How to stop your UAE based child turning into a junk food junkie

In desperation to get picky eaters to finish their dinner, parents are offering sweet treats as a reward. Nutritional experts fear this may result in an obese generation hooked on 'bad' food.

Rashi Chowdhary, a nutrition and inch-loss expert. Pawan Singh / The National
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In desperation to get picky eaters to finish their dinner, parents are offering sweet treats as a reward. Nutritional experts fear this may result in an obese generation hooked on ‘bad’ food.

According to recent research conducted by the UK-based Vitabiotics WellKid Baby Drops, parents who bribe fussy eaters are turning their children into junk-food addicts by the age of 3. The study found that one in three parents in the UK deal with fussy eaters by promising them sweets and 60 per cent of children regularly crave sweet treats by the age of 3.

"Bribing children with sweets simply reinforces the notion that what they are eating is not fun or tasty, and that dessert or sweets are more interesting," says Rashi Chowdhary, a Dubai-based -nutrition expert ( "It also makes healthy eating seem like a boring task or chore that needs to be completed."

You don’t need to be a nutritionist to realise that a widespread junk-food addiction could result in a generation of overweight children, particularly since 32 per cent of schoolchildren in Dubai are already overweight or obese, according to the Beat Obesity Campaign.

Obesity is linked to numerous conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and osteoarthritis, which is why it’s essential parents find ways to get their kids to eat without bribing them with sweets.

Here’s how to get your “selective” children to eat a wide and varied diet.

Make vegetables interesting

Steamed or sautéed veggies are a complete failure with most kids. “Try adding caramelised onions, garlic butter, cheese sauce, ranch dressing or nut butters to a portion of veggies,” advises Chowdhary. “This totally improves its kid appeal.

Also, my favourite fact about this is that the moment you add some good fat to veggies, it helps unlock their fat-soluble nutrients, so your child gets more of vitamins A, D, E and K.”

Give up too easily

Sometimes you need to introduce a new food 10-15 times before a child agrees to try it. “We should allow our children to touch and smell food before tasting it and even if they don’t like it, keep trying with the same food every couple of days,” says Chirine Watfa, a dietician at Health Factory, Dubai ( “Make sure you serve the new food in a small quantity along with something your child usually likes.”

Serve meals away from the table

If eating is a problem, your child may associate the kitchen table with negativity, so shake things up and enjoy a meal elsewhere. Have a picnic in the back garden; arrange a tea party with healthy food in your child’s bedroom; or play restaurants and move the meal to another area of the house and pretend that you’re eating out.

Force feed

Forcing your child to eat a certain food will take away their feelings of control and authority. “This instantly creates a negative association with that type of food and means they will probably dislike it for a long time afterwards,” warns Chowdhary.

Keep quiet

It doesn’t help to discuss your child’s fussiness, especially in front of them, as it will just reinforce the fussy behaviour. “Your child’s acceptance to new food largely depends on the environment. Make meal times a happy, pleasant experience,” says Chowdhary. Dealing with selective eaters can be frustrating and parents often make situations worse by letting their emotions get in the mix. “Never take a child’s refusal to eat food personally and do not make the meal time a stressful experience for your child, otherwise his aversion against food will only get worse,” warns Watfa.

Cut out treats altogether

Think moderation. A scoop of ice cream or a couple of biscuits is all right occasionally. If you cut out all the goodies, your kids will be more likely to overeat when they do get them. Just be sure to moderate how many treats they have.

Re-create junk food at home

“Try to create as many healthy versions as you can of their favourite junk food at home as this will help to dampen their temptation,” advises Chowdhary. “Aim to follow the 80-20 rule throughout the week. If they ask for an occasional burger with fries, let them go ahead and enjoy their junk food. Deprivation, force feeding and constant nagging never work with kids.”

Allow endless snacks

“If you keep giving your child biscuits, juice and milk whenever they want them, it will make it harder for them to eat a complete meal at lunch or dinner time as they may simply not be hungry enough,” says Watfa.

Make food fun

“Introducing a new food to kids is challenging, so it’s important to present the food in a fun way,” says Watfa. “Allow your child to draw a face or animal shape with the food; cut the food into sticks; or let your kids use cookie cutters.” Go slowly with new food, introducing one new food at a time so they are not overwhelmed.