Ask: How to break a junk-food addiction?

10/22/2013 12:01 AM

10/19/2013 10:34 PM

Q. My kids have turned into junk food junkies.  I am really trying to get everyone to eat healthy.  Can you help me?

A. In this on-the-go world we live in, it isn’t easy to find the time to eat healthy, let alone try to get your kids to eat healthy.  It is, however, a great investment of your time and energy to make modifications toward healthy eating as our diet is one influence on our health that we can take control over. And, as more and more research is indicating, diet has a huge impact on our overall health, brain development, behavior and our aging process.  The following tips should get you on your way to changing not only your child’s eating behavior, but yours, too.

Be realistic.  The first way to tackle this possibly overwhelming challenge of healthy eating is to be realistic and make slow steady changes.  Trying to overhaul your entire pantry at once could create an upheaval.

Involve your children.  The more your children become involved in the change,  the more invested they will be in achieving healthy eating goals.  

Simple ways to get children involved in the resolution to eat healthier.

  • Plant an herb garden.  Planting an herb garden doesn’t take much space or expense.  Each family member can be in charge of caring for one herb.  Using the herbs while cooking will slowly get your children used to “green” foods which will open up a world of healthy foods.   
  • Eliminate preservatives (BHT etc. ) and all foods containing food coloring. Some studies have linked these ingredients to ADD and ADHD.   Have your children read food labels while grocery shopping is an excellent real life learning experience.
  • If you don’t know what is in it, don’t buy it.  While grocery shopping, have  your children help you read all food labels.  If they can’t pronounce or define an ingredient, don’t purchase it.  
  • Only buy foods that contain five ingredients or fewer. Healthier foods tend to have less “stuff” in them.  Make a game of finding foods that keep it simple.

Choose organic.  With the increase in affordable organic food options, choose organic when you can.  Read the top dirty foods and purchase these foods organic or if that is not feasible, eat them in moderation.

Investigate the healthier food options.  Small changes in food choices can smooth the transition to healthier foods.  Check out the following ideas:

  • Look for the more natural versions of the foods you are accustomed to eating.  While natural Cheetos are in no way healthy, they are a better option than the version with food coloring.
  • Tackle junk food.  Let’s face it, when the day is over, junk food is what it is:  junk.  But let’s also face it, most kids are eating it and junk food is probably OK in moderation and as part of an otherwise healthy diet.
    • Pick veggie sticks, potato chips or corn chips.  They have only a few ingredients.
    • Look for organic junk food (many stores are now carrying their own brand of organic), which is often the same price as the commercial brands.  How can that be true?  Your dollars will actually go toward the purchase of higher quality foods instead of advertising campaigns.  
  • Healthier ingredients.  Pick foods with expeller pressed or cold pressed oils.  The processing does not involve chemicals and the oils contain more nutrients. 
  • Chocolate.  Chocolate is a health food?   I’m not sure I agree completely, however there are studies that identify redeeming qualities in chocolate (especially dark chocolate).
    • Offer chocolate instead of other candies that are just sugar and food colorings. Purchase dark chocolate varieties of candy that your children already like.
    • Check out UNREAL chocolates and candy bars.  They are healthy versions of chocolate candy bars, M&M’s and peanut butter cups.  They are delicious and an affordable way to replace the versions that you are already buying with a healthier choice.

Vitamins: If you are trying to supplement your child’s diet with vitamins, purchase ones without food coloring and other unhealthy ingredients.  

Consider omega 3 fatty acids and DHA.  There are many articles promoting the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids and DHA on brain development and behavioral development in children.

Increase fish intake.   Fish is a healthy choice that is often not offered to children.  If that is the case in your family, try introducing fish sticks and work toward grilled or baked fish options.  Remember, frequent exposure to fish and modeling (by parents eating fish) will eventually increase your child’s acceptance, which in turn will increase the desire to try the fish.

Hopefully, these ideas have empowered you and will help you on your way to healthy eating habits.  If you make slow changes and enlist the help of your child, changing your diet will be easier than you anticipated.  The effects of the changes you make today will last a lifetime.  

If you have a question about your child's health or happiness, ask Joan or any of our experts by sending email to



Joan Dietrich Comrie of Carolina Pediatric Dysphagia (919-877-9800) has dedicated her entire career to studying, teaching and practicing in the area of dysphagia, specifically pediatric dysphagia. She received her bachelor of science degree and then her master of science degree in the area of speech pathology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1986. Before starting Carolina Pediatric Dysphagia in 1996, she worked at several hospitals (Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital, Lexington, Ky., Vanderbilt Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn., and WakeMed, Raleigh) where she developed or reorganized the hospital's pediatric dysphagia program.

Joan has spoken on the topic of pediatric dysphagia nationally and internationally. She has published in a professional journal.  She co-taught the first dysphagia course offered at UNC and continues to guest lecture to several university graduate level speech pathology programs and to the UNC Medical Students who complete their rotation at WakeMed. She has served as chairman and member of a subcommittee of the Special Interest Division 13 of the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA). She has received her certificate of clinical competence (CCC) through ASHA and is licensed in the state of North Carolina.


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