction at age 5 predicted what researchers call “eating in the absence of hunger”  from ages 7 to 9.  Additionally, the girls who experienced the highest level of restriction at age 5 were the heaviest at 9.

But I still think there has to be some involvement if there is an "extreme" or "excess" happening. At least until the child is old enough to understand the consequences (like getting ill or whatever).


Yes, they want us to keep them safe. But I think it helps to shift away from thinking about "stepping in" to thinking about being their partner in their life exploration. Giving them freedom while keeping them safe is tricky thinking to try to get across.


It's our job to make sure nutritious food is as easy -- or easier! -- to get as less nutritious food. For instance fruit is often messy and leaves waste behind that mom will nag about if left laying around. (Whereas mom doesn't get nearly as upset over an empty bag of chips.) So kids may be less likely to reach for fruit when hungry. If they haven't had fruit for a while, we can offer to cut something up for them or just put out a plate of slices and toothpicks to make eating more fun. And keep the chips up higher so they aren't as thoughtlessly easy to grab. I keep refilled bottles of water at the front of the refrigerator and the soda way at the back behind jars of pickles and olives and ketchup. That way kids will be eating convenience foods because they want them not because they're easiest.


We shouldn't depend on kids to ask for a PB&J sandwich. We should be offering it or just making it when we sense they need something substantial. It's our job to offer and make good food readily available. It's up to them whether they eat it or not.



When you go to the grocery store do you just say yes to everything the kids ask for?


When there are controls on food and then you let go of the controls, the kids will want lots of things. It's like being on a strict book ration and then let loose in a book store with $1000 ;-) But once they realize they can have anything they want, they don't want just for the sake of being able to have it. They just ask for what they want.


It also helps to make sure they're well fed before you go grocery shopping. Which is good advice for adults too! :-)


I imagine that the majority of folks on this list are on some kind of budget and have to make decisions about where to spend the family income.


If the money is really really tight, what about a budget for them too? Let them each have x amount to spend. And rather than make it arbitrary, if they're interested perhaps some would like to help set up the household budget so they can see where all the money goes.



I also think that some foods are healthier for us than others. Should I ever communicate that to my kids?


I would tell them in an informational way to help them understand why you make the decisions for yourself that you do.


People are not dropping dead of trans-fatty acids or artificial colors. Or maybe they are! ;-) but it isn't a sure thing like poison and it takes years and years and years. A few bags of Oreos or even a few dozen bags isn't going to kill them. If you let them make the choices they want while modeling the behavior you feel is right for yourself, the message will be there loud and clear.



Joyfully Rejoycing
bottom of page