Tips to avoid falling into the junk food trap

You’re running late on Monday and you haven’t had breakfast, so you pick up a muffin and an iced coffee on your way to work.

On Tuesday you sneak a 3pm choccie from the vending machine. Cheap Tuesdays at the movies that night called for a soft drink and before you know it, you’ve impulse brought some lollies.

By Wednesday, the cupboard was looking pretty bare, so you order a pizza and a soft drink.

On Thursday you meet up with a friend for coffee and cake.

Friday night you end up getting churros after dinner to celebrate the start of the weekend.

Saturday you’re at a friends house and you nibble on the chips and dip while the food was cooking, and dinner was followed by birthday cake.

On Sunday morning you get a drive-thru breakfast, then have a muesli bar and a sports drink to tide you over until dinner.

Sound familiar?

There are lots of reasons why junk foods creep into our diet. They’re convenient, tasty, available everywhere and heavily promoted. Foods like the ones above used to be occasional “treats”, but they’re creeping in to our everyday diet. Junk food is everywhere.

Just the “little extras” in the scenario above pack a big wallop. There are about 20,000 kJ (almost 4800 calories) there. That’s one third of someone’s weekly energy requirements blown on three meals and a bunch of snacks. There’s 44 teaspoons of fat (nearly half of that is saturated fat) and almost a cup and a half of sugar right there.

Make no mistake – this is junk food. These foods are energy-dense and nutrient-poor. They contain very little fibre or calcium and there’s barely a vegetable in sight!

Junk foods displace healthy, nutritious foods in your diet. Because you’re filling up on food with little to no nutritional value, you’re not getting enough of the nutrients needed for good health and vitality.
Also, because junk foods have so little nutritional substance, they don’t leave you feeling satisfied and are easy to overeat.

So how can we combat junk food creeping into our diets?

Once you’ve identified where you’re getting tripped up by junk food, it’s easy to make some tweaks. Try these options to avoid falling into the junk food trap:

I’m running late for work or I’m not hungry in the morning so I grab a biscuit or a chocolate mid-morning instead

• Prepare a breakfast the night before that you can eat on the run.
• Eat at work. Keep some breakfast (e.g. cereal, bread, milk) at work. Porridge and raisin toast are quick and easy to make.
• Set aside some time on weekends to bake up a batch of homemade goods and freeze into single packs for a brekkie on the go!
• Start a fruit bowl and grab a piece of fruit on your way out
• Make a smoothie to drink or bring healthy snacks such as fruit, unsalted nuts or yoghurt to eat mid-morning.

No time to pack lunch – avoiding the pie and soft drink from the bakery

• Keep some food staples at work. Try keeping some bread in the freezer, cheese in the fridge, cans of baked beans or tuna in your desk drawer, or hard boil some eggs at the start of the week to grab on the run. This makes it easy to through something together, plus it’s a whole lot cheaper!
• Cook a little extra at dinner and pack leftovers.
• If you must buy your lunch, choose healthier options: sushi, rice paper rolls or a sandwich wrap with lean meat and salad.
• Choose water instead of a sugary drink.

I got home late so I brought a takeaway dinner

• Keep some homemade healthy meals in the freezer for ‘emergency’ nights (pro tip: cook double quantity meals and freeze the extra meal. That way you’ll always have something on hand)
• Choose healthier take-away options with vegetables and salads. Opt out of creamy dressings.

I’m out for dinner and there’s so much junk food on the menu

• Ask for changes when you order. Most kitchens can modify the meal for you. For example, instead of fried battered fish and hot chips, ask for grilled fish and swap the chips for salad, baked potato or cooked vegies. Opt out of creamy dressings and deep-fried vegetables.

I was really good today so I’ll reward myself with some ice-cream and chocolate after dinner

• Have a piece of fruit or some air-popped popcorn. Have your tried ‘fruit pizza’? Watermelon base topped with other fresh fruit – delicious!

The 3pm munchies

• You’ve done so well all day, when suddenly 3pm hits and it all goes downhill. Remove all trigger foods and have healthy alternatives on hand. Keep a box of crackers, unsalted nuts or trail mix in your desk draws.
• Opt for a fruit bowl to replace the biscuit tin or vending machine at work.
• Have a glass of water or a cup of tea and see if you’re still hungry.

Avoiding junk at the petrol station

• Check the cold section for tubs or yoghurt, cheese and crackers, fresh fruit or trail mix.
• Practice the 3 D’s: delay, deep breath and drink water.
• Don’t give in to the ‘discount deals’.

Comfort food snacking

• Ask yourself “am I hungry or thirsty?”. More often than not you’re thirsty in between meals so get into a habit of choosing water over food.
• Eating when you’re bored is not satisfying. Replace the habit with something else. Try calling a friend or go for a walk
• Remove the temptation. Don’t buy it or hide it! If it’s not there or you can’t see it, you can’t eat it!


Help, I’m hungry – what’s in the fridge?

• Keep a cup of sliced vegetables and dip or fruit in the fridge. Despite any grumbles from the kids, don’t give in. If they’re truly hungry they’ll eat it!

Feeling peckish late at night?

• Brush your teeth after dinner, this make the late-night fridge raid less appealing. Too lazy to go upstairs to brush your teeth? Keep another toothbrush and toothpaste downstairs this month!
• Remove all your trigger foods from the house. If it’s not there you can’t eat it.

Office birthday celebration

• Bring in some seasonal fruit to go with it.
• Bake some healthy homemade goodies to share around.

Movie treats

• Have a meal before you go so that you aren’t hungry for a snack.
• Bring your own homemade popcorn, fruit or unsalted nuts & water.
• Have sparkling water instead of a sugary drink.

Snacks at a BBQ

• Fruit and veg platters are cheap, quick and simple to prepare.
• Add a homemade dip to the Veg platter.
• Wait for the main meal rather than filling up on snacks.

Avoiding junk food at the footy

• Bring your own food and drinks, there are lots of healthy options plus it will save you money.
• Choose grilled chicken, a steak or salad sandwich instead of deep fried food.

Sports drinks after sport

• Sports drinks can be loaded with sugar! Be wary of health or nutrition claims on drinks. Marketing often makes beverages sound healthier than they are, so check the amount of sugar on the nutrition panel. Be aware that 4g = 1 teaspoon
• Sports drinks are only better than water (from a hydration point of view) if you’ve been exercising for longer than 90 minutes. Go for water instead!
• Want something other than plain water? Try your own fruit infused flavours or sparkling.

Indoor play centre – ordering coffee and hot chips

• Pack extra water bottles and food for the kids and yourself. Don’t rely on a coffee and hot chips to pass the time.
• Walk around the play centre to avoid prolonged sitting.
• Ask kiosk for a sandwich with salad and multigrain or wholemeal bread.