Moms Talk Q&A: Junk Food

Sound-off with our Moms Council about this week's hot topic: what is your policy on junk food with your kids?

Each week in Moms Talk, our Moms Council of experts and smart moms and dads take your questions, give advice and share solutions.

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Moms, dads, grandparents and the diverse families who make up our community will have a new resource for questions about local neighborhood schools, the best pediatricians, 24-hour pharmacies and the thousands of other issues that arise while raising children.

Moms Talk will also be the place to drop in for a talk about the latest parenting hot topic. Do you know of local moms raising their children in the Tiger Mother's way and is it the best way? Where can we get information on local flu shot clinics for children? How can we help our children's schools weather their budget cutbacks?

So grab a cup of coffee and settle in as we start the conversation today:

What is your policy on "junk food" and your kids? What do you consider junk food? How do you make sure your kids eat healthy when they are at school?

This week DC Farm to School will join the conversation and answer questions you might have about healthy eating in D.C. schools.

Guiomar Barbi Ochoa March 23, 2011 at 01:11 PM
Now that my daughter is one and able to eat most all foods, I'm really concerned about making sure she eats the RIGHT foods. I feel like I don't want to expose her to "junk foods" that she doesn't even know exist but, at the same time, I don't want to be too overly cautious. I find that even at markets like Whole Foods etc, a lot of the "snacks" they have for toddlers are sugary such as cookies etc. So, I'm confused as to where to draw the line. Is it ok to give her a cookie now and again or should we just avoid introducing sweets until she's in school or amongst peers?
Judith Bunnell March 23, 2011 at 01:18 PM
It is so hard! I know some parents who did not let their children eat any sugar even in preschool when all the other kids were eating birthday cake...I am not sure if it worked or not.
Judith Bunnell March 23, 2011 at 01:27 PM
Here is a question for the folks helping DC public schools with lunches....my daughter is in high school at DC PS and the kids think the food is fine (Revolution Food?) but they complain that it is not enough for a 16 year old boy who does sports, etc so the kids also buy MacDonald's or something to supplement...help!
Andrea Northup March 23, 2011 at 01:34 PM
Hi Judith, I work primarily to get more fresh, local fruits and veggies into school meals, but I would suggest directing your consideration to the DCPS Food and Nutrition Services team here: http://bit.ly/ePQ3Ac. While the Revolution Foods serving sizes do seem small, they meet the federal standards of the National School Lunch Program. These standards are changing with the new Child Nutrition Act passed, and the new draft of standards is open for public comment. Perhaps that's another venue where you can voice your concern. http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/governance/regulations.htm
Judith Bunnell March 23, 2011 at 01:37 PM
Thank Andrea....so do you work with the folks like Revolution Foods to get the fresh items into the cafeterias? Isn't cost constraints a problem with fresh food?
Guiomar Barbi Ochoa March 23, 2011 at 01:48 PM
Judy...it's funny you mention McDonalds because just yesterday, I saw some teenage girls eating McDonalds. They were talking about how the food they get at school is just not enough. Are there healthy snacks available, in DCPS, as well?
Judith Bunnell March 23, 2011 at 01:54 PM
That's a good question.....I think they only get lunch but there is also a staff person in the school who is part of a program to get teens healthy...he has had the soda machines removed and is trying to stop the fundraising bake sales...I understand the kids like the guy but think he may be "going over the top"!
Guiomar Barbi Ochoa March 23, 2011 at 02:00 PM
Interesting. So what are the sodas and bake sales being replaced with?....carrots and water? I'm not trying to be sarcastic with my comment but just interested to see what the thought process behind these actions is.
Andrea Northup March 23, 2011 at 02:01 PM
The Healthy Schools Act has an entire section dedicated to Healthy Vending - schools must now follow new guidelines about the nutritional quality of vended/sold "competitive foods" by law. Check it out - dchealthyschools.org.
Judith Bunnell March 23, 2011 at 02:01 PM
You know...I am not sure...the kids have permission to take "off campus" lunch if their grades and behavior are good so they are going to make there own choices at this age...and they are ALWAYS hungry!!
Andrea Northup March 23, 2011 at 02:03 PM
Yes ma'am! I view "cost constraints" as issues in the local food supply chain that just have not yet been addressed. There may be up-front costs to shifting programs and processes to be able to handle fresh, local food, but once the channels of distribution, processing, etc. have been established, it can work! And we always start small - apples instead of applesauce, for example, and work from there.
Judith Bunnell March 23, 2011 at 02:04 PM
It's interesting too....at this age there really isn't P.E. but there are a lot of sports teams but.....they are all competitive so the kids who just want to play touch football or kick a ball around or try something new don't really have an option.
Guiomar Barbi Ochoa March 23, 2011 at 02:18 PM
Judy...to your "sports" point, I was one of those kids. One particular organized sport didn't appeal to me but I would've enjoyed dabbling in something new every once in a while. Not sure how you would execute that in a school. Yeah...in an ideal world a 15 yr. old would opt for water or juice over a Coke but that doesn't seem to be too realistic to me. I don't know what the solution is but I do think we need to be more realistic. I think a lot of it has to do with society. I'm appalled that even Gerber baby food has mac and cheese for babies! From the get go, we're instilling bad eating habits into children. Our American culture tends to be "ok" with the fact that kids eat only pizza, chicken nuggets and hot dogs. If that's what they grow up with, those habits will be hard to change.
Judith Bunnell March 23, 2011 at 02:20 PM
I agree...unfortunately by High school the habbits are pretty set...Food should not be a reward or punishment...just food..
Guiomar Barbi Ochoa March 23, 2011 at 02:34 PM
I agree, Judy. My parents made sweets a "reward only" thing and I became overweight. I would sneak junk food in whenever I could. In a way, it became my way of rebelling. That's what I want to avoid.
Judith Bunnell March 23, 2011 at 02:35 PM
I hear you! I had/have the same problem with TV! I was only allowed a few shows and now I am addicted to Reality TV!
Jennifer Perry March 23, 2011 at 06:04 PM
We try to strike a balance with the "junk food" issue - neither completely outlawing it, nor completely indulging. I think as with anything kids need to learn how to make healthy choices and I don't think they can do that when there's a complete ban on something. That said - we try to model good eating behavior, so a lot of the junk food just isn't in our house. I don't buy soda, chips, doritos, cheese curls, etc. Treats for the kids involve cookies or icecream, popcorn, etc. We talk a lot about what's healthy, why you want to eat healthy (trying to avoid the body image issues, by talking simply about healthy bodies). So when we're out and the junk food is available, I might say, are you sure you want that, this other (insert healthy snack here) will give you a lot more energy and might not make your tummy hurt. If they still want the junk food, then we would allow it, unless it was preceeded by another not so healthy choice. I think its all about moderation - teaching how to achieve moderation. I think the place the junk food battle is won is on the everyday. For instance example with snacks after school, when I come to pick them up, I would probably only bring fruit/veggies, sometimes crackers, maybe a bag of organic popcorn. They are really hungry at this time, so they fill up on the good stuff. They get used to eating the good stuff and come to like it.
Jennifer Perry March 23, 2011 at 06:16 PM
Stoddert went to a local/whole foods menu for lunch. I've been impressed by what they're offering - whole grains, whole veggies/fruits, etc. so the junk food is moving out of the elementary schools. The parents provide snacks for the kids (usually the whole class at a time) in the earlier grades and are encouraged to provide fruits/veggies and other healthy snacks and in the upper grades, parents pack their own kids a snack. They do however let kids bring in cupcakes/treats for their birthdays, so the thought is healthy for the everyday, treats for special occasions. I've appreciated this approach. As for soda, it is one of the things that we did ban in our house when the kids were little, treating it as an adult/older kid drink. It is a choice now for our older kids, but when offered, my kids don't even like anything fizzy. It's very likely that will change, but that was one thing we just didn't want to develop a habit for early on.
Shaun Courtney (Editor) March 23, 2011 at 09:41 PM
This post is from Anne Barnes, one of our Moms Council members. She is out the country, so I'm posting for her: So with my 4 kids, it's always been a struggle. Even when you go to restaurants, the seemingly healthy options are sometimes the highest in fat and calories because they are prepared with butter and sauces that make them taste good, but are bad for you. I stopped letting my kids eat school lunches and instead help them prepare healthier options to take - fresh fruits, a portion of protein & carbs. I am also very conscious of preparing well balanced meals at home, somewhat with the hope that they will get used to eating that way and keep up the habit as they grow up.


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