By Anna Soref, Contributing Editor, Organic Connections
Yesterday my daughter told me that kids in the school cafeteria gathered around her while she ate quinoa and tempeh from her Thermos. “What is that?” they inquired. We recently moved to Cleveland from Boulder, Colorado, and super grains and fermented soy aren’t the norm here. I get it.
But what about the kids who can’t identify a cucumber or zucchini? Or my 10-year-old’s friends who can only eat cheese, flour, sugar and salt when they come over? Planning for a play date requires a special trip to the grocery store. “Mom, we have to get juice; Tanya won’t drink water.” Or, “Mom, we have to get pregrated cheddar cheese and white pasta; it’s all that Rachel will eat.”
I think much of today’s childhood obesity epidemic results from catering to kids. Somewhere between the 1980s and the present day our desire for constantly smiling offspring birthed a new cuisine; I call it Kid Food.
Kid Food commands shelf space at grocery stores, separate menus at restaurants, and teams of advertising executives spending millions on marketing the stuff. They do a good job.
Part food and part toy, Kid Food attracts with neon blues, greens and reds; fun shapes like dinosaurs and stars beckon children to the table, and irresistible cartoons and games adorn packaging. The predictable flavors deliver just what these youngsters are craving: sweet Kid Food gives that intense refined-sugar fix, while savory options bathe their taste buds in salt and flavor enhancers.
Kid Food does well at getting our wee ones to eat. The problem is what they’re eating. Most Kid Food is laden with artificial colors and sweeteners, salt, and GM and processed ingredients, and the list goes on from there.
“Oh, well,” I hear many parents lament, “Johnny will learn to eat ‘real’ food when he’s an adult.” But it’s pretty hard to go from Kid Food to Real Food. I imagine the shift is more likely to adult forms of Kid Food—fast foods that are also salt and sugar laden. To make the jump from Kid Food to Real Food would require a thorough education in nutrition, shopping, cooking and eating.
Kid Food teaches our children that food comes in a package and is always a microwave minute away from ready. It primes their taste preferences for a lifetime of similar flavors.
Some might say Kid Food exists because parents are so busy. But if we simply feed the kids what we’re eating, it’s one less thing to prepare. Unfortunately it’s now widely perceived that kids require their own food, something akin to our pets requiring Pet Food.
When it comes to food in this country, we are all children. Americans must learn to eat again. We need to remember that children, and grown-ups, can eat unadulterated food that wasn’t created to entertain.
Sometimes I get hung up on where the lesson will come from. Then I remember that the teaching and inspiration must arrive from multiple sources in order to resonate with everyone—the government, our children, the media, and our loved one who dies too young from diabetes or heart failure.
Organic Connections recently reported on health and food safety groups banding together to try and stop companies marketing unhealthy foods to children with toys, alluring colors and trademarked characters. It’s grassroots efforts such as these that are the fuel to start a fire.
As for my daughter, don’t worry; I’m not a Food Tiger Mom. Chloe indulges in neon-colored cupcakes and potato chips and she loves sucking down a good juice box. But she doesn’t require Kid Food to eat a meal.
Anna Soref is the former editor in chief of Natural Foods Merchandiser magazine, a leading B-to-B publication serving the natural products industry. She has been a contributing writer for numerous trade and consumer natural health publications, including Yoga Journal, Whole Living, TheHerb Quarterly, Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals, and Vegetarian Times. Anna is a frequent speaker at events, such as the Natural Products Association’s MarketPlace, HBA Global Expo, SupplySide West, and Natural Products Expo West and East.
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