Teaching Kids How to Manage Junk Food as Part of a Healthy Diet

Junk food has a sneaky way of finding your kids. Learn how to teach your kids to enjoy candy and junk food in moderation – as part of a healthy diet.

Teaching Kids How to Manage Junk Food As Part of a Healthy Diet

Junk food + healthy diet? Whaaaat? I knew I’d raise some eyebrows with that headline.

Don’t worry – I don’t feed my boys artificially colored sugar bombs along with their broccoli and brown rice. I’m well aware that when they say “eat the rainbow”, they do not mean Skittles™.

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How To Manage Junk Food as Part of a Healthy Diet

But I do want to talk about how candy and junk food can play a part in our kids’ healthy lifestyles. Because junk food is out there folks. As much as you want to hide from it, junk food will come and find your kids. Birthday parties. Vacations. Holidays. Grandparents. You know how it goes….

So instead of pretending that we never let our kids have that awful stuff, let’s address the elephant in the room and talk about how to make a little bit of junk food work within a mostly healthy diet – because I believe it can!

Mindful Moderation | www.mindfulmomma.com

Power Food vs. Lazy Food

I’ll never forget the day when my oldest son had his first taste of ice cream. He was very young and it seemed so innocent to give him a taste. His eyes lit up and he immediately moved in for more – bam – he was hooked!!

From those first tiny tastes of sugar-sweetened yogurt to the first bite of a greasy french fry at a road-trip dinner spot, it is eye-opening to see the attraction to sugar, salt and fat.

Of course, when your kids are really young, YOU control what they eat completely, so you can keep sweets and junky food out if you choose. As kids get a little older, you need to teach them how to make good choices for themselves.

The concepts of Power Food and Lazy Food, became our mantra as our little guys were growing up.

Power food helps your body grow big and strong. It gives you the strength to run around, ride bikes and play games with your friends.

Lazy food does nothing to help your body. It tastes really great but if that’s all you eat, your body will get lazy and you won’t have the energy to do all the fun things you want to do.

A simple concept but very powerful.

Power food and lazy food totally helped our kids understand why they couldn’t just eat sweets and snacks all day, and it set the foundation for the importance of eating a healthy diet. They may not have liked it, but they understood. 🙂

Mindful Moderation | www.mindfulmomma.com

Mindful Moderation

Now that our boys are older (teens), our mantra has changed a bit. The little-kid terminology has been updated to a more grown-up concept: Mindful Moderation.

Obviously this is something that can be applied to many aspects of life, but this is what it means for us in the food department: Be mindful of your food choices. Be aware of the health effects of your choices. Enjoy mostly healthy food. Enjoy less-healthy food in moderation. Enjoy life! (Read more about mindful moderation here.)

As they’ve grown, I’ve been impressed with my boys’ interest in healthy eating and in their ability to moderate themselves when it comes to junk food. They both admit to having a sweet-tooth but even take occasional self-imposed sugar-free weeks to break the habit. Recently, after indulging in mini donuts and fried food on-a-stick at the Minnesota State Fair, the boys admitted they were ready to get back to a healthier routine. Often, their favorite treat is fresh fruit (watermelon & mango!)

We still talk about food a lot with our kids. We talk about the benefits of healthy, home-cooked food and we talk about the health risks of eating too much sugar and other junky food. Fortunately, we love to cook and our boys have been helping us out in the kitchen ever since they were very young!

Most of the sweets and treats we eat are healthier versions – like homemade desserts and organic snacks but I’ll admit to making and buying less healthy things occasionally too. It’s all about balance my friends!

So yes, my kids eat Skittles™ every once in a while. It’s their junk food of choice. They understand it’s lazy food. They know it contains artificial colors and other unhealthy ingredients. And I know that I can’t control everything they eat anymore. They have their own spending money and I’m not always with them. But I’ve taught them to be mindful of their choices and that’s a powerful thing.

Use Your Influence

Maybe your child would never eat conventional candy like mine occasionally do, but I bet there’s something else they eat that you are less than proud of. Maybe it’s potato chips. Maybe it’s double-stuffed cookies. Maybe it’s a non-organic milkshake at a fast food joint. Hey – we all have different circumstances, different lives…and we are NOT perfect.

We shouldn’t be embarrassed and refuse to talk about it. We should be open-minded and mindful. The best thing we can do for our children is to teach them the value of healthy eating and how to make mindful choices. Their choices won’t always be great but they will learn from them. Here are some ways to influence your child’s eating habits:

  • Educate them about food – both healthy food and the problems with unhealthy food. (I highly recommend the movie Fed Up.)
  • Teach by example. Don’t eat donuts for breakfast but tell them not to – duh! Do your best to eat healthy most of the time.
  • Get them cooking and involved in the kitchen. Start small and eventually they’ll be cooking entire recipes all by themselves!
  • Talk about the food you eat at home and away from home.
  • Teach them to be mindful of their food choices and also to eat mindfully.
  • Let them know that healthy eating is an art, not a science. There are no set rules.

What’s your “Skittles” – that unhealthy thing you hate that your kids love? Do you have any tips for managing junk food as part of a {mostly} healthy diet?

green & healthy wishes Micaela signature


  1. Green Bean says:

    I like that – power foods versus lazy foods. I am going to borrow it. My kids are 11 and 13 and are more and more making their own food choices. This is a super helpful article on how to get them to independently make their own food choices.

    1. Glad you found it helpful! I’ve found the older my kids get, the more they have opportunities to eat candy and junk – so I want to make sure they understand the health impacts – but also enjoy their indulgences!

  2. Thank you for acknowledging that green and healthy folks occasional eat junk food. We call it the 80/20 Rule (alghtouth is is usually 90/10) because our Lazy Food is making a quick stir fry or crockpot dinner

    1. Yes the 80/20 (or 90/10) rule definitely applies here! Ha! Love that a crockpot dinner is “lazy food” for you Lisa!

  3. I love this approach. We are vegetarian and eat almost all whole foods. After doing a Whole30, my husband and I realized that we wanted that to be our norm with some modifications to allow for healthy grains like quinoa and oatmeal, healthy legumes such as lentils and beans and healthy dairy like plain greek yogurt. But Whole30 allows for zero sugar and I needed that for a month, but now am learning how to do it in moderation because I couldn’t before. It was all or nothing for me and I don’t want my boys to have an unhealthy relationship with any foods, including sugar. Really like this approach. Thank you!

    1. Such an interesting perspective Jessica. Your kids will learn a lot of great things watching the way you eat! But you’re right, you want them to learn how to manage sugar in their lives – because, as I say in the post – it will come and find them!!

  4. I was doing great with this lifestyle until my kid started kindergarten. I cannot believe how the other kids have turned her against my bag lunches I make. Now she’s eating the school lunch everyday. Totally bummed.

    1. So sorry to hear that Jenn. It’s one of the many outside influences that come up, the older your kids get. And exactly why talking to your kids about healthy eating is so important. And don’t despair if your child rejects your healthy food ideas for a while – in my experience it is still sinking in. My boys food likes and dislikes have changed so many times over the years. I just keep trying with those healthy foods and vegetables! And I allow them to enjoy their sweets and junk in moderation. 🙂

  5. It is definitely a challenge when junk food is seen as a reward. Offering kale for good behaviour doesn’t quite get the same reaction as ice cream! I agree with you though everything in moderation and educate as often as possible.

    1. LOL – kale has a special treat just wouldn’t cut it! Yep, it’s all about moderation in my book!

  6. Love power foods bs lazy foods. Really great approach. I’m definitely going to use some of this with my kids. Thank you for sharing!

    1. We found those simple terms to be so helpful with our kids. Hope they work well for you too!

  7. Love this post! I am all about mindful moderation. Most of the week we eat very healthy and lots of natural/organic products. On friday I go to the grocery store and everyone gets to pick one bag of ‘junk’ for the weekend. I have teens so they really just want ‘normal’ food. Weekend junk is our happy medium. They eat organic chicken and broccoli during the week, I let them have Cheetos on the weekend 🙂

  8. It’s a hard struggle. For all of elementary school, my kids I have been able to atleast control the amount of artificial food coloring that my kids got. Thankfully, we’ve had teachers that respect my choice to refuse those treats and I’ve been able to supply substitutes. I’ve always known I wouldn’t be able to do it forever and my son started middle school this year so with that came more independence. It’s so hard because they want to eat the same things their friends eat and not be different but it can be so hard for them to understand the implications of some food choices. Thanks for these tips, glad to hear they work for the “older” kids.

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