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Should I Let my Children Eat Fast Food?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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The health impacts when children eat fast food have been carefully studied as Americans grow more diet conscious and especially American children’s obesity rates have risen. Many fast food restaurants are trying to promote healthier fast food alternatives — apples instead of fries, milk or juice instead of soda — in order to keep customers coming in. However, the main contents of most fast food meals, like burgers or chicken nuggets, still are high fat, high salt foods. Parents are concerned about the excessive marketing to children, especially when the payoff is a toy of some sort.

Childhood obesity is linked to fast food consumption. Studies have shown that, when children eat fast food once weekly, they gained about 6 pounds (2.72 kg) more per year than did their peers who did not eat fast food. Those who at it several times a week were far more likely to have a higher body mass index. As kids age, the negative effects of fast food increase. A ten year old is more affected by weekly consumption of fast food meals than is a seven year old. Even when kids were active, if they ate fast food on a weekly basis, they still weighed more.

Another disadvantage of children eating fast food is the fact that most items in a fast food diet do not promote a feeling of fullness. This is because most foods contain refined starch. This leads to higher insulin levels and may result in people actually feeling hungrier instead of full. In contrast, whole grains, green veggies and fruit generally make people feel more full. When children eat fast food, therefore, they are more likely to consume more of it than they would a meal prepared at home that included “healthy foods.”

There is little evidence that if children eat fast food on a very limited basis they are going to have dietary or weight problems. Limited might mean once every few months. The big problem is that most children eat it more than once a week.

Studies do suggest that fast food should be consumed only occasionally, rather than being part of a child’s usual menu. When you do decide to use fast food restaurants, consider the following tips:

  • Avoid the empty calories of soda and allow children milk or water instead.
  • Bring along some nutritional foods like carrot sticks or apples to eat prior to getting fast food in order to avoid overeating.
  • Limit portion size by ordering kids meals only.
  • Avoid french fries and opt for other sides like apples or a baked potato.

If your children eat fast food on a regular basis, consider weaning them off it by offering low fat, fast food-like alternatives. You can make baked homemade oven fries with just a tiny bit of oil, for instance, and load up hamburgers on wheat buns with lots of spicy and healthy nutritional items, like lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and onions.

Try your own baked chicken nugget recipes with whole skinless white meat chicken dipped in milk and rolled in breadcrumbs. Also provide salads or fruit or vegetables with every meal. Additionally, if your kids love fast food toys, buy a few inexpensive toys and make your own meal with cool toys for kids.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By ValleyFiah — On Jul 04, 2010

@ GlassAxe- I have a toddler who likes the fun experience of eating fast food, so I try to make her mealtime experiences just as fun. Some days we will pack dinner and take it to the park, so she can have the same eat and play experience that fast food restaurants offer.

Other days I give her lunch in an ice cube tray, filling it with fruits, veggies, cheese, and other finger foods cut into fun shapes. I will leave the ice cube tray on the coffee table so she can "graze". I will do things like cut spinach into grass, roll bread coated with peanut butter and jelly and slice it into pinwheels, or use a small cookie cutter to cut pieces of pounded and grilled chicken. Kids also love to dip, so I keep a few tiny dishes that I can fill with various dips.

She absolutely loves it, and I never have to ask her to eat her fruits and vegetables. We also only have to go to a fast food restaurant when necessary, and when we go, she isn’t only looking for French fries.

By GlassAxe — On Jul 04, 2010

@ Ostrich- You are absolutely right. A big part of kid’s cravings for fast food is the fact that their parents introduced them to fast foods.

I also think another attraction to fast food for kids is the novelty of the fast food experience. At home, most kids have to eat what they are given, sit in a chair. Parents often bar kids from outside distractions when they eat at home.

At most fast food restaurants kids can eat, play, and eat again. The restaurants also serve fun finger foods cooked into fun shapes (Crown and star shaped chicken nuggets, chicken fingers, etc.). This experience is what makes kids want to keep going back. I mean think about it, where else can you find indoor playgrounds, video games, and giant dinosaur exhibits that are free?

By ostrich — On Mar 27, 2008

Don't forget that kids are really impressionable and will watch what you DO, not what you SAY. If you are trying to get your kids to not eat fast food and drink soda, you're going to have to stay away from them also!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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