The lure of the forbidden
Forbidden foods include everything the child doesn’t have permission or opportunity to eat. Among them, we often find foods that are high in fat (such as fried foods and chips) or added sugar (such as chocolate and pastries).
Although prohibiting certain foods is usually done for health reasons, the real impact is often the opposite to that expected. By limiting the availability of certain foods, they will only become more attractive! And when the child has the opportunity to eat them, he may over eat these forbidden foods for fear that it’s his last chance to taste them. Taboos stimulate desires ... In offering "treats" from time to time, children will understand that they don’t need to make provisions and that they’ll have other opportunities to eat these foods.
Hot dogs, pizzas and company
Originally, pizza and hamburgers are made of healthy ingredients. They are indeed prepared with ingredients that come from the four food groups: grain products, vegetables, meats, and cheese.
With industrialization, these foods’ reputation has greatly deteriorated. Grocery stores are now offering very salty and fatty versions of these dishes. When chosen wisely, pizza and hamburgers can easily be integrated into a balanced diet, provided that fat and salt intake is limited. Choose the homemade versions that are rich in vegetables and made of lean meat (lean or extra lean beef and poultry) and go easy on the cheese (high in fat). When possible, choose whole wheat bread or pasta to increase your fiber intake. Remember to finish it all with a few veggies on the side and a glass of milk!
Hot dogs are less popular when it comes to making healthy choices. Indeed, in addition to being high in fat and salt, hotdog sausages contain preservatives that are harmful to your health (such as nitrites). However, this doesn’t mean that they should be banned from your diet! Like all other foods, hot dogs and deli meats can be eaten occasionally. By integrating less nutritious foods in a balanced diet occasionally, children's health will not be compromised.
The same goes for fried (French fries, chips) or breaded (chicken nuggets, fish fillets) foods. Through their preparation process, frying and breading necessarily add fat to food. However, it’s still possible to integrate these foods in your diet by opting for versions that are lower in fat and sodium. Preparing oven-baked fries and potato chips at home will allow you to control the amount of fat and salt added. It is also possible to reproduce the much-appreciated crispiness of fried food by choosing leaner preparation processes.
Desserts and sweets
Whether it’s cakes, cookies, candies or any other sugary food, it’s important to for your children to be exposed to that type of food and can appreciate them, Their balanced diet won’t be jeopardized by it ! Once again, it’s only a question of quantity and frequency.
Special occasions and birthdays are ideal moments to add such products to the menu. And you can offer homemade cakes or cookies, which are not as high in fat/sugar as the popular brands versions. It will prevent children’s taste buds from getting accustomed to the taste of fat and/or sweet foods and develop a strong attraction for these products.
Unlike sweet desserts and fatty foods, ketchup is used more often than not to facilitate picky eaters’ meal time.
Made of tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt and a few spices, ketchup has been used for decades as a camouflage strategy for less appreciated foods. This not-too-nutritious condiment is not part of the four food groups. It can be used from time to time, but in reasonable quantities.
As a condiment, ketchup must be used to add to the foods’ natural taste and stimulate appetite. It shouldn’t hide the taste of food, which could affect a child’s taste development and have a negative impact on his diet as an adult. It is therefore very important to accustom the child to different flavors and avoid monotony that could lead to a frequent ketchup consumption. To introduce your kids to a variation of flavours, alternate ketchup with other sauces such as peach sauce or tzatziki sauce.
Foods made for kids
At the supermarket, you’ll find many products that are made for kids on the shelves. Major food companies have in fact developed products that appeal to children thanks to their shapes or fun colours. Unfortunately, these products are often less nutritious than the « adult » versions.
These companies’ food marketing encourages consumers to think that children can’t eat the same foods as adults. However, it is wrong to believe that children can’t eat the same foods as adults under the pretext that they won’t like it.
Children's tastes, like those of adults, develop over time. It is therefore important to expose young eaters to multiple flavours and different foods. Setting a good example at the table and repeating the exposure to less preferred foods remain the best strategies to help your children develop a taste for a wide variety of foods.
What about obesity?
Many studies have established a link between a high in fat and sugar diet to the rising prevalence of obesity. However, during early childhood, small eaters have very high energy requirements, but a limited appetite because of their small stomachs. Therefore, we should not restrict young children’s consumption of foods that are high in fat or added sugar just because they contain more calories. In fact, it is recommended to give whole milk (3.25%) to children (up to two years old) to better meet their needs.
Supermarkets are offering a larger range of products in a « light » version or made from intense sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame or acesulfame-potassium). These products have the advantage of containing very few calories and are thus meeting the needs of many weight-concerned customers.
However, reduced-calorie foods are not suitable for growing children. Eating these products is more likely to harm their health because they won’t be getting all the nutrients required for their development. In addition, intense sweeteners make consumers become accustomed to the sweetness and boost its appeal. You should therefore try to choose natural sugars over these substitutes.
A few precautions
When you give your kids these « occasional » foods :
- Watch the portion size, because although they are only served occasionally, it doesn’t mean they should be eaten in large quantities!
- When possible, choose products that contain less salt. “Special » foods are often very salty, and a high consumption of sodium is unhealthy for both children and adults.
- Opt for homemade desserts to control the sugar and fat content.
- Never use candy as a treat or blackmail (eg. : finish your meal or you won’t get dessert). It would only make the food that much more appealing.
- When serving « occasional » foods, complete the meal with a nutritious side dish to meet your little ones’ needs.
- Play down the importance of eating treats and avoid placing them on a pedestal. The child will thus be able to taste and enjoy these treats without making a big deal out of it.
- All foods can fit into a healthy and balanced diet. So allow yourself somelittle treats!
Prohibited because of allergies
In many childcare establishments, products containing nuts and peanuts are often forbidden to ensure the safety of children with allergies.
This type of prohibition is sometimes necessary to avoid any incident. Nuts and peanuts allergies are increasingly common and the allergen they contain spreads very easily. It is therefore preferable to remove all products containing these allergens and let parents serve these foods at home.
- Côté, Stéphanie. Un enfant sain dans un corps sain, 2008.
- Larousse gastronomique, Édition 2001.
By Mylène Duplessis Brochu, nutritionnist