Be Realistic, Give Your Kids Cheetos

junk food snacks

This is a guest blog post by Lauren Slayton MS, RD
In early May, I read a post on this blog from a fellow nutrition colleague entitled “My Kid Likes Junk Food and That’s OK” that may have had good intensions but rubbed me the wrong way. The gist of the post was that your kids are going to eat junk food due to media exposure and taste. You can serve quality at food home but you can’t compete with Lunchables’ millions of advertising dollars. Be realistic, you can’t live in a bubble (made of “flax and unrefined flour”) if you child wants Cheetos, so be it.
The timing of this post was interesting; I had just come from my 10-year-old’s check up. At the end of the annual visit our pediatrician has my son leave the office and then discusses milestones for each age. I was told I was going to get questions about lots new subjects at this age. Dr R explained there were two things not to do when fielding questions. “If you’re asked if you’ve ever been drunk you don’t want to dismiss the question or glorify it.” You don’t want to say, “how could you ask such a thing?” or “sure I have and you will too it’s fun.”
Rather, give a little information and move on.  If subtext of the first response is ignore it and it will go away, the second is from the school of “cool parenting”. I see both approaches when it comes to food and they don’t work in this domain either. Even those “cool parents” would think it wildly inappropriate for me to say “I know you’re going to get drunk in the future so here’s a shot of Patron.”
If the intent of “Cheetos are fine” advice is to put parents at ease, I am all for that. However, I think many parents swing way to far the other way in an effort not to be overly restrictive. This was my comment on the Fooducate site.
like the idea that parents who are new to the healthy table shouldn’t feel it’s too late to make changes. However, I feel part of my boys’ education is teaching them about food, ingredients and health. Though my kids have had Doritos, I don’t need to buy them even “sometimes”. My kids have tortilla chips or chips but they don’t need preservatives, trans fats and food coloring to taste good.
I’ve also worked with the grandparents and other family members suggesting alternatives to some of the things served. When approached without judgment, these substitutions have been well received. I get the “kids will have Oreos and soda in their lifetime” argument. I just feel that despite millions of dollars encouraging kids to eat Lunchables we still, as parents of young children, can have more influence.
I’m grateful to some fantastic companies: Purely ElizabethStretch Island,Hint Water, Glow Gluten FreeFood Should Taste GoodPirate Brands,Vigilant Eats and Pure Bar.  I’ve brought these foods for carpool, to my children’s sports teams and birthday parties. Treats and “fun” food can be a part of childhood. We just don’t have to do PR for soda or Doritos; they already have plenty.
What do you think is the biggest challenge in feeding kids a healthy diet? What do think of givings kids junk so that they don’t feel restricted? Would you buy your children Lunchables if asked? 

Lauren Slayton MS, RD, a Manhattan based dietitian specializing in weight management and sports nutrition. Follow her tweets @FoodTrainers.


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  • Amanda

    I’m constantly discussing food choices with my kids. It’s not always possible to eat what I would prefer, but my 10yo understands what’s healthy and what’s not. He’ll even say, “This isn’t really good for us, is it?” I’ve had a family member complain to him, “You sound like your mom” because he was talking about the food they were served at a family gathering. (I wasn’t there.) I took it as a compliment. :-)

    • Lauren

      Amanda, my 10 year old is a lot like your 10 year old. In fact, my son is more outspoken than I am. Because kids are black and white he doesn’t understand why people want to go to McDonalds or food dyes. I think it’s great to arm kids with information. Having said that, he’s also totally “normal” loves a delicious brownie or ice cream. I cant stand that it’s ok to judge a health conscious child and that Cheetos, soda and such are “normal”. Maybe normal in this country isn’t working…

      • Ilonabergen

        Exactly…. That is why there is so much obesity in this country. Look how our portions sizes have increased over the last 30 years.  I just bought new dinnerware and guess what??? The dinnerplates are so big that my cabinet will not close all the way, open like an inch. A standard kitchen cabinet does no longer hold a current” standard new” dinnerplate. So pack them away and us the lunch plate. Not to plug a book, but I bought “the 9 inch diet” and its not a diet book. It just shows how our portions have increased since the 70′s and how much difference in size our servings are even compared to Europe. A 9 inch dinner plate in the 70′s is not a  13 inch plate. A large soda in the 70′s is now a small etc…. This needs to also change but its the food industry, diet industry, FDA, Pharmaceutical companies etc… all in cahoots to make their millions and lie to the American public. Sorry this will end my ‘soapbox’.  

        • Tanyajwalker

          I had this same problem with plates and bowls.  I ended up buying “lunch’ plates that we use most of the time.  Why on earth are cereal bowls big enough to hold 3 servings?  And those were the smallest I could find.

          • Christine

            Did you try Ikea?  They have some great shallow clear glass bowls.  Or the Pyrex bowls you can use for custard or creme brulee are even smaller.

    • Ilonabergen

      We hear the same comments when my grandson at 11 starts to talk about healthy food and he won’t eat something because it is bad for you or had poisons in it. Its just people who don’t want to know or worse yet, as with some of my relatives, they don’t believe “our” government would do that to us. Lie…. Keep up the education of your children and 1 kid at a time we can change things.

      Glad you took that comment as a compliment, my daughter does the same when they make comments about her son. Means your both doing something right and those making the comment feel guilty.

      • stardust

        I’m 14 and family gatherings are tough, because my family doesn’t eat the healthiest things. If I don’t have a dessert or something unhealthy, they think I’m starving myself, and they call me a health nut and such. It’s not fair that I seem abnormal for eating what’s right. I even get picked on at school because I pack a nice salad, fruit, yogurt, and veggies everyday. One of my friends commented, “a salad isn’t food”. I get strange looks from my friends when I eat my lunch. When we have parties in class, everyone stares at me because I’m the only one not eating anything, because all that’s there is junk- cheetos, chips, cookies, fudge, soda-it goes on and on. I mean, not everyone likes those things. I just don’t have a taste for stuff like that anymore, because my body craves healthy food. I’m proud of myself and have no intention to change, but something has to be done about the way society is now a days.

    • LJSM

      Your son is 1.5x as good as me! I’m nine and I make good choices. (sometimes)

  • Bella

    The biggest challenge in feeding kids a healthy diet is the mindset that they can *have* junk food because they’re still young. My parents were really health conscious growing up but let us kids eat junk food because:

    1. We were young.
    2. We wanted it.
    3. We were going to eat it anyway.

    But even when I struggled with my weight, I never thought I was really eating anything *bad* because the messages about what to eat/whatnot to eat were so contradictory. It’s incredibly frustrating to teach and model a healthy relationship with food to kids, especially if they’re as picky as I was. But it’s nearly impossible to come by it on your own as an adult if parents don’t do the legwork.

    My parents never bought us alcohol as teenagers and I still get lectured no the dangers of drunk driving and I endure them even though at my age I’m also lecturing my students because I know my mom just wants me to be safe and live a long, long life. It just never translated over into the food realm in her parenting.

    The more people talk about taking the control of what children eat. the more people will listen and the more people will act.

    I hope.

    • Lauren

      Bella I love the question, why should you have junk food because you’re young. I send my kids to a good school, I encourage them to be good people, why would I then support bad food?

      • Ilona Bergen

        I agree Lauren. But even good schools sneak in bad food. Look who bought all that “pink Slime”, the US Department of Education for their school lunch program. McDonalds didn’t want it anymore so we are giving it to kids. Shame and where is the outrage about this from the public. Sometimes it feels like a loosing battle but we can change things one child at the time I suppose.

  • Catherine

    I never buy those foods.  Sure, they might get them sometimes at parties or elsewhere but I am certainly not going to be providing them.  We do have snack foods at our house and I try to buy the least offensive of them.  We talk a lot about ingredients and that has helped my kids.  They can read labels pretty well now (they will actually read labels at friend’s houses to check out the food they are being served).  Actually, sites like this have helped a lot as they have grown older and have struggled with ‘missing out’ on stuff their friends have (my kids have severe reactions to artificial dyes so it is necessary for more than one reason to avoid neon cheetos).  It helps for them to see that other people think like their parents do.

  • Stephanie

    Great article. Yes, the kids are going to get junk, but not from my house. I arm my kids with knowledge so they can make educational choices. They are still young, but I don’t want them to WANT that crappy food. My son thinks McDonalds is a place to play. My kids also eat salad and love vegetables – it’s all about what they are exposed to. Glad to hear there are more moms out there like me!

    • Lauren

      We’re here but we have an uphill battle, well done.

  • jen

    I don’t buy junk foods for my kids. When they ask about we discuss why we don’t eat it and they are okay with that.  They know it is okay for them to have it if they are at a birthday party but that is where it ends. When they have asked about lunchables, we have made our own with ham and cheese. We don’t need all the extra bad ingredients or they added cost. I often make my own whole wheat bread with added flax and wheat germ.  My kids are always so proud to tell everyone that I made it and that it is very healthy for them.

    • Lauren

      Yes but Jen, you then are like me and live in a bubble made of flax.

  • Ilona bergen

    My grandson went on a field trip, 5th grade field trip, last week. His mother has been feeding him healthy natural food and educating him along the way. They have a vegetable garden and he is so excited about it that his “other” grandma told me last week she now has started a garden since when our grandson visits her he enjoys working in it. Anyway, on this field trip the school bus was stopping for lunch at, where else, the golden arches. (Mc Donalds) Well this child with all his knowledge told the teacher that they should not stop here because their food is “poison” to kids and not real food. He told me that he was frustrated with the teacher because she did not listen to him and they stopped there anyway. He ordered the chicken strips because he felt that was at least real chicken. Lol I found this interesting and amusing. First that he at 11 had the guts to tell the ‘parents’ this and stand his ground. Proud of him. But very disapointed with the school officials that with all the bad news regarding this chain still took a bus of 50 something kids there and gave them no option. Shame on the US education system for encouraging and not educating their teachers and the PTA who was involved.

    • Fooducate

      Kudos to your grandson!

    • Lauren

      seriously, how courageous is your grandson? Have him call me in 7 years if he wants to intern. Or, if he’d like I’d love to have him tell his story on my blog. Seriously. There is a 9 year old who blogged about her school food and shamed them into making changes. This generation is inheriting a terrible food supply we are going to need smart, passionate people who can take a real stance.

    • Emmie

       This buzzkill of a grandson is a real jerk. You must be so proud…er, wait…you actually do sound proud of him…uh, what does that make you, then?

      • Lauren

        “buzzkill of a grandson” so then McDonalds is the “buzz”. It’s odd to insult children and even more odd that you are reading a blog that rates food products and feel discouraging fast food should be discouraged. 

    • Simba

      I’m conflicted on this one- it depends on how the teacher reacted, and whether anyone else complained.

      Yes, stopping for Mc Donalds on a field trip is silly and unhealthy, and I agree totally that he should be disappointed with the school officials. But he took it upon himself to make the decision for everyone else, at a stage where the decision had already been made (presumably). Expecting the opinion of one kid to change the field trip is foolish- not because the trip should be dictated from above totally, but because there are 50 kids there. If one gets a say all should.

      To a certain extent, when it comes to situations involving groups of people, you have to allow give-and-take. We had school trips where we stopped at Starbuck’s, and I just had water. Everyone else wanted it, democracy won out, and everyone was happy. It’s one of the most important things that kids learn.

    • L DS

      The adults were just as jacked to go to McDonald’s as the kids. The adults probably liked it more. They’re just as addicted to salt, fat and junk as the kids and didn’t want anyone killing their buzz talking about healthful foods. I get put down all the time as “extreme” or a “health nut” simply because I’m not willing to go to such places. I’ve even visited with friends but was the only one not eating. I didn’t feel embarrassed on odd for not eating. I felt proud of myself and I hope your grandson is proud for speaking out. 

    • RP1973

      I know this thread is a year old, but I think it’s great that your grandson was willing to speak his mind. I’m a teacher, and one of the teachers at my school took a field trip. The school got angry phone calls because the bus did not stop at (drum roll, please) McDonald’s! It’s so great we have parents and grandparents who teach their kids healthy choices; unfortunately, the majority do not.

  • Catherine

    I would like to add that I do understand where the person writing the original post was coming from though.  I do find it easier with my kids I think because they don’t like soda at all (can’t stand the bubbles) and they hardly ever watch TV so don’t get bombarded with food advertising.

  • But what do I know?

    When I was a kid my parents were so health conscious that if I had the chance, I would stuff myself with junk if they weren’t looking because I was denied all the time.  With my kids, I don’t want them to go nuts like that so I try not to freak out when they want something unhealthy.  But I make them read me the ingredients in the package and usually they get to some unpronounceable words and they go, “Eww,” and put it back.  I try to find acceptable substitutes for things.  If they want soda, I get them ginger beer or Izze’s and that makes them very happy.  It’s a delicate balance, I don’t want them eating crap, but I don’t want to be the denier of everything either and have them go nuts when I’m not looking.  My son makes healthy choices, but my daughter tends to want sugar all the time so she is a challenge.  If I give her something that doesn’t contain sugar but I tell her it does have it, she seems to enjoy it more.  I realize it’s probably bad that I’m lying to her in that way so I should figure something else out.

    • Lauren

      But what do I know (great name) agree about delicate balance. I think many parents see 2 choices as overly restrictive or indulgent and there’s a lot in between those options. Better treats, better ingredients, lots of unpackaged food. My children are a lot like yours, one wants to do everything healthy and the other loves his sugar. 

    • Fillindo1998

      My kids are also the same, my daughter tries to make healthy choices but my son is all about sugar and candy.! And I also make them read the labels to me!! I’m glad there are people out there like me. Sometimes when I look around I feel that I’m the only one feeding my kids healthy but it’s wonderful to hear others are too!!

      • LJSM

        I’m nine and sometimes I make healthy choices and sometimes unhealthy. But sadly, it slips closer to “unhealthy zone” every year.

  • Warnerdds

    I agree with the writer, yes they will have it but we don’t need to bring it home for them. Educate them and show them by example how good GOOD food can be.
    Having dealt with picky kids, my child went through a phase of only eating Costco frozen chimichangas, I’venoticed that the kids seem to always eat a health level lower than we do. The healthier we’ve become, the healthier they’ve become.

    • Lauren

      modeling is key and young children highly influenced by their parents (teenagers not so much). 

  • guest

    The biggest challenge for me has been those outsiders (grandparents, great aunts and uncles, etc) who have the ”We had soda and chips growing up and we turned out fine” mentality. My parents pretty much let me eat whatever I wanted growing up. I could have a bowl of ice cream every night if I wanted. Lucky for them, I was very active and have never been overweight. However, when I began to live on my own, I realized a lot of my food choices were based on things my mom bought when I was growing up. I have completely revamped my diet over the past three years and I’ve found the best way (for me) to teach my son healthy habits is to have him go grocery shopping with me. My hope is that when he gets older and is doing his own grocery shopping that he buys certain things because “that’s what my mom always bought for me growing up.”

  • Tiffany

    I feel the same way.  Yes, it’s realistic to realize that kids will have access to and probably eat things like Cheetos and unhealthy snacks, but that doesn’t mean we need to condone those things and offer it to them.  It’s so important to teach our children how to eat healthy and that eating healthy can be fun and taste good too.  Why do foods packed with sugar and refined grains have to the be only things that taste good to our kids?  It’s all in the parenting.  If you provide healthy choices for your kids and don’t give in when they beg for candy, they will eat what you give them.  Kids need discipline, so the “cool parenting” excuse only goes so far.  Your the parent for a reason.

  • D_zacher

    My best friends mom was fairly restrictive, we used to call her the health nut. She wouldn’t let her kids have junk food, and was constantly making comments about how unhealthy most foods were. At my friends 14th birthday her mom bought her a fruit cake, my friend was so embarrassed because no one wanted to eat the thing, and we ended up sneaking out and going to a conveince store and gorging on junk. My friend developed a fairly serious eating disorder between age 12-16 until she got professional help. This all happended 15yrs ago, and my friend is still a healthy eater but doesn’t obsess over the junk. I really think its important to teach kids about good nutrition, but not to be too restrictive, especially when it comes to special events.

    • LJSM

      Wow. Her 14th birthday must have been sad. ‘/’

      I mean really… but still, going out to a convenience store and eating junk… well… I’d eat the fruit cake before they even planned to sneak out and buy junk. I mean any cake is very good to me.

  • Antoinette Reyes Terrel

    Agreed! It’s called AGE APPROPRIATE ANSWERS.  I was a parent that lived off of going to the store and buying Luchables by the pack that included a snack and drink, all because of convenience.  However, I have made a complete change and found that the healthier alternatives to such as those, including the chips.  Like smoothies, I just make my own with organic frozen fruits.  I used to order lunch through the school, healthy options.  But I’m the parent, you’re the child, it doesn’t matter to me if Joe Smith has it, and that’s okay.  This family does not.  AGE APPROPRIATE ANSWERS to the difficult questions.  

  • Stacy

    It’s very hard to know how to handle the junk food situation. Like the author of “My Kid Likes Junk Food and That’s OK,” I try not to react when they eat foods that I deem unhealthy. I don’t want to draw too much attention to it or turn them into “forbidden foods.” I do not bring them into our home and would not buy them Lunchables if asked. But they get them in the outside world and from my husband. The most frustrating part to me is when they get those foods at school! My kids are 6 and 4, and treats are given out on a regular basis at my older child’s elementary school and the younger ones’ preschool. I feel like it totally undermines my attempts to feed them well. I even started a blog about it: Lauren, thanks for this post: It is always interesting to hear how other parents deal with the constant bombardment of junk food, and I love your idea of teaching them about ingredients and providing healthier substitutes.

    • LJSM

      Wow… You must love you kids if you made a blog about their food… I’ll look at your blog when done with this comment.

  • Stacy

    Interesting side note: I took my kindergartner and his friend to a movie the other day. His friend lives on processed junk and sugar. Seriously, I have never seen him eat a bite of “real” food–unless you count “Trix” yogurt. As a rule, I don’t buy movie theater snacks for my kids, we bring our own. So I brought popcorn from home. My son’s friend spent the entire movie asking me for candy after I told them I wasn’t going to buy them any. He was obsessed! I’ve also seen him gorge himself at all-you-can-eat junk food fest birthday parties. (Which my son does as well). But to me, it disproved the idea that giving a kid liberal access to candy and sugar will make them less likely to overdo it.

    • LJSM

      Ugh, living on sugar… :-p

  • Bearyam

    I have just learned how to start making healthy eating a life style instead of a diet. My husband on the other hand enjoys his whataburger, McDonalds. Etc. My son is 2 and since he spends a little more time with me than my husband I try to be a good influence on him food wise, but it’s hard when daddy brings in yummy Doritos.

    On a side note, reading llona’s comment about her grandson really bothered me. Not because it was a bad comment, but because I am a teacher and a lot of times we reward children with skittles, etc. I’m doing to kids exactly what I want to protect my son from!!! That really bothers me.

  • L DS

    Simply put – - My parents didn’t buy many junk foods and they didn’t care what what was warbled and yelled constantly on the television. They had no problem saying “NO.” Our childhood wasn’t totally candy-less or without junk food but we ate cooked meals every day. I can say that when I got 11 or 12, I stopped eating candy and drinking sodas. I stopped on my own. I did use my independence and ate fast foods when I got to college but, I remembered my roots and went back to trying to eat better and do right by my body way before I left college. If a lifestyle of good, healthy eating and exercise is instilled through example, kids are more likely to remember and keep those ideals when they become adults. I am the same size I was in college 25 years ago because I still try to eat healthfully and exercise. Most kids are addicted to junk foods because their parents are and don’t mind buying junk that they eat right along with their kids. Lunchables and blue drinks are not viable food choices yet I see adults eating them every day for lunch here at work…

    • LJSM

      What do you mean by… “blue drinks”… 0.o

  • LJSM

    Well, I’m nine so I can’t awnser you. WAWAWAWAWA…

  • rebecca huff

    I agree with what you said. i am so sick of being the “weird parent” just because my children have never once had soda. They know what the long term outcome of the soda habit is and they don’t want to drink soda. Same for doritos, oreos, and others. I’m glad that they CHOOSE to say no. For example today we had a field trip and the ONLY 3 options for drinks were Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite. Water was NOT an option. My 6 year old asked for water and it was a huge inconvenience for the people running things. Wow. This world is backwards.