Parenting tips for reducing children’s fast food intake

Health Adviser and Nutritionist at Bupa UK
31 July 2018

Keeping children away from fast food can be a real challenge for parents. Especially when you consider that more than one in four of all UK food outlets are takeaways. Many fast foods are typically high in calories and unhealthy fat, which if eaten in large amounts, can cause health problems into adulthood. With childhood obesity and takeaways on the rise, avoiding fast food can feel like a losing battle.

In this blog, I explore some of the different ways you can help your children to reduce their fast food cravings, and opt for healthier alternatives.

A woman eating pizza with friends

Start slowly by reducing your child’s fast food intake

It’s important to remember that children aren’t born with natural cravings for pizza, hamburgers and chips. This happens over time when children are exposed to more unhealthy foods. The good news is that it is possible to change your child’s food cravings so that they start desiring healthier foods instead.

If your child is used to eating fast food, aim to slowly reduce their intake, with the ultimate goal of removing it from their regular meal plans.

Lead by example

Healthy habits start at home, which is why it’s important to lead by example. If your child sees you tucking into vegetables, and cooking healthy food instead of opting for a takeaway, the chances are they will do the same. A good first step is to empty the cupboards and fridge of unhealthy food options, and start stocking up on healthier options, such as fruit and vegetables.

Try limiting the amount of TV time you watch while eating, and involving the whole family in exercise. This can be a great way of burning off calories, and keeping your children distracted from the ever-growing lure of takeaways.

At the same time, you might also want to think of ways to make fruit and vegetables more appealing. For example, you could involve your children in cooking at home using healthy ingredients. This could be as simple as making a fresh fruit smoothie or baking blueberry or carrot muffins. Bringing children into the kitchen and allowing them to prepare the food can also help them to form a positive connection to different types of food, including fruit and vegetables.

Offer healthier alternatives

It can be hard removing fast food completely from a child’s diet. So it’s good to offer up food alternatives, that your child might enjoy eating. Here are some examples to get you started.

  • Replace ice cream with yogurt or a fruit smoothie.
  • Serve up oven baked chips instead of French fries.
  • Swap fried chicken for a healthier serving of grilled or baked chicken.
  • Offer bagels and home-made muffins instead of doughnuts and pastries, which are typically high in sugar.

Avoid fast food when eating out with children

Studies have shown that we often underestimate how many calories takeaway foods contain.. When eating out there are lots of tips that you can take on board to help make your child’s dining experience a healthier and less calorific one.

  • Manage their portion size by sticking to the children’s menu. If the restaurant doesn’t have a children’s menu, order them a small adult pizza to share, rather than one each.
  • Avoid ordering fries if you can and substitute these for other sides, such as baked potato, corn on the cob or apple slices.
  • Bring along your own healthy snacks such as a mini bag of cucumbers, carrots, nuts or apple slices.
  • Choose your restaurant carefully by thinking about the type of food they serve, and if the foods they serve are generally high in calories.

Check out our healthy eating blog for more tips on healthy eating when you’re dining out.

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Emily Walters
Health Adviser and Nutritionist at Bupa UK

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