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How to do the Balancing Act with "Forbidden" Foods

Updated: Mar 24, 2022

“Forbidden’’ foods are high-fat, high-sugar, relatively low-nutrient foods such as sweets, chips, and sodas. Using them is a balancing act. If you give your child unlimited access to these easy-to-like foods, she is likely to fill up on them and not be interested in learning to like more challenging foods such as #vegetables. On the other hand, if you restrict them, research shows she is likely to eat more of them when she gets the chance and be fatter than she might be otherwise.

Here’s how to do the balancing act with ‘’forbidden’’ foods:

  • Include #chips or fries at mealtime and arrange to have enough so everyone can eat their fill. Unlike sweets, fatty foods don’t compete with other mealtime foods.

  • Have sweets for #dessert (if you like dessert), but limit everyone to one serving.

  • Periodically offer unlimited sweets at snack time. For instance, put on a plate of #cookies or snack cakes and a glass of milk, and let her eat as many cookies as she wants.

  • If you drink soda, maintain a double standard. Tell your child it is a grownup drink, which it is. When she is old enough to learn about soda drinking from friends—probably in middle school—arrange to have soda occasionally for a snack or along with a particular meal, such as pizza or tacos. The trick is including it regularly enough so it doesn’t get to be ‘’forbidden,’’ but not making it available in unlimited quantities, all the time.


Many parents today grew up in a time when they saw kid-targeted food #advertising occasionally: commercials during Saturday morning #cartoons, a toy pictured on a Cracker Jack box, and the promise of a tiny comic strip on the inside of a bubble gum wrapper.

These days, kid-targeted food #marketing is more comprehensive. Kids are inundated with food and beverage ads any hour of the day via TV, radio, the Internet, electronic gaming, and school. Any parent who has dealt with a child’s temper tantrum in the middle of a grocery store aisle over a cartoon-emblazoned box of kid chow can attest to the fact that kid-targeted advertising works—extremely well.

The research bears this out—at least for younger children. A study published in the journal Pediatrics in 2010 found that 4- to 6-year-old children’s taste preferences and snack election were substantially influenced by food packages branded with cartoon characters, and more strongly by the high calorie, nutrient-poor foods. In contrast, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior in 2012 found that 9- to 11-year-olds were more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they tasted good, followed by whether they were nutritious. For these older children, the presence of a cartoon character on the label ranked relatively low in terms of influence.

Although cartoon characters are used to promote both nutrient-rich and nutrient-poor foods, marketers use characters most often to promote less nutritious foods. Research investigating children’s programs on the most popular #broadcast and cable channels in 2011 found that 73 percent of food ads targeting children used a familiar character and that 72 percent of these ads promoted food of low nutritional quality.

So, your kids are seeing a lot of advertising aimed at motivating them to choose particular foods and beverages. That’s the state of our society. But, how often are kids doing the grocery shopping and how often are they driving themselves to fast food joints?

Parents have the power to make and enforce limits, says Keith Ayoob, EdD, RD, associate professor for the Department of Pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. “The purchasing decision lies with parents.” And it’s the parents, Ayoob explains, who need to be role models regarding food choices and physical activity.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity investigated the eating and physical activity habits of children aged 2-5 and their parents. One of the researchers reported that when the parents did better, the kids did better. For example, limiting access to nutrient-poor (“junk”) foods at home and providing family meals increased the #amount of nutritious foods the children ate. It’s important to note that parents should limit—not eliminate—nutrient-poor foods.

Many child feeding experts, including the Academy of Pediatrics, agree that the best way to feed children is to follow a division of responsibility between parent and child: Parents are responsible for what food is offered when it’s offered and where it’s offered; Children are responsible for whether they will eat, and how much they will eat from what’s offered.

Of course, there will be times when your kids make food choices on their own, such as when they’re at a friend’s house or at school. And that’s okay. For the most part, however, parents are in charge of what food comes into the house and get put on the table; then children choose what to eat from what is provided. Parents: Your house is your #castle, and you are the gatekeepers.

Marketing messages may ring in kids’ heads and possibly lead to whining, crying and even tantrums, but as parents, you have the last word.

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