Dean Levmore posted today about children and their food
habits. He asks why they prefer Oreos and such -- attractively packaged and well-marketed foods – to carrots or
I have three responses. One is that, depending on the age of the child, they don’t. Another is that very young children don’t care in the slightest about brands, and older children only after being taught to care by either peers or parents. Which brings me to my final response (for now); parents (nannies, caretakers, you get the idea – the Food Source) have more to do with their children’s eating habits than anyone or anything else.
Infants eat what you give them. They don’t have much choice,
do they? And while they’ll occasionally demonstrate a profound dislike of a
certain food (bananas) in general they’ll eat anything – healthy or unhealthy.
If provided with an array of reasonably healthy foods young children will eat
what they need. Yes, even that picky eater who doesn’t ever want anything
besides peanut-butter and jelly. Some kids just need peanut-butter and jelly.* There
were studies about this the last time I checked, but I can tell you from
personal observation of
far to many brats snot-nosed wretches darling young
children that they will eat what they need if they are given good options. Not
only that, they will stop eating when they need to stop.
We should keep in mind too that nutritional needs change
over time. As adults 3 oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies and a glass of whole milk
as an afternoon snack is not a good idea. Tasty, yes. Good for the waistline or
heart, no. But for young kids after a hard day at school – excellent.
Speaking of cookies, if you take two different brands of chocolate chip cookies out of their bags and put them on a plate, assuming they’re of more or less equal quality I can assure you that they will all disappear and it’s the rare child indeed who will bother to ask what brand they are. Before a child can read they can recognize packaging, yes. But why should they care? And for that matter, if you’re really concerned about your child’s health – what are you doing feeding them all that pre-packaged food?
*Ducking the stones flung by
parents in double-income households and people who hate to cook.*
It’s true that a lot of disgustingly unhealthy (and yummy)
junk food comes in pretty packages, and meat or cheese or celery not so much,
but so what? We don’t eat packages. And anyone can make an apple look great.
All you have to do is rinse it off and polish it with a dish towel.
I know you’ll protest that the pretty packages and clever
marketing schemes lure you into buying junk food. That, and the addictive
quality of Cheetos. But the person buying the food is the parent, who ideally
knows better. Realistically most parents do know better – they know that fruit’s
a good snack and that too many cookies will make you sick. Doesn’t everyone
remember those silly (and wrong, but never mind) food pyramids? I’d be willing
to bet that most parents at least know that vegetables are good for you, even
if they don’t realize that deep-frying them rather ruins the point.
No child is going to become a diabetic with one glass of
Coca Cola – I’m pretty sure more would have to be going on. But children’s
tastes develop according to what they’re given. So if you provide them with a
varied and interesting diet, and severely limit completely worthless crap such
as soda pop and candy, they’re going to have some decent eating habits. And an
Oreo once in a while won’t hurt them, although a home-made cookie as big as
their head is always better.
Your economic and marketing theories are all very interesting, but feeding children is pretty basic. Even I could do it. (So I let them starve now, that’s beside the point. I did feed them well when they were little. Besides, they can cook for their own selves now.) Don’t point your finger at kids for making bad food choices. Point it at who ever is feeding them. That’s also where they pick up their bad language, I’m sorry to say. But that’s a topic for another day.
*It’s a working assumption of this essay that we are not talking about the 4 (or 14) year old who rules her home with the mighty Temper Tantrum of Death.