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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Another Rant on Kids and Junk Food... Just for Atara :)

A blogger named Atara--who has a lovely new baby, too, and a blog I've enjoyed perusing this AM--asked the following in a previous post of mine about junk food and kids:
OK, I'm just curious because I have a 3 month old. If I never bring the junk in the house, will he still want it? In other words, do they just get used to eating it? Is that it?
Well, I'm not a mom and never have been. I posted--er, vented may be a better word--because I keep reading about the obesity increase in kids, the increase in diabetes, earlier-in-life atherosclerosis, etc, and I've observed how very many kids are allowed to just snack and feast on all sorts of crap from morning till night--sugary sodas with meals, candy between meals, allowed to skip veggies but have white bread, etc.

Lyn made a great point in the comments section of that post: Kids, when they are older and are mobile and have friends who share, will get junk. Unavoidable. Kids like sweet. Kids like fast food. Humans like salty, sweet, fatty. We just do.

The thing is that just like parents try to instill all sorts of "against natural desires" behaviors in kids (ie, don't just jump in and have sex when you get those first stirrings, don't cheat on a test just cause you can and everyone else does, don't be a bully just cause you're bigger and stronger and faster and power is fun, don't blow off school when you're bored, don't shoplift if you can't afford that pretty necklace cause stealing is wrong, etc), what cuisine/foods/tastes a kid has is partially (if not fundamentally) set in the home. I love bean soup, avocado, olive oil on bread, and fresh fruit cause we ate those a lot (almost daily, except for avocados, those in season) as a kid. We ate beans about every day, and I can still eat beans about every day now, cause my taste buds adapted. But I also had candy and pizza and potato chips and Cheetos a lot, and that was NOT a good thing for my teeth or my weight. Daily crap is not good for anyone.

But especially not kids who are learning how to eat for life. What should be "sparingly" eaten is now routinely eaten. A factotum from Junk Food Wars:

Even though the Food Guide Pyramid suggests eating fats and sweets sparingly, the survey found that children consume more than three servings of these foods daily. Fatty goods such as French fries, desserts, potato chips and soft drinks have become staples rather than occasional treats.
And kids don't have to eat tons to gain weight, says the article. Two hundred extra daily calories than what is needed by a child's bodymeans a half-pound gain a week. 26 a year. That kid can be 100 pounds overweight in 4 years. Scary, huh? And how easy is it to eat 200 calories? A small pack of 4 Oreos will do it. A bag of chips goes over that (unless it's a very small bag). Half a slice extra of a meaty pizza. A candy bar will do that and more. An extra cup of sugary cereal. Eight Hershey's kisses. A 16 ounce glass of Coke (non-diet). Easy peasy to eat 200 calories too many.

I simply think that parents who don't want kids burdened with junk food habits and weight woes need to do what they can at home to develop from the earliest age a taste for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other "clean" and nutritious fare and show kids what normal portions are like. Two cups of rice is not a normal portion. A big fat heaping bowl of spaghetti is not a normal portion, and neither is 20 ounces of fruit juice (much less fruit drinks that are full of sugar and very little fruit).

Keeping the junk mostly out of the home and putting the emphasis on treating a sweet tooth with natural sweets created by God in their perfect form--an apple, grapes, an orange, strawberries, pineapple, lychees, plums, peaches, pears, kiwi, blueberries, etc. And to make sure they start eating a wide variety of veggies as soon as possible, so they can develop a taste for produce and not just go yuck at greens (or any other color veggie). It's simply part of teaching good habits, along with brushing and flossing and getting exercise in play (cause video games all afternoon long is hardly healthful, either).

What they do with what they learn at home when they're older and have access to Burger King and the Kwik Mart, what they do as adults out of your home...you cannot control. No parent can. (Though Madonna sure is giving it the best and most obssessive shot she can!)

Parents can control IN the home (except for creative sneaking of candy). What's in the fridge, in the pantry, on the table, and in the lunchbox. That is controllable. Mom or dad buy it and store it and cook it. They can control it.

Our society is too riddled with junk to have utter faith that kids won't sneak it, buy it with an allowance, get it from friends, have it at school. But if the foundation is laid not to indulge in it freely at home and to think of cookies and candies and cakes and sugary drinks as special-occasion treats that are NOT good for us, but that we can use for a limited purpose, that's a step in the right direction. Of course, if a kid develops a taste at home for healthier versions of junk, "redeemed" junk, as it were, cause mom and dad are willing to find alternatives to the high-fat, sugary crap, that's also good. Oatmeal cookies made less sweet and with whole grains, nuts with dark chocolate in modest portions, etc.

I was one of those kids whose eating was not at all monitored,except by the limitation of "this is what's there". Once the platters of food ran out on the table, well, that was the limitation. Or if the box of cookies finished. Or the bag of bread lay empty. But... if I wanted to fill a bowl with five cups of sugar-rich, artificially colored cereal (which I did) and dump in 3 cups of full fat milk (which I did), as a between meal snack, I did. If I wanted to dump 5 tablespoons of sugar in my oatmeal, I could. If I wanted to drink the whole jug of orange juice, I could. And nobody said anything to indicate that I was out of control or doing something that was unhealthful. Not till I got older and did get fat. But it takes all those steps to get there. It's not overnight.

I could eat whatever, whenever. And this is not a good system. For anyone at any time. I learned that I could eat until stuffed and I could eat sugar at will. How nuts is that? And especially not kids in the formative and "training" stages of life--from pureed foods to table manners training to first grade. And no kid should have total access to a pantry or fridge full of crap. How is that good nutritional sense?

To quote Obama's former pastor: The chickens have come home to roost...and they are breaded, fried, salted like the Dead Sea, and (until recently) utterly riddled with trans fats and come with an fatty, white-flour, salty biscuit on the side.

Fast food, easy "convenience foods", processed foods, junk foods, oversized portions, sugary supersized drinks, big candy bars....they have resulted in many kids considering the fattiest items at McDonalds and KFC and Pizza Hut what lunch and dinner are supposed to be. That a 32 ounce soda is a serving. That a giant muffin or humongo cookie is for one person at one sitting. That Doritos is a normal after school snack. Something's wrong with that.

I mean, come on--watermelon, fresh and chilled, really is so much better than cupcakes as a treat. Just not cheaper or easier to have on hand. A ripe mango has it all over artificially flavored jelly beans, even mango-flavored ones. The thing is that real food will cost more than processed crap, oftentimes. And fruit goes bad quickly, while convenience foods are...convenient, with long shelf lives. It's easy to eat bad. It takes a bit more effort--and maybe cash--to eat cleanly.

So, that rant--and this one--is out of my fear of the next generation being even fatter and and more riddled with diabetes and cursed with shorter life expectancies than today's because WE ALLOW and WE OFFER them junk instead of real, honest, fresh, wholesome food that they can develop a taste for. And they CAN develop a taste for all sorts. Just look at kids in cultures without fast food or candy shops. They eat what the parents eat--be it nuts, seeds, fruits, veggies, meats, etc.

Oh, and this study goes counter to idea that kids hate fruits and veggies. That article says this, emphasis mine:

Fewer than half of California’s children ages 2 to 11 eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetable servings daily (5 or more servings), according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. Further, almost 25 percent of them eat two or more servings of cookies, candy, donuts or popsicles every day.

Lack of proper nutrition contributes to certain health problems, such as the rising trend in childhood obesity. In California, one in three children is overweight or at risk of becoming overweight – far worse than the national average.

“While there has been a lot of research on barriers to childhood nutrition, this study dispels the myth that kids are predisposed to dislike healthy foods,” Perry said. “Now our challenge is to help parents find simple, affordable ways to prepare nutritious meals and snacks for their kids.”

Will they want junk anyway? Probably. But they can be trained to love good, healthful food, too, and that means they will crave that as well.

Sorry. It's a sore subject, I guess.

Y'all should just go look at Atara's cute baby, now. :)



Heather said...

I dont have kids either but my two cents is that parents should make those types of food "treats". as a child, when we got mcdonalds, it was a rare treat and something we all enjoyed. it wasnt a weekly treat, but probably a monthly treat if that. or my sister, she wasnt allowed to drink a can of pop every day, it was on rare occasions. While it is true that now she can drink as many cans as she wants or that I could go to mcdonalds every day, it has stuck with us that those are types of foods that are rare and not something to be eaten every day or every few days. while obviously this strategy doesn't work for all, i know for me personally I have always viewed junk food as something rare and thats probably why when I did have issues with food, I had enormous guilt when eating anything from the junk aisle in the store because I knew it was wrong. just my two cents!

Katrina said...

I am a mom of a 4 year old and 18 month old. Kids will develop their own taste for things. Veggies are really hard even though I have included them from the beginning. As a parent you have to keep trying new things and make sure a variety of good foods are available. I am always appalled by the chicken nugget, corn dog diet many parents have their kids on. There are plenty of easy things that are still good!

Also, be careful of being too controlling. The first way kids will assert their independence is with food. It is one of the few things they can control. If you have a super picky eater, examine your parenting style.

MizFit said...

amen, sister.
it is a struggle but so far my Toddler clamors for flax seeds and scrambled eggwhites and protein shakes "JUST LIKE MAMA!!"

I know it will only grow harder as her peers become more of an influence---but until then...

First said...

I know that a lot of parents who are trying to limit sugar intake with their kids struggle with the juice issue. The bottom line is that most kids LOVE juice. BUT, juice is generally very high in sugar.

Some parents will dilute their juice to get around this (although this decreases nutrients and leaves the very sweet taste that will get kids accustomed to wanting sweet things). There are some juices available that are low sugar--one of the best is First Juice. It's not diluted, but it is organic, 100% juice with 50% less sugar than other juices.

It's an option!