Junk Food

Junk-Food Crabbie, crabby"Tempting...Very Tempting"

As you have no doubt noticed from the information on Too-Tired and Hungry, there is certainly overlap associated with the various Crabbies and how they manifest in terms of mood swings, emotions, and behaviors. While we can’t always distinguish each Crabbie completely from the others, there are clues to guide us as to which Crabbie is likely to be infringing on our day. The main point we want to get across is for you to look at various emotions and behaviors as signs that The Crabbies are influencing your child. Then, you may need to do some detective work to figure out which Crabbie is at play so that you can use the best strategies to try to beat that particular Crabbie.

Eating "junk food" has an impact on some children's mood and behaviors. This can be particularly true for foods high in sugar. These foods might put your child on an emotional roller-coaster. Have you ever noticed that one minute your child is expressing glee while eating a chocolate chip cookie and then is in tears a short while later? We offer a very basic summary of why this happens in the 'Why It Works' section.

Children vary in how much they are affected by surges and dips in blood sugar. Some children have a very noticeable mood change after eating junk foods, whereas other children do not seem to be disrupted at all. Pay close attention to how your child acts within the first few minutes after eating various foods. This will give you a hint about whether they are experiencing a "sugar high." Then, also note how they act 20 minutes to an hour later. That will give you a hint about whether they are experiencing a "sugar crash."

Key signs for the Junk-Food Crabbies include:

  • Wild, hyperactive, ‘off the wall’ behavior that can even be destructive or mean-spirited

  • Disagreeable, agitated and angry

  • Impulse control problems (e.g., jumping on furniture, throwing things, running, loud talking)

  • Dramatic swings from high energy levels to sadness or crying

  • Difficulty focusing or inability to settle down

  • Sudden changes in mood or behavior shortly after eating certain foods

If your child can’t focus first thing in the morning it may be related to what he or she is eating (or not eating) for breakfast. The same goes for changes in mood and ability to focus after lunch or snacks. Foods that are high in sugar have a proven and measurable impact on a child’s brain chemistry, which can affect them in many important ways. It is essential to look at what your children are eating and to reduce foods that are high in sugar.

When you take a close look, it is almost astounding how much sugar there is in many foods, especially foods marketed to children. In order to successfully beat the Junk-Food Crabbie, we recommend looking at food labels. It is okay to have an occasional treat, but if your child is eating unhealthy foods frequently, it is almost impossible to avoid the kinds of problems described above. So, learning to beat Junk-Food is important for your child’s social, physical, mental, and academic well-being.



Eating healthy foods is the first defense against the Junk-Food Crabbie. It is equally important to reduce “junk foods” and to limit treats (ice cream, cookies, candy, etc.). If you are going to allow your child to have “junk foods” we recommend doing so only occasionally and after they have eaten a healthy meal. It is important to teach them the difference between “junk foods” and healthy foods so that they can start making good eating choices. Some parents call healthy foods 'growing foods' to teach kids that some foods help them grow and give them energy to have strong bodies.

If you use this Crabbie to your advantage, you can teach children healthier eating habits in a way that is fun and power-struggle free. If you point out how they react to certain foods, children can learn these patterns and will be more likely to choose options that help them feel better.

We have found that after an episode of the Junk-Food Crabbies, it is valuable to sit down and explain that what they ate made them feel or act in a certain way and that together you can make better choices in the future to help them avoid such problems.

For example, we once knew a child who would start crying when the effects of a sugar rush wore off and she experienced the “crash.” When her mother explained that she felt that way because of eating sugar cereals, the little girl made the decision to throw away the entire box and wanted to eat better foods for breakfast. Other children have made choices to eat just a few candies after trick-or-treating and have traded in the rest of their bag to their parents in exchange for a toy.

Examples of foods to reasonably limit include:

  • High sugar cereals, breakfast syrups, donuts, and other pastries

  • Flavored instant oatmeal

  • Fruit roll-ups and packaged “fruit snacks”

  • Soda, juice boxes, and energy drinks

  • Snack cookies and crackers

  • Chips and other salty processed foods

  • Chocolate snacks, hot cocoa, and flavored powder drinks

Some foods can be sneaky, so while you think they may be healthy, they may be loaded with sugar. Read the labels on processed foods, such as:

  • Breakfast bars, granola bars, and other snack bars

  • Juices and sports drinks

  • “Instant” breakfast or meal replacements

  • Yogurts, pudding

For parents looking to optimize nutrition, we recommend focusing on natural, unprocessed, whole foods with high nutritional value, such as fruits, vegetables, proteins (e.g., eggs, poultry, meat, seafood), and healthy sources of fats (e.g., nuts, avocados, coconut, olive oil). Talk to your pediatrician or a nutritionist if you are interested in advice on this topic.