by Nimali Fernando, a.k.a. Doctor Yum

The food industry has targeted kids with clever marketing, advertising and fancy packaging of highly processed foods made with artificial ingredients that make children sick. As a pediatrician I see kids suffering with diet-related illnesses daily. We as parents can fight back by perfecting the skill of saying “no” at the grocery store. Saying “no” to a child can be difficult. It goes against our instinct to keep our children happy and comfortable. However, in some instances it is necessary to say “no”, even though it may bring on feelings discomfort and frustration in our children.

This paradox is one that we should embrace: saying “no” can be the greatest show of LOVE.

When it comes to raising a healthy eater, it is imperative that we learn to say “no” at the grocery store.  Let’s face it. Grocery shopping with children is tough enough. The kids may be tired, hungry, and bored while we drag them down aisle after aisle. Now add in the temptation of highly attractive but unhealthy processed food, and it can be easy to break down and give in. Over the years I have developed some ways of saying “no” to these requests, while I keep my goal of raising healthy, educated eaters in mind. Saying “no” does not have to sting. It can be done with warmth, love and compassion. Saying “no” may also create a “teachable” moment, in which kids can come away having learned a lesson about healthy eating.

First, put yourself in the position of a child. Children are bombarded by advertising and lured by smart, attractive packaging. Groceries stores also are set up to tempt them into asking for unhealthy food. Children like what they see, and do not know any better. They do not know that highly-processed, colorful, fun-shaped foods with their artificial sweeteners, preservatives and dyes, can cause them a myriad of health issues later (or not so much later) in life. It’s our job to say no, and to protect them from the dangerous consequences of these artificial foods.

Here are some artful ways of saying “no”, while keeping your kids health in mind:

  1. Say “no” but offer an alternative. For instance you might say, “Those cookies look nice, but I think I have a recipe for something almost like that, and it will be a lot healthier. Maybe we can make them together.”
  2. Offer an explanation, and create a “teachable moment”. For instance you might say, “I don’t buy those kind of fruit snacks because they have dye in them that gives them bright colors. Some people can get really sick from those dyes. Can I show you on the label?” The child may then see that the “no” comes with a good reason, and that you are looking out for them.
  3. Try to time your shopping after a healthy meal. Hungry kids (and parents) are much more likely to give into the pressures and temptations of unhealthy snack foods and treats while roaming the aisles.
  4. Lay ground rules early, so you do not have to say no so much. For instance, my kids know that I do not buy candy in the check out aisles. This is a rule I established early so that I didn’t have battle every time we checked out at the grocery store. At first it took a lot of repetition of, “Sorry, Mommy doesn’t buy candy near the cash register.” However, after several requests, they got the message. Now they just don’t ask.
  5. Offer a small treat for cooperating at the grocery store. If buying a small trinket every once in a while means I can get a cart full of healthy, whole foods, then I consider this an acceptable concession (and a small victory).
  6. Make a list. Start off the shopping trip by laying down rules that you are buying what’s on the list and not much else. Making a list saves time (and money, too!)
  7. Teach your kids how to spot unhealthy food. This works great for kids who can read and can be shown how to navigate a food label. For example, I set down a rule that I would not like to buy anything with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) because of its adverse health effects. After explaining this to my 8 year-old son, he now reads labels for himself and knows that if it’s on the label it’s not going in the shopping cart. This trick has kept probably HUNDREDS of processed foods out of my cart, without me having to ever say the word “no.” He recently even scolded my husband for buying the “wrong” kind of applesauce, and showed him the HFCS on the label!

Learning how to say “no” to all the unhealthy junk food in the grocery store eventually does pay off big. A few weeks ago, I was at the farmer’s market with my family, and my husband found a package of homemade blueberry cookies at one of the tents selling baked goods. Excited to show this sweet treat to the kids, my husband was dumbfounded when they said, “Yeah, that’s nice, dad but you HAVE to come down here and buy us these apricots. They are AMAZING!!” A proud moment, for mom.

We thought I should share this post with you which was originally posted on my site, where you can find more articles on nutrition and lots of kid-tested recipes.