Should I Speak Up About Feeding Kids Junk?

Have Your Say is a regular feature in which we take a tricky culinary nutrition situation and pass it to our readers for their advice. This week, we received a question from a woman named Anna about a sensitive issue she’s facing in her job as a nanny…

I work as a full-time nanny to a wonderful 3 1/2 year old boy. As per his parents’ request, I feed him mac ‘n’ cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, cookies and chocolate for snacks. I can see the effect this junk food has on his behaviour (tantrums, irritability, refusal to eat any fruits or vegetables, etc.) but I’m scared to broach this with his parents, a.k.a. my employers. How do I approach this? Should I bring up this issue with them, or continue to feed him according to their instructions? I care a ton about this kid and want him to feel his best, but I also don’t want to risk my relationship with his parents… or my job.

– Anna, Toronto


The only thing trickier than wrangling junk food away from your own kids is wrangling it away from other people’s kids. What do you think, Culinary Nutrition Experts, Culinary Nutrition Experts In-Training and readers everywhere?

How can Anna can broach this subject with her employers without bruising egos, or should she keep serving up sugar-filled snacks as per their instructions?

What do you think? Help Anna out with her dilemma in the comments below!
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9 responses to “Should I Speak Up About Feeding Kids Junk?

  1. Carolyn White

    This can definitely be a touchy subject. I suspect the parents are suggesting these foods because that’s what they have ever known their son to eat and like. If they are not health conscious eaters themselves then perhaps these are regular foods for them too. One way you could begin to introduce some healthier options is by cooking some more nutritious dishes and snacks and bringing them for the whole family to try. Sometimes the perception is that if it’s healthy, it’s going to taste terrible. There is nothing like being offered a dish/snack that looks and tastes good and has been made with love to turn that perception around and motivate parents & kids to be more adventurous. Good luck!

  2. Lesley Hadrill @The_YogaWell

    This food nutrition challenge would require some sensitivity, creativity, patience and a light attitude so that the parents feel you are sharing something with them, rather than being contrary to what they have requested. Their choices reflect a lack of nutritional awareness or a possible food rut, so my focus would be to find the best way to introduce some tasty, nutritious child friendly foods that they will also enjoy. I might start this by leaving them each a gift of your best green smoothie decorated with a flower or fruit in a pretty glass in the fridge for them when they get home from work. Bingo!( Get the blood sugar up) I might also make a small bowl of my favourite homemade trail mix and leave that on the counter with some crudités and a bowl of humus for nibbling. I would invite them to taste the snacks by explaining you have discovered these delicious, easy to prepare foods and you wanted to get their feedback on what they thought, as you are pretty sure their little tike will love them! Explain how easy they were to prepare, and that their child was having fun watching you make the smoothie and even helped washed the greens! Be yourself and share from your heart.:)

  3. Vanessa

    That is a tough situation. I wonder though if the parents are asking you to make these foods because they think that they will be easy for you to prepare. You could perhaps mention that you love to cook and would like to do some activities in the kitchen with the boy. Kids love to help with that type of stuff! You could then take pictures to share with the parents since parents love to see what their child has been up to while they are gone. You could both make some fruit and veggie art snacks, healthy muffins, granola, etc to get snacks on the right path. For lunches, you could both make healthier sauces for pasta, make your own pizza on a wrap or finger food style in a muffin tin with lots of colours and textures.
    Since the parents ultimately purchase the groceries, you would need to get them on board. However, if you approach it from the standpoint of an activity and maybe even show them some of the ideas that you have and specific groceries required, I think that they would buy into it.

    1. Sherry

      This is an excellent approach – by focusing on the child and turning it into a fun and educational experience they will most certainly be open to it. The picture idea is brilliant – what parent doesn’t love pictures of their child!

  4. Tanya Smith @drtanyasmith

    It’s a delicate balance but I think Anna can go on the assumption that the parents love their son and want what’s best for him. I certainly think something needs to be said, both for the boy’s health and for reducing the difficult behavior Anna has to deal with.
    It could be as simple as saying,”I have noticed that -son’s name- seems to be interested in the fruits his friends are having at the playgroup. Would it be okay with you if I offered him some fruits and veggies in addition to his regular snacks?”

  5. I agree this is tricky! Do you eat at the same time as this little boy? You could try introducing healthier items that you enjoy along with his less-than-ideal options. If he sees you enjoying fruits, veg and other healthy options, he may decide to follow suit.

  6. Lindsay @lightemitting

    Wow there is some really great advice here already, on what is a tricky subject. I find encouraging healthy living to be a sensitive thing with some people anyway, let along when it comes to their children. I know that Meghan’s advice previously has been to lead by example – you can’t preach or judge or you are more likely to put people off altogether. I guess Anna has to consider that this is her livelihood too and this is her employer, not a friend or family necessarily. I think it would almost be unethical, and probably difficult for Anna, to continue without at least trying to get the boy, and his parents, living healthier. Of course, if they can start to pick up some good habits, hopefully they’ll feel the benefits and get on board with no persuasion necessary. I think people are right by suggesting to keep it light hearted, not to go in with a “health” hat on but just to offer up a few ideas (and yummy healthy treats to taste!) Making it fun for the boy will definitely be a way in. Whip up some speedy superfood cookies! Selling some healthy, friendly tips to the parents based on how great they have made you feel will hopefully do wonders. Glow with enthusiasm and health yourself and perhaps they’ll want to know more about your tricks! Good luck, and remember, just by “leading by example” you are doing a whole lot of good!

  7. Wow, that’s a tough one. I understand that you may want to do what’s best for your charge, and that it’s hard to watch people eat unhealthily, but the bottom line is that parents have the final say in caring fro their children and may not want input. I’ve seen it be tough even on families who don’t share a point of view. My sister in law feeds her kids one way. My mother-in-law wanted to feed them another when she babysat. In the end, my mother in law wasn’t allowed to see the children for at least six months. I agree with some of the suggestions above, you should couch it in the way of information, “what if”, and show that healthy treats can be tasty too. But if they don’t respond, that’s about all you can do. People are very opinionated about food, and if they’re not ready to question their habits and beliefs, they won’t make changes. People seem to change in their own time.

  8. Maria ricci

    I might ask the parents if they would like me to make a healthy family meal one day. I might try polenta pizza with cashew cheese or a pesto base, and toppings like artichokes, olives and shaved onions with mushrooms. Or I might try, ” I just learned that many people have severe reactions to processed foods. What do you think about that?”

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