Junk Food and Kids: How to Have Your Cake and Eat it!

Junk food is a weird one; why name something after rubbish/garbage when it is such a prominent part of our eating culture?

I work as a food stylist, and the clients who take their photography the most seriously, are the large fast food chains (I guess they have to!). And although I am an advocate for healthy homecooked meals, I have to say that some of their products are not too bad. But then there are some food brands that give me the heebie-geebies – products, which cannot really be called food at all! But the good news is, I have noticed an improvement in meat quality due to public pressure and the current food culture.

So why do parents feed “junk food” to their kids?

The appeal of a quick and easy meal is very appealing to a time-stressed adult and the free toys win the kids over almost instantly.

I remember as a child in Tokyo, all the other girls would be taken to McDonald’s after the weekly ballet class, but my mother always said I had to go home for dinner. I remember feeling this was quite unjust and would complain and cry all the way home. I later went to McDonald’s for a birthday party and didn’t really understand why I had put it on such a pedestal! I actually found it a bit intimidating!

Similarly, I have a friend who has 4 daughters – her house is like a crazy, pink-loving zoo! The older two weren’t allowed chocolate when they were young (I think she managed to keep them away from it until about the age of 4, which is quite an achievement!) and I’ve noticed recently that when all four girls are together the older two, who are now 11 and 9, still go slightly nutty when there is chocolate. The younger two, who have had it around them since they were small (she’d given up a little by then), aren’t really so obsessed, and they can take it or leave it. This really fascinated me and got me thinking whether or not our good intentions were actually bad for kids in the long-run?

Everything in moderation

I read a great book the other day called ‘Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan. And he says “Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” I like this very much! It gives you control over the bread you are using, the quality of meat, the salt and sugar content, and the portion size. This is a great way forward and with fingers crossed children will grow up with a palette that doesn’t actually like the sugary, salty flavours that commercial junk food relies on.

To whet your appetite on this food-losophy, try making your own burger and fries. I grated some onion into the mine to add a bit of veg, but you could also use some grated carrot. To manage portion sizes (read our earlier blog post on that here), I recommend making the patties smaller than the size of your palm and cutting the bun a bit smaller too (the off cuts can be used as bread crumbs for another recipe later). Fry them up and serve with some fresh lettuce and tomato for a truly healthy home-cooked option.


TOP TIP: Make an effort with the presentation so it’s more fun and colourful for the kids – a plastic food basket, some wax paper, and cocktail stick with a pickle on top can make all the difference! And if you plan ahead, you can even add a cheap little toy sold for party bags as a treat!

Do you have any favourite healthy junk food recipes that you cook at home? We would love to hear from you so please comment below.

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