Home > Abnormal Food Behaviors & Attitudes > When healthy kid foods pose as junk food

When healthy kid foods pose as junk food

Cheetos are commonly considered a junk food.

Is that a bunch of baby carrots? Or wait, is it Cheetos? Or does it matter? Image via Wikipedia

It all started with desperate moms pureeing veggies and concealing them in brownies or other nutritionally depleted foods that “kids will eat” without a war. Instead of leading kids in the education of their tastes and affections, we let them lead us, by the nose. Our only hope is to trick the little beasts.

Then today I read a mom’s recommendations on how to buy better-for-you packaged stuff so kids can feel like everybody else at school. The key is that it be in real, store-bought packages with attractive logos and brand names. If we can fool kids into thinking they’re eating the processed junk their friends eat, they will be likelier to like it, and like us. They’re likelier to like themselves, and be liked. Nuts in a machine sealed bag are OK; nuts in a lowly baggie from home will make your child ashamed. Applesauce in a factory sealed package make the cut; applesauce in a reusable container from the kitchen will strike at the poor child’s confidence and hope of a social life.

Minutes later, I read of an ad campaign selling baby carrots as junk food. Can we get kids to eat more carrots by getting carrots classified as junk food? Can we make kids think they’re eating something along the lines of Cheetos? They’re both orange.  Maybe if they’re eaten quickly enough and at a little distance from peers’ eyes and ears, they could actually pass for Cheetos at the school lunch table, if packaged well.  I wonder what else we could pull the same trick with? Peeled boiled eggs in air-tight, brightly colored, stay-fresh packages with a cartoon face drawn on, branded something like Eggheads? No, we don’t want them to realize they’re eating an egg. How about Dumbheads? Nevertheless, the possibilities are endless.

Is this what it’s come to?

It reminds me of the mom who tricked her child into eating “vegetables” by giving her a vegetarian corn dog. The child thought she was eating a “real meat” hotdog. I just don’t even know what to say about that. That’s a good one.

Without going into the extra costs of buying food that’s pre-packaged and branded when we could get plain old bare whole foods and package them ourselves, and without talking about what garbage the food manufacturers are sure to add to whatever edible they package, what are we thinking?

Instead of following kids’ ignorant and immature lead, or the lead of unscrupulous manufactured foods producers, can we teach our kids to be smarter and stronger here? Can we have higher expectations of our little humans?

Can we teach kids to be proud of eating what’s good for them instead of the crap that’s killing people? Can we encourage them to be OK with being different when being different is a good thing? Can we teach them to scorn junk food? Can we teach them to dread it? Can we understand how they feel, while sticking to doing the best thing for them? If they can’t even stand up to the peer pressure of eating junk food instead of real food with their friends at school, if we cushion them even from that tiny discomfort, how much spine are they going to demonstrate with the rest of life’s challenges?

If we trick them into eating relatively healthy stuff by disguising it as junk, don’t they just stay on the road of valuing junk? What happens when they make their own food choices?

I can understand the potential difficulties for a child: I remember taking sandwiches on homemade bread in my lunch. I felt different and weird. If you tell kids you’re making homemade bread because you can’t afford “real” or “boughten” (as we called it) bread, how proud of being different are they going to be?

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s all in the packaging, once again.

What if you tell them instead a positive message about why you don’t give them poisons in their lunch? Tell them the benefits of better food, and consistently and without apology give them real food that’s so delicious and enticing that they develop a true affection for it?  Show them how you’ve outsmarted advertisers who only want your money and don’t care if you die. Tell them about the deliberate and important choices you make on their behalf and invite them to buy in. Empower them to be the trendsetters at the school lunch table instead of letting the herd lead the way unchallenged.

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair.

Related post:  Getting Kids to Eat: Assume the Best

  1. December 1, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Wow, great post!! I do have to sneak the veggies in my childs food. But we have discussions about the damage many of the additives/chemicals can do. We talk about how sugar rots your teeth and makes you sick. He’s only 5, so far I think he feels pretty good about his diet (he has food allergies as well). He will say “Mommy, you make me the good kind of ____ (cookies, bread, crackers, etc)”. Hopefully that will stay with him. We have also discovered bento boxes for him to take his lunch in, he thinks those are pretty cool.

  2. Nikki
    November 13, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Thumbs up!!

  3. Anna Migeon
    September 10, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Thank you, Greg!! Thanks for reading my blog!

  4. September 10, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Brilliantly written Anna!

  5. Julie Migeon
    September 8, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Salut Anna,
    Je révise mon anglais en lisant tes articles qui sont très intéressants, en attendant l’arrivée de bébé, que j’essaierai de nourrir le mieux possible !
    Bise à toute la famille et bon anniversaire à Alex,
    Julie from France

    • Anna Migeon
      September 9, 2010 at 5:09 pm

      Hi Julie, I’m going to answer in English for the sake of any other readers! Also so you can continue to practice your English! We are excited about becoming great-aunt and uncle for the first time! Since you are concerned about feeding your baby well, I hope you are planning to breast feed. It is so much better than formula and is the best foundation for good health. I hope breast feeding is a bit more “a la mode” in France now than it was when I had my babies there. I didn’t know anything about doing it but knew I wanted to. I got very little help or encouragement. No one seemed to have any knowledge or value it much. And while it’s a very “natural” thing, there are things to know about it to succeed. I asked Mami how long one might expect to breast feed and she said, “Oh, maybe eight days.” I knew that wasn’t the right answer for me! How much good could that do? I suppose it’s better than nothing, but not much. My neighbor lady told me, when she found out I was still nursing Erika at four months, that “we French women don’t have milk that long.” I bought an American book all about breast feeding when I had Erika and that helped me a lot. I nursed her about 11 months, Alex about seven. Maybe I can find you that book I had and you can really practice your English! Ca me fait tres plaisir que tu lise mon blog! Merci pour ton message! Bon continuation avec ta grossesse!

  6. Anna Migeon
    September 6, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    Dear Natalia, thanks for reading and for your question! I am going to answer you about all of it, but haven’t been able to get to it yet. Didn’t want you to think I was not going to answer.

    I read the article you pointed me to about the neophobic child. More on all that later, but I did want to tell you I had seen something along those same lines about the addicted rats, and commented on it in one of my posts: https://sacredappetite.wordpress.com/2009/07/22/eating-mindfully-how-to-keep-kids-from-getting-fat-by-turning-on-to-better-food/
    Maybe it’s also something of an answer to your husband’s idea that kids need junk food not to feel deprived. More later…

  7. September 4, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    Hi! I’m a pretty new subscriber and really like your take on these issues. My dh feels that they need a little junk food to not feel deprived, but I disagree and feel it just creates an appetite that eventually does end up making them feel deprived when they eat healthily.

    I just read this article (short and sweet) http://www.ethicurean.com/2010/08/18/neophobia-101-when-picky-eaters-confound-ethicureanish-intentions/ and found it fascinating and would love to hear your take on it.

    Also the other day, listening to a fact-show on the radio [so it must be true ;)], I heard that there was an experiment with rats where they were fed junk food. They developed changes in their brain similar to those of humans with addictions. They would put up with unpleasant electric shocks in order to eat more of it, even when warned the shocks were coming. And then when junk food was removed and replaced with healthy food, the rats volunarily starved themselves! (I don’t know how far they went with this, whether they starved themselves to death or nearly to death, or just for a long time, it’d be good to know).

    It was almost like once they were on a diet of junk food, it was a permanent addiction. I know rats are different from humans, but it’s a very interesting experiment, and makes one wonder whether just removing junk food and only serving healthy is going to be enough for some people.

    I appreciate all your insights and thanks for the blog!

    • Anna Migeon
      September 9, 2010 at 8:36 am

      Hello again Natalia, I was also fascinated to read about the neophobic child. Thanks for that link! I think that child is an usual one, from what the writer says.

      What she does not say is how it all started. That’s what I want to know. Maybe the mom doesn’t see how it started. She seems to think some kids are just this way. Certainly some are more likely to become this way based on personality. I just don’t see how a child is going to become food resistant and neophobic, though, unless someone pushes them to eat. If food is presented and nobody tries to force eating, at all, I just don’t see it. My guess is that parental pushiness is at the root. They probably were working way too hard to make her eat. In my experience, that is ALWAYS where the problem comes from.

      Also she mentions that the girl wouldn’t eat “anything that wasn’t a white carbohydrate.” To me, that means when she didn’t eat what they wanted her to eat, they gave her what she would eat. There seems to have been plenty of exposure to bad foods. They were giving her white carbs, clearly; she apparently knew all about macaroni and cheese, cookies, chicken strips, french fries and Dippin’ Dots. How else do they know she eats these things? My guess is that they decided it was better that she eat junk than that she not eat at all. They couldn’t let her be hungry. I see that all the time. This girl is definitely eating more than they seem to say, or she would probably be dead. I don’t think she’s “skipping meals,” so much as just skipping the meals her parents want her to eat and eating the junk she wants to eat instead. She’s getting by somehow and it’s not by magic or an abnormal lack of the need to eat.

      I think a huge power battle was going on. They’re pushing, she’s completely resistant, and getting what she wants when she resists. She had them where she wanted them. She was able to feel important, powerful and the center of attention by refusing to eat. It was working for her, thanks to the reactions of her parents. I know I’m judging without all the facts, but this is my take on the facts as presented. I’m pretty sure they were fussing at her to eat or the problems could not have started.

      They just wanted it so bad, they thought they were going to do everything perfectly this time. But eating has to be triggered from within, not from someone else’s desire. They were probably just so keen on everything being perfect when this girl was born that she saw that and felt smothered. The parents’ desire killed her desire. However, I know there are kids who are psychologically abnormal. There aren’t enough details to know what went wrong in this situation. Now if a kid is truly starving themselves, that’s call for professional help. But I don’t think this girl has been starving herself.

      I think if we present good, healthy foods to our kids with NO PRESSURE EVER to eat anything at all, and do not bring in alternatives, junk foods that allow children to survive without eating healthy foods, all while being neutral, unemotional and cheerful, everything is going to be just fine. Kids HAVE to eat. We have them where we want them! This is not a process that requires hovering, controlling, pushing and prodding. All that’s counterproductive. It’s the application of pressure and the fear of letting them be hungry that causes imbalances in what should be a natural and self-propelling process: kids are hungry, we serve them tasty, healthy foods, we leave them alone, they eat. If they don’t eat once, they’re ready to eat the next meal. All foods look good when you’re hungry enough. I once read kids will eat rocks if that’s all they’re given as food.

      The writer says they don’t “make a big deal” out of her refusal to eat; sounds like they figured that out (not soon enough, I have a feeling). They shouldn’t make any deal of it all. They should pay no attention at all to what or how much she eats. They are doing some great things like gardening, visiting farms, etc., but more importantly, I think: they finally realized they could not control this child’s eating and gave up. Thank goodness they kept their excitement to themselves at the end when she ate that frittata or they’d probably be back at square one. I think they finally backed off, quit showing how much they cared about what she ate, and the girl finally felt safe to eat. If they can remain nonchalant and provide only good foods, their troubles may be at an end.

      Thanks for your comments!!

  8. September 3, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    Wait till you get a peek at this young teen’s blog!
    You will see there is hope for the youth.
    She get’s it.


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