Your kid loves cupcakes, you love it when she eats broccoli. You compromise by letting her have a treat after she eats all of her broccoli (and carrots). According to Charlotte Markey, a health psychology professor at Rutgers University and the author of Smart People Don't Diet, you're making the right decision. By letting her enjoy sweets and other "junk" occasionally, instead of banning it from your home all together, you’re instilling healthier eating habits in the long run.
Dr. Markey proved her point when she revealed the results of a study that she observed at The Children's Eating Lab at Penn State University in State Park, Pennsylvania, on The Today Show. Researchers asked a group of parents to list the snack foods they did not allow their children to have. Those children were then introduced to the forbidden treats. The ones with the most restrictions ate more junk food than the other children — essentially "making up for lost time" as soon as they had access to the forbidden foods.
The lesson here is to navigate food choices in a way that doesn't always mean avoiding all junk food or making it the center of an ongoing battle, says Dr. Markey. Tight restrictions on junk foods often backfire, only adding to their appeal, she adds. Instead, the key is to let your kids indulge in a smart way. You may, for example, offer something sweet for dessert, like fresh berries topped with a dollop of whipped cream. For snacks try baked instead of fried chips, or a handful of pretzels with a similar portion of carrot sticks.
Figuring out how much junk food is okay can be tricky, and parents should begin by explaining why some snacks are not the healthiest choice, says Dr. Markey. One key is to expose your kids to nutrient-rich foods from an early age, and to teach them appropriate portion sizes.