March 26, 2012

Parents often ask me how to handle treats & junk foods. Should they be banned? Offered in moderation? Given freely? As usual, there is no easy answer. One thing I can tell you is that completely eliminating treats & junk foods from your child’s eating experience is simply delaying the inevitable. They WILL be exposed to sweets, chips, packaged & trans-fat-filled foods and other “treats” sooner or later. Here are three simple suggestions for dealing with treats for younger kids:

  1. Limit screen time & exposure to advertising. Did you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time whatsoever for  children under the age of 2? “Screen time” includes television, smart phones, computers, and so forth. While there are other reasons for the AAP guideline (for instance, the fact that we don’t really know the effects of screen time on neurodevelopment), sheltering your kids from the pervasive ads for junk foods is a big deal. See the infographic below for more information about the nature of advertising to kids – it’s truly shocking.
  2. Don’t use treats as a manipulative tool to get your children to eat vegetables, finish their meals, behave in a certain way or complete other tasks. There is ample research that this tactic doesn’t work and in fact, it actually makes dessert more desirable and the other tasks/events less so.  Check out this fantastic article on “What Rewarding Kids with Foods Looks Like 20 Years Later.
  3. Let a treat be a treat. I love this guest post by Dr. Diana Rose on the Fooducate blog. I wholeheartedly agree that treat foods should be a) occasional and b) really awesome. If you don’t love it, it’s not a treat. Rather than trying to “healthy up” treats, make them truly yummy and enjoy them infrequently. Truly yummy does not necessarily mean artificial and processed. I think we can all agree that a cookie from a package doesn’t hold a candle to a freshly-baked cookie right from the oven.  Learn to enjoy homemade goodies to eliminate unnecessary additives and weird packaging as well as to cut down on costs. Here are some of my favorite treat recipes: Toblerone Ice Cream Cake, Mascarpone-Stuffed Dates, and Homemade Granola.

For more information on how to deal with treats, junk food and other dilemmas of feeding a young child, check out my new Udemy course! In the meantime, feast your eyes on this infographic from – an alarming reminder about the role of advertising in children’s lives:

Brought to you by and MAT@USC.

About Camille Freeman, LDN, RH (she/her)

Hi there! I'm a clinical herbalist and licensed nutritionist specializing in fertility and menstrual health. I run the Monday Mentoring community of practice and also offer continuing education programs for highly-trained herbalists and nutritionists (Check out this year's Deep Dive!). I'm also a professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Maryland University of Integrative Health, where I teach physiology, pathophysiology, and mindful eating.

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