Junk Food is Cool: So What’s a Parent to Do About It?
|May 24, 2012||Posted by Stacy under Junk food|
I grew up with a girl named Holly whose family ate weird food. I can’t remember all the specifics, but I distinctly remember white hot dogs. I have no idea what the white hot dogs were made from, but they looked and tasted weird. And Holly, with her crazy curly hair and bell bottoms, was kind of weird, too.
I knew then what I am now re-learning as the mother of a school-age kid: Certain foods are cool, and others definitely aren’t. Food manufacturers also understand this and package their products with the cool factor in mind, then market them on kids’ TV stations with unbelievably cool commercials. Which, if you ask me, is 100-percent not cool. But unfortunately, it seems to work.
And when I send my 6-year-old to school with an organic ham and avocado sandwich, multigrain chips, and an apple, I fear that I am putting a “Dork” stamp on his lunchbox and resigning him to a future of band camp. But I try to compensate by letting him watch cool movies, play cool Wii games, wear cool t-shirts, and play cool sports.
I must confess that I sometimes wish that I could be the cool mom who supplies him and his friends with the cool food. But while it might make me feel good for about 15 seconds, I’m not sure I’d feel so good about it later. I do plan on loosening up as he gets older, because the last thing I want is a food fight. But for now, my kindergartener doesn’t complain too much. Yea, he’ll ask for Doritos and Gatorade when I bring him to the grocery store (and please remind me not to do that anymore!). But when I suggest a healthier alternative, he usually goes for it and doesn’t act like I’m ruining his life.
In her book How to Get Your Child to Eat…But Not Too Much, Ellyn Satter, R.D., largely considered the guru of how to feed kids, discusses how powerful peer pressure can be when it comes to a child’s food choices. As children get older, they have more opportunities to purchase their own food and make choices about what they eat, she points out. And sometimes those foods will be things that parents aren’t thrilled about, like Mountain Dew and Skittles. As she puts it:
All that interest in snack food is coming from the all-important peer culture. It doesn’t work to get all hard-nosed about forbidding snacks you don’t approve of, because it puts your child in a bind: Does she go along with you and be a ‘baby’ in the other kids’ eyes, or does she defy you and risk your wrath and give up on getting any help from you? Your child this age is going to have enough of a challenge figuring out how to get along with her friends and how to be successful without selling herself out. She doesn’t need showdowns with you.
Even though I am not a fan of junk food, I make it a point not to react or speak negatively when my kids eat it. Openly villainizing or banning certain foods can backfire by making children more interested or causing them to overindulge when they do eventually get their hands on it.
But Satter does say it is OK to let a child know that you don’t want her spoiling her dinner by filling up on snacks, or to suggest snacking earlier in the afternoon so she has an appetite when she comes to the dinner table. It’s also fair game to “remind her that she’s eating too many candy bars–and suggest alternatives that are more nutritious, but still acceptable in kids’ eyes,” Satter explains.
What I really wish we could do is start trying to redefine “cool” when it comes to food. Maybe cool could be eating “grown-up” food like salad and sushi, growing your own vegetables, or being willing to experiment with new flavors. But I’m not sure how that will happen until they start putting cartoon characters on the packaging and making action-packed commercials for spinach.
How do you deal with your child’s requests for cool (but not so healthy) food? Do you think it’s important to let them have it so they can feel like a part of the crowd?