5 Ways to Stop Your Child’s Cravings for Junk Carbs
My nine-year-old has consistent cravings for junk carbs, particularly unhealthy treats and anything sugary. She is also on the heavier side. How can I guide her toward more balance without creating unhealthy body/food issues?
Most of us moms, including myself, have struggled with keeping our children on the path to eating healthy and avoiding cravings for junk carbs. Fortunately, you have recognized this while your child is still young, and you can be a major influencer in how your child eats. Three magic words that I want you to remember – and do – is “shape young tastes.” As I have said in many of my answers, parenting is giving your children the tools to succeed in life. Developing a craving for real and healthy foods is one of those top tools.
Healthy Carbs vs. Junk Carbs
First, I want to clear up carb confusion. Kids need carbs to grow, think, and play, but they need real and healthy carbs. As a general guide, growing children (especially since your child is just about to enter a preteen growth spurt) need around fifty percent of their daily calories in the form of healthy carbs. Here’s how I explained the difference between healthy carbs and junk carbs to our children: “A good carb makes you strong, smart, and pretty. A bad carb makes you sick and tired. A good carb always plays or holds hands with two or three friends – Mr. Protein, Mr. Fat, and Ms. Fiber. A good-for-you-carb never plays alone.
A junky carb has no friends. He plays alone. For example, avocados, veggies, whole grains, organic yogurt, nut butters, and legumes come naturally partnered with at least two of these healthy friends. A junk carb, because it has no friends to hold it back, quickly rushes into your bloodstream and hypes you up, followed by a crash and more junk carb cravings. On the other hand, a good-for-you carb holds hands with her friends to keep her from rushing into your bloodstream, allowing you to get a steady source of fuel to keep you thinking smart and having the energy you need to run and play.” I always used the term “good carbs,” or even better “grow carbs.” Sometimes children equate “healthy” with tasting “icky.”
It’s also important for you to learn a bit of carb-craving chemistry. Therefore, you understand why your daughter has cravings for junk carbs/junk food. When carbs rush too fast into the bloodstream and get into the brain they trigger the release of serotonin. This can give her a bit of a high and good feeling so that she learns to associate happy feelings with these carbs. So, when she gets stressed or unhappy, she will naturally go looking for junky carbs, such as candy, pastries, and sweetened beverages (all of which contain none or very little fiber, protein, and healthy fats). Over time your daughter learns to crave junk carbs to stay happy.
Top Five Tips for Getting Your Child Back on the Path to Healthy Eating
- Always partner carbs with at least two of the three nutrients that help blunt sugar spikes: protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
- Make junk-food less available to her. If you buy and stock it in your pantry, naturally, your daughter will conclude that it must be okay to eat because “mom wouldn’t buy it if it was bad.” I call this carb-crave-proofing your kitchen.
- Talk to her about green-light and red-light eating. You can learn more about this concept, with color illustrations, in our books: Eat Healthy, Feel Great, and The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood. Also, always insist that if she does have an occasional sweet treat that it is eaten or drank with a meal and not as a snack.
- Watch for carb-craving cues. If you notice your daughter has cravings for junk carbs after watching a bunch of kid-directed junk-food advertisements on TV, then you know the answer: out of sight is out of mind and out of the tummy.
- Teach your daughter substitutes for carb cravings. When children, like adults, are bored or stressed, they often have cravings for junk carbs. I would tell my children: “When you feel the urge to eat, get up and run around the yard instead.” I would send them out to shoot baskets or kick the soccer ball around the yard. What really worked was going out and safely jumping on our in-ground trampoline. Exercise triggers the release of feel-good hormones in a much healthier way than does added sugar.
I have always thought that we moms are the greatest influencers of the now oversweetened food industry. And, I’m happy to say, this is happening. “No added sugar” became a mommy mantra over the last five years. Now you’ll see more and more food manufacturers touting “no added sugar” on their labels.
Again, I encourage you to read our book, The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood, which takes you deep into your child’s digestive tract and brain to show you why a right-carb diet is so healthy for a growing child. You’ll also learn healthy sweet substitutes and hear testimonies from other parents who solved this carb-craving problem and got their children back on the path to healthy eating.
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”