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Parents vs. Junk Food: Who Is To Blame?

Once again, the media is looking at the question of who is to blame when children aren't eating properly. Parents and activists (such as Corporate Accountability International) don't want fast food and processed food companies marketing their junk to our children. Those companies, on the other hand, claim that they offer many different choices and that it is up to parents to make good decisions for their children.

This week, Ottawa-based Dr. Yoni Freedhoff who blogs at Weighty Matters was quoted at length in the Chicago Tribune. You should read the whole article on the David vs. Goliath fight parents face, but here is a quick excerpt:

The argument put forth on how to protect them from all of these traps and more?  Parents can just say 'no.'

'No' to pizza days at school. 'No' to chocolate milk as part of the school lunch program. 'No' to the freezies handed out after soccer practice. 'No' to the meal and the co-branded Disney toy that was advertised on television. 'No' to the sugary cereal with the decoder ring on the bottom.


That sure is a lot of "no's."

But what of parents who don’t say 'no.' Some may not due simply due to 'no' fatigue, while others may not even see the need for 'no.' Perhaps as a consequence of tremendous time or financial pressures, or their own distracting medical issues, or deceptive advertising that suggests health benefits to bowls of sugary cereals, or perhaps simply as a consequence of not believing or understanding why it matters, there is a huge swath of parents don’t see value in the parental junk food “no”.

As an increasingly unhealthy society, the question we need to urgently wrestle with is should a non-uniformly delivered parental “no” be our sole line of defense against the incredibly aggressive marketing of unhealthy food to our children?

So who is to blame?

My long answer is written out in my post outlining the reasons why boiling everything down to "personal responsibility" will not fix the systemic problems in our food system.

My short answer: Both.  Parents do have a responsibility to say no. To seek balance. To teach and provide proper nutrition for their children. To help their kids unpack deceptive advertising and become media literate. But at the same time, we shouldn't have every obstacle possible shoved in our way as we do that. Each of us has a limited amount of energy and time and patience. None of us wants to be the parent who is saying no all the time. Some of us (I would bet all of us) would like to be able to sit down, relax, and lower our guard every once in a while.

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Reader Comments (62)

I don't like to always be saying No to my toddler. My only solution is to avoid the places and machines that introduce the traps of even having to talk about those items with her- for now. Eventually that will break down. Health food stores are a privilege that only some can afford and they allow me to know she is choosing healthy cereal (well, she actually just likes granola but that's because we avoid that cereal aisle like the plague anyway!) and she doesn't watch TV (again, pretty much a privileged statement) so no "can I have that mcdonalds toy?" badgering yet. We live in the states which is a country known for its obesity, and I will do anything I can to give my kid a healthy start, even though eventually I'll probably be known as the boring mom who hands out non-candy items on Halloween ;)

December 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVioletsouffle

I agree with your evaluation 100 percent, Annie. It's a bit of a reach to blame all of our poor eating habits on systemic problems. The North American food system is broken, yes. But it got that way because the majority of North Americans wanted fast, cheaper, saltier, fattier, yummier food. (I say this as a North American expat who has seen vast differences in the food systems in various countries, over three continents, and notes a particular disparity in the percentage of income North Americans spend on food: it's absurdly low. Cheap, low quality food is bound to be bad for you.)
So, the food system is broken, yes. But it broke (to a certain degree) because we wanted it that way. It IS up to individual parents to make good choices on behalf of their kids and that means saying no occasionally.
But is that so terrible? My parents, for example, instilled very good eating habits in me. The only "nos" they had were to white bread, chocolate milk, and sugar cereal; everything else was "yes". But we also ate vegetables at each meal. And rarely ate connivence foods. And didn't really have chips or cookies in the house. I don't think that these positive choices were a burden as Freedhoff implies that they might be, despite the fact that my parents were under financial pressures and emotional pressures.
Basically, I think that it isn't such a big deal to say no to these things. A few, well placed nos, some consistency, along with a handfull of yesses would go a long way to making our kids healthier. It's just up to us to push ourselves in that direction.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErica @ Expatria, Baby

Even so called health food stores put the organic chocolate bars at child eye level in the checkout aisle

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

There's definitely shared blame. Once kids are old enough to see and understand the marketing, or be out of parental control for meals (like at school), then sure, those pressures matter.

But there's a lot of time before that happens and even when it does, kids still do a lot of their eating at home. I look at what people in the checkout lines around me buy and do you know what I see? Juice. Juice, juice, juice. And packaged cookies and their fraternal twins 'granola' bars. 'Yogurt' that's mostly sugar (and the colour of cotton candy).

I rarely see people with kids buying produce. In fact, I often get people asking me what is in my cart because they've never gone past the kale section of the store!

And I can't even count the number of times I've seen parents spoon junk food (usually ice cream) into the mouths of babies who can barely sit up on their own.

I know it can be hard to say no to the special stuff, but it's also pretty easy to make sure that broccoli is a regular offering. And if you do that, then saying yes to those special occasions doesn't matter quite as much.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKrista

I agree it's BOTH, but for educated, middle class mothers, please do stop the whining. Just for matters of expediency, I take this as MY responsibility. I have a job and a life, I am busy, so therefore I can't control what big companies do and it's not a hobby I want to devote my time to when I can fairly easily be a focused and involved mom and just take care of this in my own household. If EVERYBODY did this, then it would be FINE. (Chip away at the market for this stuff while we're at it.) Saying NO is something parents need to get used to and something people need to get used to saying for themselves, to themselves. ("No, I shouldn't eat that half pound burger and fries, a grown woman must say to herself, No, we don't need new laptops, the ones we have work fine, No, we don't need a new car just because the old one is three years old and the Smiths down the block are getting a new one") People need to get their heads out of their asses, too. Those Stonyfield Farms BABY yogurts have 13g of sugar per little individual cup for example...so READ LABELS. People ought to know by now. I do feel a little sorry for the poor ghetto people who have bigger fish to fry than their kid getting too much sugar, though and who are not college educated and may really not know better or have the extra space in their lives to care....

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

Oh Annie, you hit the nail on the head: "Some of us (I would bet all of us) would like to be able to sit down, relax, and lower our guard every once in a while." Damn right. I know I would. It's totally exhausting and IT.NEVER.LETS.UP. Yes, it's the pizza lunches and the chocolate milk and things like Valentine's Day being about the candy and not the cards anymore. Halloween is a month long occasion and Christmas junk is everywhere. Some days I feel like I'm navigating a minefield. I can't blame my kids either for the want, hell some days I fall prey to the marketing. I'm not anti-marketing, but I just wish they would hold themselves to a higher standard. Aren't any of these people parents?

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCandace

I actually feel sorry for the judgmental middle class folks...

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStephanieMZ

I feel sorry for the people who have lots of privilege and power and seem unable to use it by managing their own homes and children.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

Could you not find a more respectful term than "poor ghetto people"?

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I recently wrote about this issue, myself - one of the critical parts of this problem is the money involved: corporations spend about 17 billion dollars annually marketing to children in the US, the lion's share of that marketing being directed at junk food. We spend about 1 billion dollars on nutrition education annually. In terms of time, kids are exposed to almost 40 hours of junk food marketing on TV alone - as opposed to about 13 hours of nutrition education (itself often offered with ads!) at school.

The more I study it, the more this type of constant bombardment sounds like a breach of protocol against the Geneva Convention, and less like something one can "just say no" to. http://quipstravailsandbraisedoxtails.blogspot.com/2011/10/policy-point-wednesday-why-advertising.html

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichele Hays

Does the truth make you uncomfortable? Although it would seem that poor and uneducated people also live in the country and the mountains (at least in the U.S.) and ghetto does imply "city"...so I'll give you that. My point was that I feel somewhat sorry for "underprivileged" folks who have trouble not feeding their kids junk food, but I really don't have alot of sympathy for those I would consider my peers (white, middle class, college educated) who moan about how hard it is. It's really not and if this is among your biggest challenges in life, then you are lucky...

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

I don't understand the idea of "marketing to children" quite frankly. You have the off and on switch for this. Don't watch broadcast TV and teach your children that you and your family are a cut above the mainstream dolts with their Spongebob backpacks and their McDonald's, etc. Teach them, of course, to be kind to these unenlightened beings, but make them understand that to be a healthy, beautiful person, you can't eat garbage all the time. Seriously. We don't live in a vaccum. I take my kid to the grocery store, but we don't go down the aisles with the cartoons on cereal boxes anyway. What else is there? We don't watch broadcast TV and I've already told her "just because some people in your school do" A, B or C "doesn't mean WE are going to do" A, B, or C...

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

"McDonalds" (sorry no apostrophe needed!)

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

The truth doesn't make me uncomfortable. I just prefer to use more respectful language, like "food insecure" or "low income".

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

What else? For starters the billboards next to the road and the trucks on the road that act as giant billboards.

Yes, I teach my kids media literacy and nutrition, but that doesn't mean that they are not impacted by the constant onslaught of marketing targeting them and it doesn't mean that I don't get tired of constantly having to battle against those messages.

I am very invested in teaching and guiding my children, but I don't buy into your whole "100% personal responsibility" argument. I honestly believe the world would be a better place if society was there as a support to individuals and families instead of as something they constantly need to fight to keep out of their homes.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Does your child collect "box tops" for their school? That's marketing. Has your child come home from school with a Scholastic Book order form? Marketing. Does your school lunch offer branded merchandise in packages? Marketing. Does their classroom use any of the following programs: 5 a Day, nutrition programs from the Bell Institute, L.A.U.N.C.H. Into Health and Wellness, Mott's Magic Orchard, Healthy Steps for Healthy Lives? All marketing. Do any of the posters or art programs in your school include sponsorships from major corporations? Marketing. That's not even mentioning the in-school-bus radio programs and billboards, and the "free" video presentations or website games schools often use.

Outside of school, even kids who are turned off and tuned out are subjected to advertisements nearly every waking moment of their lives. Look around your house, how many items in branded packaging do you see?

Let me put it another way. Wouldn't you consider it an affront on your rights if someone walked behind your child everywhere he or she went, yelling "Eat Fritos! Eat Fritos! Eat Fritos!" and taunting him with bags of Fritos until he or she complied? Even if you take personal responsibility, it's not OK for someone to invade your personal life in that manner.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichele Hays

I guess I just feel like I (and my child, to some extent) have stronger minds than to succumb to all that. We don't buy alot of branded items, and ones that we do are from Whole Foods. Most of the foods we buy may be "branded" ---all things are--but not in a way that are of particular interest to children. The school does box tops. You just have to educate yourself about which cereals are healthy enough. Cheerios are, for example. What's wrong with Scholastic books, for heaven's sake? We bought one thing. Big whoop. The school is not the barometer of our values, as I explained. They sell this godawful "Claires" food for fundraising, all processed garbage. I don't say a word, I just throw the forms away and we don't sell any. You just do what you know is right or good for your family. It's not the equivalent of someone yelling "eat Fritos"---although thanks for the giggle...that is a funny image. I only say I take responsibility because the buck really does stop here, with me, the mom, who buys the food for my household. The culture in my community is another story...and I fear represented by those who would post here...my kid told me of a girl who had a rice krispy treat in her lunch when the school explicitly said not to pack treats for lunch. On the other hand, too, kids are constantly bringing in cookies or cupcakes to celebrate their birthdays. WHen I asked the school director to put the kabash on this, she said NO. These are both instances of actual PEOPLE not doing their part...and yet we are so quick to lay back and blame "the corporations." As I argue my point, I have personally been assembling fruit and cheese kabobs for MY child's special treat she is bringing for her class. They take a hell of a lot longer to make than cookies or cupcakes and cost more, too...but I walk the talk.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

All that said, I don't LOVE the companies and the marketing...but it's just "the nature of the beast" in terms of marketing and it doesn't bother me. Now, government subsidies of various players in the food industry, that DOES bother me.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

You sound like a nice and wonderful person, but please check the label on your granola, if possible. It is typically loaded with sugar.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

Totally agree: "I know it can be hard to say no to the special stuff, but it’s also pretty easy to make sure that broccoli is a regular offering. And if you do that, then saying yes to those special occasions doesn’t matter quite as much."

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

Keep in mind that many of the licensed characters promoted by Scholastic are, in turn, used to sell junk food (for instance, SpongeBob Squarepants.)

Also, much of the food at Whole Foods is simply the exact same stuff the regular grocers sell, made by the same companies in the same factories - but rebranded and repackaged to market them to people who "walk the walk." "Healthwashing" is a known marketing strategy, currently one of the most effective in selling foods. Whole Foods is, in itself, a brand - you will note that you did not say "a natural foods store."

There are dozens of non-branded options for healthy cereal - so I have to wonder why you chose one of the top 10 brands of all time for your example? http://www.foodprocessing.com/articles/2005/445.html Cheerios may be made from oats, but they are no healthier (unless you count the artificially-added vitamins you could get from a pill) than plain, generic oatmeal.

I'm not trying to be mean - I'm just trying to make the point that marketing is so insidious and unconscious that it enters our speech even as we are saying we are resistant to it.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichele Hays

I don't have a problem with chocolate milk or pizza day in schools. The other 4 days of the week, my son takes a healthy, balanced lunch packed by me. Every day of the week, both kids eat a wholesome breakfast cooked by me. Most days of the week, they eat a homecooked meal that includes lean protein and vegetables, cooked by me. My kids are both very healthy and eat good foods happily, and they know that treats are just an ocassional thing. FWIW, chocolate milk is my personal favorite for recharging after a long run when I need something in my stomach but can't handle food yet.

Now, I do agree that some kids eat junk food all day long every single day, and that some school lunch programs need some serious help. My son's school, in response to parent's concerns, changed the lunch program so that 1% milk and a side of veggies come with every lunch selection. However, I'm not convinced that taking certain foods out of schools will change anything if the problem is at home too. and I prefer that others not make my decisions for me. I'd much rather see efforts going to adding gym time (my son's school added another gym day this year).

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

"There are dozens of non-branded options for healthy cereal – so I have to wonder why you chose one of the top 10 brands of all time for your example? "

Because I personally don't have a bug up my ass about branding. Branding is what companies do. I love Whole Foods, their brand, I own stock in it and have zero issues with that.

FTR, my kid eats plain old Quaker (oops! Eek! a brand!...or the house brand of our local Giant or Whole Foods depending on where I am shopping when I need it) most mornings, but we also have Cheerios around for snacks and quicker breakfasts (and my husband is more of a dry cereal guy). The point isn't that they're HEALTHIER than oatmeal, the point is that they happen to be part of the box top program and ARE healthy. (I don't buy them specifically for that reason, but if I happen to buy something that has the box top thing, I'll cut it and hand it in).

I don't consider Cheerios to be insidious marketing to children, if you do, then I can see why you are freaked out by the world we live in and feel helpless to manage your home and kids....

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

My son has several food allergies. Dairy, Wheat, Soy, and Peanuts. So in some ways I dont have to deal with this in the same way. The majority of those highly processed junk foods and treats are things my child is unable to have anyway. On top of this I try to the best of my limited financial ability to feed him organic foods and try to limit colors and sugars. He is not even 2 so right now he has no issue with this, he knows no other way. What makes me angry is that since I have to read lables to be sure foods are safe for my child I see alot of things that I am shocked to find in food that I would have thought to be healthy. So much sugar and for NO reason! Why does organic baby yogurt need as much sugar as a candy bar? Why does oatmeal have so much sugar? Why is fruit packed in syrup or water with splenda added. Its already sweet! I dont understand all the junk I see in the carts that surround me. I dont understand when I hear "well Kraft dinner, pop tarts, and Mcdonalds nuggets and fries are all my 3 yr old will eat" Really? No you just serve them that because its easier, and had you held off on serving it to begin with they wouldnt even know what it was at that age. My son has days where he wants the same thing over and over.. I say no. I get annoyed when family gives him things like fruit snacks when I know he would be just as happy with a few apple slices. When I was a kid treats were treats, not expected everyday, with every meal! I agree that advertising is absurb and EVERYWHERE but it really does have to start in the home. My child has never had fries, because I have never served them. I know I have only a few years before he will be influced greatly by his peers, so I want to start out right building his pallette. Yes its hard to actually cook every single day, I work full time. But I do it, because building a strong foundation for him is my job as his mother.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa R

I do agree it is both.

I lived in poverty, compared to how I live now, back then when I was a kid in Mexico. My parents fed me home made food because it was cheap -or cheaper than going out. Beans, rice, eggs and corn tortillas were always at home. Milk and water always on the table. And maybe an occasional banana once in a while. It might not have been balanced, but it wasn't unhealty for us as kids.

Things are different now back there. There is so much fast food chains, lots of pre-packaged food at the convenient store and other un-healthy habits brought over at the table. And, from any household despise their income or social status you will find a two year old already caving into a bag of chips and a 355ml coke on hand. It saddens me.

I was so happy watching "Food Revolution" by Jamie Oliver [and secretly wishing some things could be adapted back home] because I learned more about things I took for granted. http://www.jamieoliver.com/us/foundation/jamies-food-revolution/home

All I have to say is that influence has a huge impact in our lives. There might be strong minds out there to resist all the bad stuff going on in our lives, but they need a brake once in a while. It is already a hard job raising kids, we do not need to make it harder.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMama and the City

I hate being the "no" parent, which is what I often am. It ticks me off that I actually have to FIGHT with my daughter's school to get them to feed her vegetables. It frustrates me to no end that everything I have taught her about healthy eating is being undone at school (and was being undone by the TV before I finally got fed up and disconnected it). I take the resonsibility of saying no much more often than I want to and being the "strict" parent to protect her health, but I agree so much with the final sentiment in this post:

Sometimes, I just want a break. I don't think I'd know what do do with my daughter if, just for one day, everyone else offered her only healthy options.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterColleen

It is the whining of the "over-privledged" that is going to cause change. Because we know that we can say no to our kids. We know how to read a label, we know how much sugar per serving is appropriate, and we have the privileges of time and money to make a better choice for our kids that might cost a little more. Yet we care enough about other people's children to make it easier for them to make the same kinds of choices without having to sort through all the crap companies throw in our faces through promotions and advertising. Many lower class parents don't have the time or the money to invest in assuring their kids can eat well for exactly the reasons someone else stated above- all of us, poor included, spend a very small portion of our income on food when contrasted with other developed countries or even our own country fifty years ago BECAUSE we have continually demanded cheaper food... well, we got it. Which is why we need to "whine." I think that 75% of the responsibility is with the parent, but when cereal companies come out and say that fruit loops and frosted flakes are healthy because they are a great source of whole grain (thus soothing the parents) while enticing the children with cartoons and toys which induces them to begin begging incessantly and the low income mother, who is exhausted both physically and emotionally, doesn't have the strength to say no (which is what the company is counting on...), that is where corporate responsibility comes into play. We are a free country. The companies should be able to make whatever crap cereals they want, and we should be able to buy them. But I don't think that advertising anything for children is moral because young children lack the ability to make an informed decision, and I feel that the low income children are the most susceptible because they likely watch more TV in addition to the reasons I stated above.

I'm a bit of an extremist- I think advertising is almost all immoral. And the more I learn about the history of advertising and how ads are developed the more I believe this. So obviously I am not a fan of advertisements that target children, who lack the ability to filter the crap. And seriously, I don't have that much faith in adults filtering the crap- all the ads for paper towel dispensers for your home bathroom, Fabreeze, fifty different cleaners for your bathroom... we don't need any of it, yet we buy it. I wonder a little how much we would all buy if there were no commercials. As someone else said, I wish that the different elements of society worked together to support us instead of trying to take over every element of our lives. I don't let my kids watch tv with commercials (they watch the channels that don't have them, like Nick Jr, Sprout, and Disney, which do occasionally have "sponsored by" messages, but they don't entice children nearly as much as the actual commercials), I don't buy branded anything (I don't buy much in packages, period), I won't buy my kids anything with characters, and we only occasionally eat out at local places, and they still bombard me with "wants-" things they see at school, on billboards, in magazines, and who knows where. Saying no all the time is exhausting, and it can make some moms feel guilty (not me- I reject guilt). And as I mention in my other reply, much of the marketing is specifically meant to sooth our guilt- "it's okay to give your kid this cereal- it has whole grains!" "this juice is healthy, it's fortified" "your kid will drink more milk if you serve them chocolate milk" and on and on. Why do we have to struggle with the guilt and the exhaustion of saying no all day every day while companies rake in profits for selling the very products that have driven this country into a health crisis?

Wow. I'm really curious why your tone turned so disrespectful here.

If we can agree to continue this conversation without personal attacks, I'd like to make this point: per a local grocery-delivery website offers: Cheerios - $0.21 per ounce (it's on sale right now, ordinarily it's $0.28/oz.) Generic oat-Os $0.17 per ounce. Quaker Oats $.12 per ounce. Generic oatmeal - $0.8 per ounce. (These prices seem low to me, but I can verify them online.)

If branding isn't an issue, what possible reason can you offer for spending more money on the identical product? Keep in mind that many generics are even made by the brand-name companies to the exact same specifications. If you buy Cheerios weekly, we're talking about an upcharge of $20 - $70 over the course of a year JUST for the brand name and marketing. (Cheerios also makes their box appear to cost less by making it smaller, so if you check my math, be sure to do an ounce-per-ounce conversion.) Insidious is a word I'd use here, yes - and that's applying psychology directed at ADULTS. Think how much easier it is to fool children into spending money without thinking about it.

For the record, I read labels and usually buy generics if they're cheaper. I say no to my kid all the time - I'm just saying that it isn't as simple as it appears to be.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichele Hays

We live less than a block from our local co-op, grow a garden, pick our own in orchards in the summer, go to the farmer's market, freeze, can, and have a standing rule about not having certain junk foods (that are weaknesses for the adults) in the house. And YET...my kid has a thing for Goldfish and Chili Cheese Fritos. ARGH! Why? One word: GRANDPARENTS. There are certain battles that are very, very difficult to wage without ruining family relationships. And I've already laid down the law about meat products (that one's WAY too hard to get across to the grandparents--why certain chickens and cows are okay and others aren't--so we just tell them he's a vegetarian until he can choose whether to eat meat and what kind), so there have to be points where I "give" so that he can eat SOMETHING at their houses. Our meals there are full of non-organic cheese, white pasta, canned vegetables, and a ton of desserts. But our visits also include lots of lovely memories, kisses and hugs, stories read, material support for us, and delight for all. So we just assume that any proclivity for CRAP that our son develops can be blamed our our own parents (I'm kind of kidding, but it does help us feel less guilty that he gets some of this stuff into his system, knowing he's not getting it at home).

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

OK, you won me over. I guess the whole "it's so hard and I just need a break from saying NO" that is annoying to me, but I like the point that the "whining" of the privileged might effect some change for the others. But, how much will it if the market is still there for these things? More needs to be done than whine. People need to not buy the stuff. They don't make what people don't buy. And yes, people who are in the know have to be ridiculously vigilant, but then be vigilant! I will admit, I gave my toddler those Stonyfield yogurts when she was younger, it wasn't til more recently that I started paying attention to the actual grams of sugar and was completely appalled. I don't really buy the whole thing of toys and cartoons making kids want food, but I admit, I probably live in a bubble. More people should.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

Sorry about the tone. Just my style, I'll tone it down. I was taken about, though, because I don't conflate a problem with branding in itself with unhealthy foods or marketing inappropriately.

As for the Cheerios (god help me, I never thought in a million years I'd be defending Cheerios!) My husband is actually the one who buys the Cheerios (we grocery shop separately b/c he like what he likes and we take turns cooking, each stocking up on good for our own recipes, and he is a sale shopper, these brands go on sale alot). In MY world, I wouldn't have any dry cereal. I personally hate it. It reminds me of animal feed. My kid would only eat oatmeal if it was just me. But it's not. He likes his dry cereal and she was curious about what Daddy was eating and that was that. I do actually keep her away from his more sugary cereals. I just say NO, she can't have them. So there, I even fight my own husband's "evil" influence : )

That said, he had some Trade Joe Os on a car trip for our kid and him to snack on and I tasted them and I have to say that Cheerios do taste better, at least better than those Joe Os. (We buy neither "weekly"...)

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

OK...please tell me what is wrong with Goldfish other than that they are addictive and I can eat a whole bag in one sitting : ) What's wrong with kids having them for a snack, with portion control, that is? They don't pack a huge nutritional punch, but they're not exactly bad, either. I wouldn't lump them in w Fritos, which are fat and greasy. Maybe some people have slightly unrealistic ideas of what's "healthy." I think little kids who run and play alot can afford to carb up more than 40 year old women who sit and type most of the d|ay.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

I find my biggest opponents with regards to healthy eating are my husband and my mother-in-law. My husband buys the sugary cereals and sugary granola bars and doesn't understand when I try to explain that they are just not healthy for our kids. Time is the enemy too. It can be hard late at night preparing lunches for the next day. When your kids have big appetites, it is simpler sometimes to just throw the granola bars in.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOphelia

Yeah, my partner has a hard time putting them down, too! Me not so much. My main gripe is that it's processed food with little to no nutritional value. I'd rather our son munch on fruits, veggies, or (his favorite) beans (yep. Strange but delightfully true). We've given in to demand and keep whole grain Goldfish at the house as a snack, because they really COULD be worse, yes. If you're curious, I thought this was a pretty good summaries of all the Goldfish varieties out there.


December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Criminy. I mean "a pretty good summary." As I read through the comments on the link I just posted, I found the one about MSG being added pretty interesting. I get the concern about GMOs, too. The amount of sodium isn't that great, either. Basically, as far as junk foods go, Goldfish are a lesser evil. Goodness knows I don't model perfect eating (I have a little ice cream addiction! Can't keep it in the house), and it's unrealistic to expect my child to eat perfectly, either, so I'll take Goldfish. And blame the grandparents. Squeaky clean over here (HA).

By the way, my partner totally took one for the team and ate all the Chili Cheese Fritos his parents sent home with us himself. (Way to go, Dad! Way to clog those arteries!)

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Ooh, I will have to check out that Goldfish link, thanks! I totally know what you mean about the grandparents. My parents are pretty good about honoring my wishes and not getting offended (we are fishatarians). And now they have read "Omnivore's Dilemma" so are trying to make some of the changes. Still, they don't keep real peanut butter (my Dad doesn't like to have to stir it...seriously?!?!?!?!) so we always have to bring our own and they don't pay attention enough yet to the HFCS/hydrogenated oil, and I will NOT eat things with those in them AT ALL...

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

and we NEVER eat the rainbow ones...they are so very unappealing...my addiction is for the Flavor Blasted Cheddar...OK, enough confessions.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

One of my kids also loves granola bars. Instead of giving him the store bought ones, I usually make my own. I make a batch on the weekend and they usually last the week. I linked to the recipe in this post: http://www.phdinparenting.com/2010/09/07/social-media-school-snack/

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

You will pretty much never see me buying vegetables at the grocery store. Concluding that I don't eat vegetables would be wrong though; we get local delivery.

Not saying we're the norm, but careful with sweeping assumptions!

Also, just having vegetables around all the time doesn't mean kid will eat them. Ours has apparently just entered a phase where most get squirreled away in the cheek. She can eat pretty normally while "saving" unwanted vegetable matter to chew and chew and chew and chew later. Yuck!

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary @ Parenthood

Just a casual observation: people are way more intense about food than religion.

I think our culture has an eating disorder.

My kids are 6,3 &2 and have no idea what McDonalds is. Because I've never taken them there. They do, however, know who Ronald McDonald is. I can't, for the life of me, figure out how or why.

The assumption that irks me is that if you pay reasonable attention to the food your children are eating and serve them healthy, whole foods and give them opportunities to be active everyday, they will be skinny. Because chubby kids must be eating junk and watching hours and hours of TV. Good parenting leads to thin kids. There are no variations in body types. Healthy, well-cared for children are thin children.

I used to agree, but now I'm not sure. I know some skinny people with horrible eating habits and I know some not-so-thin people who eat their broccoli and play outside.

Is it important that children be thin? Or is it important that children be active and eat whole foods? Because I don't think those two things are synonymous. I see a bigger cultural emphasis on "thin" than on "healthy" though, and it's alarming.

I don't want McDonalds to market to my children, I don't want junk food at every celebration for children (like hotdogs at the soccer wrap-up party), and I definitely want more gym time in schools. But I don't want children and their parents to singled out as "bad" or "neglectful" or whatever because they have heavier body types.

Is it just me?

I know a woman who was forced to drink chocolate milk at her desk all recess as a young girl in school when she just wanted to play outside with the other kids. It's because she was "underweight" and the school was trying to correct this problem since her mother was obviously not "managing" it properly at home. That woman is 60 now and it's a shocking anecdote -- because our culture has swung the other way: If a kid is skinny someone MUST be doing something right, if not, they MUST be doing something wrong.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBetsy

I agree. I am of the opinion that "fat" is a symptom of another problem. I read Tabues's book Why We Get Fat and became completely enlightened on the whole dichotomy. It comes down to the inarguable biochemistry that glucose makes us store fat (due to increase in insulin) and makes the energy you eat and store inaccessible (straight from Biochemistry text book). Thus whole grains, rice, beans, sugar = fat. In moderation those things are fine, but when they are encouraged to eat many of those things as staples of ones diet AND we add sugar AND we remove all fat from our diet (because somehow fat seems to neutralize the effects of the glucose and insulin) it becomes a recipe for disaster. :( Exercise can help stave off these effects, but depending on your genes, and the degree in which you partake in such a diet, as can be seen by a majority of Americans, we are doomed.

I wish I knew this before I had kids (never would have gave my baby cereal of any kind), and I honestly feel an onslaught of pressure from society, which is driven by advertising, around us to eat in the above manner and it is demoralizing trying to fight it.

December 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Agree very much!

December 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

In my family, when we were kids, three of us were skinny and one of my brothers was chubby. He was eating the same thing the rest of us were. He wasn't eating too much. He was just as active as my sister and I and much more active than my other brother. But he was chubby. Eventually, he had a growth spurt, he shot up, and the "baby fat" disappeared. But all through elementary school, he was the "fat" kid.

I think it is important for children to be active and eat whole foods. That doesn't guarantee that they will be thin.

December 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I was a teen at the time in the late 90s when it was really starting to become in to be super skinny. I have ADHD and was pumped full of Ritalin to "keep me under control" as a side effect I was VERY skinny. Like unhealthy bony super tall skinny as a rail. Not a single curve. I ate junk constantly and hated healthy food, yet still I was tiny. I recall my younger sisters friends being jealous and asking what I did to be soooo skinny, I looked just like a model. I was shocked because I was ashamed to be so thin, I wanted boobs! I have always been a bookworm and an artist, I never really watched alot of tv at the time. So I dont think I was exposed to so many cultural messages about being thin as those younger girls were. I didnt realize what an issue this was in my family until after having 2 kids and 2 bouts of raging gestational diabetes (even doing my best to exercise and eat healthy) that I am no longer skinny. I am about 40lbs overweight. My youngerst is 1 1/2 and I am working to get healthy again and my hubby is just fine with how things are going. He Loves me for me. My mother on the other hand is very upset over it and is ashamed of how I look. Now at 5'10 being 40lbs overweight is alot but I am in a size 18. So not super huge compared to alot out there, the height helps. Yet she is ashamed to the point that she calls to ask what my weight is on any given day. She brings it up every visit and I am realizing I need to deal with her about this because I dont want her feelings on it to influence my sons feeling about thier own bodies or others bodies. I may never be skinny again, but I will do my best to be healthy and active and thats all a person can do!

Yet this is the same woman that trys to give my kids junk food! I dont get it.

December 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa R

One thing I getting from the comments on this post is that some people are very against ANY junk food. And really, how many kids are denied any sort of treat as kids and then go completely the other direction when they have a little bit of autonomy in their lives? I had a friend in HS who was the child of strict vegans. Once she had a PT job and a little bit of spending money, she was stashing candy and chips and other stuff in her locker, and hitting McDonalds every chance she got. Which was then compounded by guilt for 1--deceiving her parents and 2--eating unhealthy food. Obviously this is an extreme example. But geez, is it such a crime to eat a cupcake every once in awhile? JMO, but I think it's important to teach our kids about moderation too.

I absolutely agree that people use food issues to brag about their parenting. "My child doesn't LIKE candy. He asks for strawberries instead and his favorite food is kale."

As for grandparents, I would prefer that my MIL not show up with mini candy bars every time she comes over. I would prefer that their great grandmother not try to give my 5 year old soda just because she saw it and asked for it. I would prefer that my mom not take my kids to McDonalds so often (once a month or so). But I try to follow the 80-20 rule. If they eat well 80% of the time, I don't worry about the other 20%. However, I'm just glad that these family members want to be a part of my kids lives. A friend's mother lives 10 miles from her and didn't come see her grandchild until the baby was 9 months old! She just wasn't interested. I can overlook candy and snack before dinner in exchange for all that love.

December 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

I'm exhausted! We (mostly I) say "no" to 99% of the junk. Then they come home and tell me about the daily cookies/cupcakes/donuts/chocolate milk the schools offer. Come on! Why are they feeding my children when they are there to learn?

Anyway, enough on that. I am 36 years old and I can vividly remember the frustration/pain/anger of not being allowed to eat white bread and fruit loops (or the many equivalents). Funny now I am that evil woman! My 4 year old had a full blown temper tantrum in Target a couple of weeks ago over fruit loops! Of course I got countless evil stares from the other shoppers.

So even though there is a lot more junk available in a lot more locations, it was still a parenting dilemma in the 70's. Now I think it is just blow up to be a constant battle (because of the over abundance of junk) instead of the weekly grocery shopping trip.

December 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercari

I'm not against ANY junk food. I'm against junk food passing as nutritious food. I'm also against marketing so intense and constant that the pressure to replace nutritious meals and snacks with junk is unbearably stressful.

December 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

It's actually scientific fact!(kids like cereal with cartoons on it better) http://consumerist.com/2011/03/study-kids-think-cereal-with-cartoon-mascot-tastes-better.html

December 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlisa d

Here's a link about goldfish crackers and snacking. http://itsnotaboutnutrition.squarespace.com/home/2011/9/20/do-no-harm-snacking.html
I also wanted to say thanks for posting your comments on here so we can have this discussion instead of just disagreeing and moving on. Its hard to discuss these issues if we all only read/ comment on blogs we agree with all the time. (or if poeple only make snarky comments on those they disagree with.

December 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlisa d

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