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Solution for Picky Eaters: PediaSure, Why Not?

November 9, 2011 4 comments

I just learned of the existence of PediaSure. Apparently it’s been around for at least ten years, but I just discovered it, seeing one of its commercials for the first time. I’m chagrined, but shouldn’t be surprised, to learn that such a thing exists.

There may be some justifiable use of this product, though it’s hard for me to imagine any. For a child who is physically or mentally ill or has genuine, physical sensory problems, I’ll suspend judgment for now.

If it’s for the typical picky child, though, PediaSure is a “solution” that offers false security while aggravating the problem of pickiness in a child. It’s a child’s solution to the problem, not a wiser parent’s solution.

PediaSure will resolve the root problems of pickiness about as well as giving in to a terrorist’s demands or giving a child the candy bar he’s throwing a fit for in the store. It’s rather like providing money for the addict to get a fix instead of doing the tough love thing. PediaSure takes advantage of a parent’s fear and lack of understanding. It’s no solution at all. It perpetuates the cycle. It’s an enabler.

The commercial is infuriating. In the grocery store, a little girl is shown challenging her mom to a battle. As Mom puts real food in the cart, the child tells her, “I don’t like broccoli,” and “I don’t like chicken.” She doesn’t even think she likes waffles. She’s a hard case.

For the first few scenes, I’m pleasantly surprised by the mom. She doesn’t argue with the kid; she keeps her reactions to a minimum. She doesn’t give in. She buys all the items anyway. So far, so good. She could win this thing.

As for the child, that little cutie is an outstanding actress; she has that genuine expression of a picky kid: “And what are you gonna do about it, Mom? Am I gonna win here, or are you? Can I get you to worry and cater to me? Do I get to be the Fussy Princess, or will it fall flat?”

It’s a richly layered acting performance: a kid pretending to be a kid who’s pretending to be terribly picky, just to manipulate her mom. She manages to convey it all. But the child and the mom look so much alike, maybe the little darling and her mom are just being themselves. It’s so lifelike that I suspect this may not be a dramatization, but just another trip to the store with a real mom and daughter.

Then we find out why Mom isn’t worried about her picky eater. She has an ace in her pocket. She has taken it all very seriously and knows what to do. PediaSure is on her shopping list. Her child has the condition of pickiness, for which PediaSure is the cure. She considers her problem solved.

But Mom loses the game at that point. She has given in to her child’s silliness out of fear of the unmanageable little sweetheart, who smiles in triumph.

At home, the mom gives the glass of PediaSure to the girl, watching in deep satisfaction, as if she had finally gotten food for her starving child, who is still strong enough to down it before falling into an irreversible coma: “At last, I found something that will keep her body and soul together.” The girl looks pleased at winning the battle and having a nice, sugary drink. Such joy all around.

“Help fill the holes in your picky eater’s diet with PediaSure,” the manufacturer assures us. It’s all so simple. The mom rests secure that the child is getting the nutrients needed to thrive.

Her little angel is not learning to eat real food, and a decided preference for sweets will be reinforced with every glug of one of those “kid approved” PediaSure flavors. But at least she’ll survive for now.

This commercial illustrates what’s really happening with the average “picky eater.”  The typical picky kid has learned how to defend herself against parental pressure and urging at the table. I don’t blame the child. As obnoxious as she is, her response is normal. The mom’s reaction are the crux of the matter. Her intentions are good, but she needs real help. I’m sure she has her reasons. She clearly doesn’t know any better. She’s listened to lots of advice. But she needs understanding. Change her tactics and everything can change.

Kids are picky eaters because it works for them somehow. They get attention, they feel special, they find an identity as a “picky eater” that serves them. They like making Mom cater to them. They like being able to control Mom and get her to react, and being able to refuse. It all probably began when the girl was a toddler; she experimented with testing her limits and resisting food, and her mom fell right into it. Mom’s reactions created the current situation.

It’s no wonder the little girl won’t be hungry for any actual food when Mom serves that chicken and broccoli at dinner time. She’s filled up on PediaSure. But even if she hadn’t, she’s the type of kid that really cares about winning a battle of wills with Mom. She seems ready to go to extremes to have the last word. Some kids are like that. If Mom hadn’t ever started pushing her daughter to eat and hadn’t allowed herself to be drawn in to fighting with her over food, the girl would get no satisfaction out of being picky. She and Mom would find something to fight about, certainly, but not about food.

As for the makers of PediaSure, they may be perfectly aware of what they’re doing and are cynically laughing at us all the way to the bank. Or maybe they sincerely believe they are providing an excellent product that really meets the consumer’s needs. Either way, don’t fall for it.

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