Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Be Realistic, Give Your Kids Cheetos


I’ve mentioned Fooducate before. Via a supermarket app and blog, Fooducate exposes helps consumers and readers navigate today’s complicated food maze. In early May, I read a post from a fellow nutrition colleague entitled “My Kid Likes Junk Food and That’s OK” that may have had good intensions but rubbed me the wrong way. The gist of the post was that your kids are going to eat junk food due to media exposure and taste. You can serve quality at food home but you can’t compete with Lunchables’ millions of advertising dollars. Be realistic, you can’t live in a bubble (made of “flax and unrefined flour”) if you child wants Cheetos, so be it.

The timing of this post was interesting; I had just come from my 10-year-old's check up. At the end of the annual visit our pediatrician has my son leave the office and then discusses milestones for each age. I was told I was going to get questions about lots new subjects at this age. Dr R explained there were two things not to do when fielding questions. “If you’re asked if you’ve ever been drunk you don’t want to dismiss the question or glorify it." You don’t want to say, “how could you ask such a thing?” or “sure I have and you will too it’s fun.”  Rather, give a little information and move on.  If subtext of the first response is ignore it and it will go away, the second is from the school of “cool parenting”. I see both approaches when it comes to food and they don’t work in this domain either. Even those “cool parents” would think it wildly inappropriate for me to say “I know you’re going to get drunk in the future so here’s a shot of Patron.”

If the intent of “Cheetos are fine” advice is to put parents at ease, I am all for that. However, I think many parents swing way to far the other way in an effort not to be overly restrictive. This was my comment on the Fooducate site.
I like the idea that parents who are new to the healthy table shouldn't feel it's too late to make changes. However, I feel part of my boys' education is teaching them about food, ingredients and health. Though my kids have had Doritos, I don't need to buy them even "sometimes". My kids have tortilla chips or chips but they don't need preservatives, trans fats and food coloring to taste good. I've also worked with the grandparents and other family members suggesting alternatives to some of the things served. When approached without judgment, these substitutions have been well received. I get the "kids will have Oreos and soda in their lifetime" argument. I just feel that despite millions of dollars encouraging kids to eat Lunchables we still, as parents of young children, can have more influence.

I’m grateful to some fantastic companies: Purely Elizabeth, Stretch Island, Hint Water, Glow Gluten Free, Food Should Taste Good, Pirate Brands, Vigilant Eats and Pure Bar.  I’ve brought these foods for carpool, to my children’s sports teams and birthday parties. Treats and “fun” food can be a part of childhood. We just don’t have to do PR for soda or Doritos; they already have plenty.
What do you think is the biggest challenge in feeding kids a healthy diet? What do think of givings kids junk so that they don't feel restricted? Would you buy your children Lunchables if asked? 

30 comments:

  1. fullbellysistersMay 23, 2012 at 3:34 AM

    Absolutely agree. Especially these days, when less-junky treats are pretty accessible - I mean, Target carries organic fruit leathers, Trader Joe's has organic tortilla chips, etc -  it's easier to make "treat" choices that are a bit healthier (or at least less destructive).

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  2. My biggest challenge feeding the grandchildren is time. I like for them to have good food at my house and I always make a proper meal without boxes. They see me peel, scrape, cut, clean, dice and slice. Breakfast is easiest. At home they get frozen pastries. At my house, scrambled eggs. It's appalling to me that anyone buys Lunchables ever. Obviously bad nutrition-who thinks that is acceptable? My mom hatred cooking and I got lots of Hamburger Helper, but it would never have crossed her mind to throw me a slice of lunchmeat and a cracker and call it good. The other thing that galls me is how simple it is, if you DO buy Lunchables, to do it up yourself. What a waste of money! Frugal isn't hip these days, I guess.

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  3. My mom used to let us try stuff and then ask us what we liked and didn't like about it. Haha I remember she was so relieved when my sister and I thought the pizza lunchables were nowhere near as cool as they looked on TV. 

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  4. Gina (Candid RD)May 23, 2012 at 4:36 AM

    I'll be honest, I grew up in a household where my mom was very strict about what I ate, which was great in many ways, but I think it also effected me negatively in others. I will not buy those foods and keep them in our house, but I will be ok if my children eat them at other places that I can't control.  And, I will allow them to buy those types of foods on occasion (like Lucky Charms...I mean...that's a classic!).  I don't want to be the food "Natzi" like my brother calls me". But I do want to educate without nagging.  I don't know if things will change when I actually have a child. We'll see.....
    You make a lot of valid points.

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  5. Totally, thus perpetuating my thinking that the "real" aka nasty is needed for the cool/casual factor. 

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  6. Agree jess and that's why I don't get the "it tastes good" junk food argument in Fooducate piece, most of it tastes fake and over sugared/salted to me.

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  7. Are you a "nazi" (don't love that word for food) to eat Organic pretzels versus regular? I think our classics are often chemical messes maybe we need to redefine that.

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  8. Never underestimate your kids either. We never buy commercialized junk food and from the the time our kids could understand, we have told them why.  The kids know that the goal of advertising is to make them want products they don't need just so the company can make a profit.  We've explained how bad artificial ingredients are and what "preservatives" are.   I am so proud that my kids know what the industry is all about and choose not to participate, even when given the choice.  They are content with their organic kid snacks, as well as their homemade ones.  It really hasn't been a challenge since they eat very delicious stuff and don't feel shortchanged. 

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  9. I will say that I totally agree that kids can eat the organic or "natural" junk food type snacks, like the Pirate or Food Should Taste Good brands that you mention.  (FWIW I love Hint water but my husband and son won't go near it.  But they both love Pirate Booty.)  There's no reason these foods can't stand in for Cheetos, although they all need some moderation.  But as you say, they are all going to encounter an Oreo at some point.  I like the analogy to drinking.  I like to follow kind of an 80/20 rule with food - I figure that 80% of the time, I can have some reasonable control over what my son eats, and I can make sure it's pretty healthy.  That way, the other 20% of the time, I don't have to worry too much.  When we're on vacation and he wants a soda or ice cream or a hot dog, it's fine.  We're not on vacation all the time and I don't want to fight about it.  When he's at school or a birthday party, I just don't have that much control and he's only 6 so that's not getting any better.  All I can do is teach him what's healthy and what's not.

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  10. I totally agree. My parents would buy me whatever I wanted, within reason, and it turned out I thought lunchables were horrible and I HATED soda, even though my parents always had it in the house. I remember always having to ask for water at birthday parties as a kid because all they had to drink was soda. I did love me some birthday cake though, and still do.

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  11. Jen, I think the teaching is key and glad you approve of the snacks. Have you tried Hint Fizz? Trust me, I'm not an advocate of making a scene or forbidding anything, I just don't have to purchase or encourage it. Thanks for commenting.

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  12. So well articulated. Why do people think a life without root beer and cool ranch is sad? Diabetes and heart disease are sad and the food we eat is wholesome and delicious often produced with care in smaller batches (you know what I mean).

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  13. As the author of the post, I'm grateful to see more discussion on the topic. Thank you for sharing it with your readers. The intention of my post was to reassure parents that just because their child wants junk food or reacts positively to commercials (or an item in a friend's lunchbox), it doesn't make them a bad parent ("Oh no, I haven't taught my child well enough!") and it doesn't mean their child is doomed to be a junk food junkie. The focus on whole foods, while fantastic, also causes many parents a lot of guilt, worry, and feelings of insecurity. The intention of my post was not, as you say, "if your child wants Cheetos, so be it", but rather to say, Does your child see the commercial for Doritos and want some? Of course he does--this is what the food marketers are doing successfully. But you can counteract this by educating him about these kinds of foods--which I do, and which I think is important because they are everywhere and can't be avoided. I also occasionally allow my kids to have these foods when we are out and about. I want them to know what they taste like and learn how to navigate them, since I won't always be there beside them. I have a hard time seeing how the organic or natural version of chips or fruit roll-ups is a much better alternative, since I view them as classes of foods that I treat similarly--we treat fruit snacks as a candy-type treat, whether they're made with artificial or natural dyes. Ditto for potato chips. But as with everything, you have to do what works for your kids and family. I was sharing my approach.

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  14. Sally, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Agree that kids may ask about and want junky foods and parents of course can't be held responsible for this. My kids want to stay up really late, they sometimes argue with each other and don't want to make their beds. Clearly, we can't expect our children only want things we feel are positive. Parents food guilt shouldn't be a reason to encourage junky food. How can we make whole foods easier and less complicated for parents? As for trial by fire with food with terrible ingredients, I see no reason why buying a child Dorritos helps them "navigate" any better than looking at the label and pointing out what's in it. If my kids can have a snack without food dyes, HFCS, MSG made with organic ingredients- I see that as a MUCH better alternative. Side by side Food Should Taste Good versus a Cheeto, really you see those as the same? Hmn. Granted, we do these as treats and fruit, vegetables, yogurts and nuts are our go-to snacks. Different approaches, hopefully people can see our posts as 2 options and see what makes sense for them. 

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  15. I don't have kids, so I guess I can't really have an opinion on this.  But I agree with your sentiment that parents have more influence than advertisers. 

    Story time: When I taught first grade, we had weekly raw fruit and vegetable tasting events.  Several parents were skeptical and told me that their children would refuse to eat them.  But they didn't!  The kids LOVED our fruit parties.  We also tracked how many servings of raw fruits and veggies children brought for lunch and snack and had a huge ongoing graph each month (but I set the ground rules that we would only count the ones that actually got eaten, after one little guy proudly showed off his red peppers...right before tossing them in the garbage).  At the beginning of the year, about a quarter to a third of kids brought in produce.  By December, every single child brought in at least two servings of fruits and veggies, and some brought three or four.  And they ate them.  And they loved them.  Even the kids whose parents told me they hated fruits and veggies.  Tastes can change!  And a little bit of positive peer pressure, role modeling and exposure can be a powerful thing.

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  16. great story stephanie and proof that our children don't suffer when they're not eating what's pushed on television. We don't have to do what's easy and we can aspire to change what "kid foods" are. 

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  17. Today, my answer is clearly "no." I will not buy the kid Lunchables. Ever. However, when the "young adult" (my older son who is now in college) was little, I did buy Lunchables occasionally.

    My reasoning at the time was that I didn't want to be too strict. My mom was very "extreme" when it came to food (I do appreciate what she did today!). She grew her own food, made EVERYTHING from scratch, canned tons of vegetables, etc. We never had soda, ice cream, or cookies in the house. We didn't have a freezer and never bought frozen food. We hardly ever ate out. I remember secretly going to McDonald's for the first time when I was 15 with a friend, and I felt so much guilt.

    Looking back, I really appreciate the great food we ate. However, there was a time when I didn't appreciate it. In fact, soon after I moved out, I went through a "junk food phase." I bought frozen food, ate at McDonald's, etc. I remember thinking, "See. It's not that bad for you. I don't even gain weight. I am healthy." Clearly, my thinking was very flawed, and thankfully my junk food phase didn't last very long. However, it made me think a lot how I wanted to approach food with my kids. I didn't want to have things that were completely off limits (and thereby became more interesting).

    To be honest, the young adult never liked Lunchables, so I stopped buying them pretty quickly. I did buy some snack foods/soda once in  a while when he was young, but the focus was on healthy foods. And after two years in college, I think he has pretty good food habits and sometimes even texts me photos of the food he cooks.

    In the years since the younger kid was born, we don't buy soda or chips, etc. anymore. We talk a lot about healthy foods, and he is actually very interested in eating healthy foods (although he has weird food habits and gets obsessed with food...). It'll be interesting to see what he does once he is college...

    Sorry for the insanely long comment...

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  18. Lauren, I love your Dr. R. for addressing the issue of how to tell our kids the truth while empowering them to make good choices -- perhaps better than the choices we made.

    I think it's our job as parents to educate our kids about healthy eating. If you just go with the flow nowadays, you'll likely end up overweight or obese, since 2/3 of the population is overweight or obese. If you want a different outcome you need to be different.

    I don't think there's a recipe regarding how strict a parent needs to be. Obviously, feeling too restricted and too different can make a kid miserable. Personally, I don't allow junk at home -- we eat dessert occasionally, and there's chocolate in the house always, but we never buy highly processed junk and sugary drinks. I don't interfere with what my kids do at parties and out of home, but I'm glad to say they avoid the colorful and super junky foodstuffs and have zero desire for fast food -- they don't think it's worth eating.  

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  19. Great topic Lauren! I think I always say that ha. This is a tough one, especially since I'm about to have a baby myself. I want her to be healthy and fit and not be influenced by the environment around her. However, I know how UN-realistic that it. I can only hope that I can teach her about nutrition growing up and even though I realize she WILL have soda, pop, and prolly fast food at some points in her life, she will know that those are not every day foods. I hope. I don't want to be too restrictive bc I know that can make kids rebel but after working in an afterschool program for several months I have realized that KIDS realize their food choices aren't healthy and SOME of them actually want to make better choices. It's up to us to educate! Just have to keep taking steps in the right direction.

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  20. Love the long comment and thank you for the insight. It's interesting with your kids Andrea how you had a different approach for each of them. I think we see that you can rebel from a food perspective if parents are health oriented or when they are lax, maybe experiment is a better word. I have yet to see the proof that desensitizing kids by purchasing junky food makes them more balanced etc.

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  21. I love Dr R and love that advice extends beyond the physical/medical. I like what you said about there being no one recipe and I think that speaks to the fact that some kids enjoy seeking out healthy and others (I have one of each) are lured in by the idea of junky stuff. However, I think buying junk is another story. We cannot "go with the flow" as you said, it's a different time than our parents lived in both in terms of availability and health issues young people face. 

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  22. how could I forget Herbal Water??

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  23. The nice thing Erin is that with very young children you really make many of their food choices for them. And as kids get older they grasp concepts of health, ingredients and you may not need to do any policing. I worry that the word restrictive is something that so many people fear. Healthy, delicious and well-informed doesn't ever have to go into the restrictive category. 

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  24. Really interesting post. I don't have children so at this point I don't have any experience trying to feed someone, but think the main point is to educate your kids about the dangers of people, substances, foods, activites while still keeping an open dialog with them and not making the world seem all bad.  It does make me think back to my childhood when my mom's talk on drugs and sex consisted of "Your father had a really bad reaction to pot when he smoked it in Vietnam" and "I had unprotected sex three times, I have three children..do the math."  BTW...asked my dad about the "bad reaction" he had...he didn't know what I was talking about.  My mom lied!!

    I see lots of teenagers in the ER, many high on prescription drugs.  I have really tried to talk to them to see where is all started.  Most drug dealers will give them the narcotics for free the first time, then wham bam you are hooked. I am sure not everyone agrees but I feel like advertiser for crap/junk food are just as bad. 

    Will my (hopefully future) kids drink, try pot, drink soda etc? Probably, but I hope that through educating myself about better choices will help them make good ones. Also, I plan on giving my nephews and all my future children tours of the ER and trauma unit to scare them!

    We didn't have much junk in my house, but we had some great food.  I think one way not to be to restricted is to make the treats yourself with good ingredients and let your kids be the judge.  My parents are both incredible cooks.  I would take my dad's mac and cheese over kraft any day of the week and my mom makes the best flourless chocolate cake in the world.

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  25. I love what you say about the good food makes you feel less restricted. And I can't believe your mom lied to you. 

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  26. I agree that Food Should Taste Good and Cheetos, just to use the same two examples you did, should both be classified as "sometimes" or "20 % foods" if you follow that rule, but I would always choose the less processed food any time, as I absolutely agree with you that there is a difference, and I am all for getting away from all the heavily processed foods, additives, chemicals, GMOs, etc, because I do think they have negative effects on our health. That being said, my children have had processed foods outside of the house, and I really don't worry about it, because I educate them on what's in their food. As parents, I do think we have a lot of influence on what our kids eat, but I also see the influence of my kids peers as they get older, and it goes both ways. I've seen "Cheetos" bags in my daughters lunch box that she got from a friend a school, but I've also had my daughter ask for seaweed in her lunch because her friend was eating it. It's time like these I really wish parents were more cognizant of what they are putting in their kids lunch boxes!

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  27. You just made me think of something EA, when packing a child's lunch you're influencing my child. One of my son's sports teams has really conscious parents and together we changed the after game snack. Since we were all on the same page and brought fruit-based snacks, there were no complaints and nobody was the healthy stand out. 

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  28. Biggest challenge with my two year old?  Everyone else.  My daughter actually eats really well.  Eats veggies, fruits, whole grains, nuts....all really great stuff.  The problem comes in when she's been at someone else's home too long.  Then it's.....I want crackers....ice cream.......processed cereal.  We've never made her special 'kid food' at home or ordered off a kids menu for her.  She's always understood that food we eat is food you eat.  Only.....everyone else thinks kids will ONLY eat chicken fingers and fries.  Or that 'animal crackers' are a healthy snack.  So, naturally, when she comes home she wants that stuff.  We're always just trying to find a balance.

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  29. I've never purchased Doritos. Or Cheetos. Or Lunchables. And I never will. Will Maya eat them at some point? Probably. But I don't need to give them to her at home. 

    I agree...there are many sufficient alternatives out there. It's not like I'm depriving my child.

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  30. oh Wow...Lauren...THANK YOU for this post:) I try so hard with my two year old and four year old to encourage healthy eating habits but ...last week...waiting for our delayed flight to Minnesota to visit the grandparents..I broke down and bought them each a bag of Cheetos. At the time, I felt like a total parenting failure:) Thank you for making it clear that its the overall plan and not one serving of Cheetos that matters here... 

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