Why I Think Giving Kids Junk Food "Only On Special Occasions" Is Seriously Harmful
Before I give you advice about how to raise your children, let me start by saying that one, I’m not a parent, and two, I don’t even have that much experience with children.
I have, however, spent a lot of time with people’s childhood memories and feelings and their troubled "inner child."
As a hypnotherapist, I work with many clients who have food addictions or want to lose weight. They want to be healthy and they want it badly. But something keeps them reaching for the chocolate cake against their conscious wishes — particularly when they feel tired, stressed, or upset.
So what's holding them back from changing?
Yes, sugar is addictive and that’s part of it. But as with many addictions, the psychological factors are usually bigger than the physical ones. And I believe a lot of that goes back to feelings from when they were a child.
Throughout childhood, we are taught that unhealthy food means celebration and happy feelings.
The big problem is that somewhere in most people’s childhood, an adult has instilled the idea that unhealthy, high-sugar, high-calorie food equals love. Food Is Happiness. Food Is Celebration. Food Is Care. And that connection has been reinforced and strengthened throughout their lives.
To illustrate this, just think about the ways junk food and sugar are usually presented to kids throughout childhood:
- On birthdays, we give children processed food, cake, and ice cream to commemorate their special day. We throw them parties at places like McDonald's.
- During the holidays, we indulge in rich food, cookies and chocolates as a way to celebrate and connect with loved ones.
- After a trip to the doctor or dentist, we give kids lollipops or sweets to reward them for good behavior, or help console them.
- Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends give kids candy or junk food to demonstrate their love or show affection.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Throughout childhood, we are taught that unhealthy food is strongly connected with happy events and feelings.
I’m not condemning parents or trying to shame anyone here. This is a pattern and tradition that most of us grew up with ourselves, and wanting to make your child happy is a natural instinct. Plus, the idea of giving our children sweets "only on special occasions" seems like a responsible parenting move.
The problem, though, is that when that child becomes an adult and has access to sweets whenever they want, it can become hard to control. They chase that "special occasion feeling" from their childhood by bingeing on the same foods. And that ultimately leads to unhealthy, overweight adults.
You're not depriving your child — you're giving them the gift of long-lasting health and emotional freedom.
How to Stay Healthy & Still Celebrate: A Guide for Parents
If you're an adult with food addictions, and these childhood feelings resonate with you, becoming aware of this pattern is the first step toward breaking it.
But if you're currently a parent, there are also a number of things you can do now to help prevent your child from going down this path. Here’s what I recommend:
1. Mark happy occasions with fun, healthy food.
At your own kids’ birthdays, aim to create wholesome yet beautiful and delicious food. Use brightly colored fruits and vegetables, create low-sugar treats, and serve juices full of veggies instead of soft drinks.
Overall, place the focus of the celebration on the activities and the joy in spending time together rather than on the food.
2. Choose gifts and rewards that are more meaningful than sweets.
Give your children love, rewards, or consolation with gestures of time and care instead of sugar.
When you don’t have time for one-on-one outings, give books, games, art supplies, or sporting equipment. They'll likely even appreciate those more than sweet treats.
3. Explain your food choices to your children.
When your kids go to other kids’ parties, don’t try to prevent them from joining in with the festive food — no one enjoys feeling like the odd one out.
Instead, be honest and open in explaining why you choose different food at home, and let them know that the odd unhealthy meal is okay.
4. Tell family members and friends about your philosophy.
Explain to your loved ones why you aren't celebrating or rewarding with sweets, so everyone's on the same page. Ask them to bring non-food gifts or healthier options when they visit for the holidays or attend a birthday party.
Most of all, remember that you're not depriving your child — you are giving them the gift of long-lasting health and emotional freedom.
What could be a more loving gift than that?