November 21, 2013

School holidays are just around the corner, and with Christmas shopping it’s a sure-fire bet that there’ll be kids galore at the shopping centres. Crowds are fine, but it’s the food court that really gets our attention.

Fast food outlets are popular with kids and adults alike. With the incidence of overweight and obesity in Australia climbing, and childhood obesity now at one in four kids, it’s appropriate to carefully consider the choices you make for yourself and your kids while at the shopping centre.

Shopping with kids can be stressful at the best of times, and sometimes fast food is an easy bribe for good behaviour. We get it. If it was just a one-off, it probably wouldn’t be an issue. Most overweight kids, though, are not that way from eating too much meat and vegies for dinner.

Many kids are ‘food opportunists’. They see the golden arches or walk past a particular fast food outlet and the nagging begins. Often they’re not even hungry, but know that if they pester hard enough, mum or dad or grandma will give in. Overcoming the pressure kids put on you, usually at a time when your patience is low or you’re tired, can be difficult. Many parents just give in and allow the kids a ‘treat’.

Fast food outlets sell foods with the dreaded high-sugar / high-fat combination, sugary drinks, and specific ingredients to make the food ‘addictive’. Kids love it. Food outlets love it. Our healthy future hates it. As one of our friends says, “These parents are poisoning their kids future health and they don’t know they are doing it. You can see the kids are already putting on weight and NO they won’t grow out of it. As a result, some will have diabetes before they are teenagers and will have shorter lives than their parents. It’s even sadder to contemplate that the underlying reason some parents and grandparents take kids to fast food outlets is that the parents themselves are fast food and sugar-addicted and use the kids as an excuse to get their own fix. Too often we see parents feeding babies sugared juices, fried chips and fried nuggets – doing harm and establishing addicted tastebuds that won’t want to eat real fresh food. They might as well give them a smoke and whiskey at the same time – at least there are laws to stop that!”

Avoid the trap. Determining a strategy before you go can be your saviour. Leave home for your shopping trip immediately after a meal so the kids can’t possibly be hungry. Take some healthy snacks with you: if the kids are truly hungry and not just being opportunistic, they’ll happily eat an apple. Avoid the food court as much as possible by planning your shopping trip and where you’re going.

If you have to venture into the food court near meal time, locate any outlets selling healthy foods – fresh salads are great as long as you avoid sugary dressings. Check out Sumo Salad and Ali Baba (who sell gluten-free meat). Yes, it can be difficult, but there’s often at least one option. If you’re not sure, it will be the one with no kids and small queues.