Do Your Kids Like Fast Food? You’re Not Alone.

Nuggets, French fries, pizza and hot dogs – most kids would prefer any of this list to their mom’s soup. Parents explain that it’s all unhealthy, scare them and ban them, but does it help?

It’s all adults’ fault.

Let’s be honest. We ourselves have been “hooked” on fast food in recent years. In 2021, its share of the Russian market catering reached a record 57%, putting our country on a par with China, the U.S. and Canada, where the share of “fast food” accounts for more than 60%.

And yet 10 years ago surveys showed that the majority of Russians do not trust the quality of fast food and consider it very harmful. Large fast-food chains took this into account and began to introduce “healthy” items to their menus. The pandemic has also contributed to its success – ready-made meals with home delivery have become a lifesaver in the face of having to, from morning until night, feed all members of the family. Unfortunately, there is no accurate data on what percentage of children among fast-food lovers. But it’s enough to go to any food court and see how many minors are at the tables to understand the extent of the disaster. 

What do experts say?

According to nutritionist, it is very important to demonstrate to the child the commitment to healthy eating by example

Natasha Bogdankevich, Nutritionist

 “Fast food teaches a child to eat foods that are too salty. In addition, it has little health benefits: it is ultra-refined food, it quickly breaks down, it only satiates for a short time, and it has minimal nutrients.

There is a lot of sugar in fast food. For example, the norm of added sugar for children 4-6 years – no more than 19 grams per day. In a milkshake, the volume of 300 ml will already be in excess. Fast food has very little fiber, which is necessary for the healthy formation of the entire digestive system – bread as much as possible processed, and from potatoes left only the name.

Of course, nothing will happen to a child from one burger. Likewise, you can occasionally give children sausage or sausage. The key word is occasional. Problems start when these foods displace healthier and more whole foods in a child’s diet. I don’t divide children’s or adult’s food into “bad” and “good.” In my opinion, balance is important. I make sure there are sources of protein (poultry, meat), vegetables, fruits, berries, cereals, nuts, oils. But I also don’t demonize French fries, burgers, or candy – it increases the risk of eating disorders in the future. I explain to my son that eating should be balanced, that it is important to eat a variety of foods to be strong and healthy. I don’t forbid fast food, I just don’t buy it on a regular basis. Yes, sometimes we all eat pizza together, but not often and not only pizza. It’s very important to demonstrate a commitment to healthy eating by example: my son is allowed everything that parents are allowed. We don’t have Coke at home, so he doesn’t drink it regularly. If he has a drink once at a children’s party, it’s no big deal. I can do it myself. It is important that the child eats every day.

The Rules of the Game

Fast food, unfortunately, has an advantage – you can eat with your hands, in a hurry, and as quickly as possible go back to the game.

If you understand why kids love all this unhealthiness, you can repeat the rules of the game, turning them to your own advantage, and make some progress. Teenagers love simple and understandable food: a juicy cutlet in a soft bun with bright sauce, hot sausage with mustard or ketchup, and fried potatoes. All of this you can make yourself at home, taking the time, at least once a month. Let the child without the lectures about the dangers of fast food, from personal experience, be convinced that these dishes can be quite different, much better taste. Fast food has another hidden advantage: the ability to eat with his hands, lick the sauce off his fingers, and feel completely free. You don’t have to follow the demands of adults with their endless “fork in your left, knife in your right, back straight, sit still, no talking. Fast food can be eaten quickly and go back to the game. Giving your child the right to repeat this scenario at home, at least occasionally, with a homemade sausage or burger is certainly an extra hassle and a test of parental endurance, but the child’s health is worth it.

Healthy fast food

Alternative to French fries – vegetable sticks with yogurt

French fries are the queen of all children’s snack foods. Salty, hot, incredibly calorie-dense, always in the company of sauces with lots of aromatics and flavors, like all deep-fried dishes, they contain excessive amounts of trans fats. Due to their altered chemical formula they are less digestible by the body and form a propensity for cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis, even in children.  It is proved that trans fats also affect the child’s immune system, which is in the stage of formation, weakening it. And no one knows how often the oil used in deep frying is changed, and what its quality is. At home you can make a healthier version: cut the washed potatoes into wedges, roll them in sweet paprika and a little salt, drizzle with olive oil and bake in the oven. The sauce can be mashed fresh tomatoes with garlic and dill, or a sour cream dressing with lemon, olive oil and chopped suneli. By the way, sour cream and yogurt sauces go well with sliced carrots, cucumbers and celery. Apples or bananas chopped thinly on a mandolin grater can replace store-bought chips, which should be sent in the oven for 15 minutes at 180 until they are crisp and crunchy. For kids who prefer salty to sweet, you can bake beet slices sprinkled with salt and cumin. If the kids can’t imagine life without popcorn, then offer them baked canned chickpeas sprinkled with smoked salt. Just don’t forget, before you send the chickpeas into the oven, dry them with a paper towel for more crispness and sprinkle a little oil in the finale.

Margarita and Pepperoni pizzas are the most frequently ordered by kids. The former is virtually harmless thanks to the “healthy” ingredients. The latter ruins its reputation with spicy sausage, which is high in salt, phosphates, fat and all sorts of preservatives. But if you bake focaccia, sprinkle it with parmesan and rosemary, cut it into pieces, pour olive oil in a bowl – believe me, none of the children will not notice the switch, swallow it all in one moment.

Shawarma is the healthiest of all fast food dishes if you make it yourself at home without mayonnaise.

If it were not for the mayonnaise and tomato sauce in shawarma, which they like to add to the stuffing, and the lack of confidence in the quality and freshness of the meat that goes into this dish, it is unlikely that you would have heard strong voices of protest. After all shawarma is a yeast-free dough, yogurt sauce, freshly chopped vegetables (onion, cabbage, carrot, pepper, cucumber, tomato – all seasonal), breast of chicken or turkey, meat of which has almost no “harmful” cholesterol and fats, but contains protein, vitamins A, E and B group, as well as many useful minerals. Of course, you don’t have a rotisserie at home, but you can always roast meat, then thinly slice it, add as many vegetables as possible, wrap it all in pita bread – and here you have a quick snack, quite balanced and tasty.

A glass of water

Try offering kids homemade lemonades instead of sugary sodas

Fast food is inseparable from sugary carbonated drinks. Kids love them. Even enlightened teenagers are not deterred by the knowledge that 0.33 liter of Coke or any similar drink contains 10 teaspoons of sugar. It’s not yet time to think about diabetes. But we adults shouldn’t give up. For the older ones, we suggest showing a scene from the documentary Sugar (2014) in which a 13-year-old toothless teenager tells us that he drank 3-4 liters of soda every day and it completely destroyed his teeth. And the younger ones, still fully trusting parents, should be offered an alternative right away. Why not make a habit of making homemade lemonades together? And replace too sweet milkshakes from fast food with homemade smoothies on plant milk with bananas. Even an untrained person can make a smoothie like this. The habit of drinking enough plain water is easy to bring up in a child if you make it a rule to put a glass of water next to your plate every time. Water, not sugary sodas.

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Author: Paige Jones

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Healthy Eating

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