If you’re a parent like me, you’re probably concerned about the quality of the food your kids eat. It’s hard enough to get kids to eat well without the food industry pushing sugar-coated cardboard as “part of this ‘healthy’ breakfast.”
Which is why these two recent news articles caught my eye…
Good news… I think?
A study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research Program noted fewer TV food advertisements aimed at kids. That’s good, right? Well, maybe…
The study goes on to say that the decline in TV ads is probably part of a larger shift in marketing tactics, and that advertisers are instead transferring their attention “to new media such as Internet-based advergames and social media.”
Great — just what we needed! (Not.) Now, instead of TV ads that we can monitor and take steps to skip, our kids are going to be inundated with ads for crappy overprocessed foods on when they’re gaming or socializing online with their friends… where it’s a lot harder for parents to supervise.
I know we’re really lucky with our son. He loves fruits and veggies. Devours broccoli and lima beans, actually prefers his salads plain without any dressing at all, complains if he thinks we haven’t done enough “vegetable matter” recently in our meals. We’ve worked hard from the time he was a baby to instill a sense of good nutrition in him, to understand what makes for healthy food.
And I guess it’s worked! He has a high level of skepticism when it comes to advertising claims, and he recognizes that terms like “wholesome” don’t mean much of anything. One of my favorite stories was back when he was about three or four years old. I was in the kitchen musing out loud about what side dishes to fix to accompany that evening’s entree. Suddenly, I heard a small voice pipe up from behind me, “How about a nice tossed salad?” You heard that right: a toddler asking for a “nice tossed salad” for supper! Yep, I guess we raised him right. :)
I was fortunate enough to be able to stay home with him the first couple of years of his life. We purchased very little packaged “baby food.” Instead, I made his baby food from the same fresh fruits and veggies we were eating. It was actually pretty easy with the help of a food processor and a blender. We generally don’t add much if any salt to many foods, and when we do it’s usually toward the end of the cooking, so it was easy to pull out a portion before the salt. I could then puree it, and freeze it in an ice-cube tray. Pop out some frozen “food cubes” and thaw/gently warm to make a nutritious and tasty meal.
But I know many parents don’t have the luxury of staying home with their kids, and either don’t have the time or aren’t confident of their skills to make their own baby food. So they turn to prepared food. (Making your own is really easy and takes less time than you might think, I promise, but I don’t judge. We’re all doing the best we can.)
Which is what makes this next story so unnerving…
Read those labels carefully!
I read recently that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has threatened to bring lawsuits against Plum Organics and Gerber Products Co. for supposedly deceptive labeling on some of their baby and toddler foods. According to the CSPI, the foods’ labels tout “healthful, high-value ingredients, such as kale, quinoa, blueberries, and green beans.” Which, as a parent might inspire you to buy these foods, thinking you’re doing right by your kid.
Except, according to the CSPI, the main ingredients in these foods were actually “less healthful, less-valuable ingredients, such as apple juice or apple puree.” But the labels don’t highlight that fact.
In a press release, CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson stated, “If they were actually proud of the major ingredients in their products, wouldn’t they name them on the front of their packages?” Good question, says I.
You probably already know this, but on the ingredient lists, manufacturers of food products are required to list ingredients in the proportion in which they are included in the food. It’s like with the dog and cat food commercials you see these days, where they’re all about what the “first ingredient” is on the label. That first ingredient is the most plentiful single ingredient in the food product, so when the first ingredient is “real” meat of some kind, the manufacturer hopes we’ll assume the food is good for our pet.
The thing is, while that may be the most plentiful single ingredient, the aggregate total of the other ingredients might well overwhelm that one “good” ingredient. Say, “real chicken” is the #1 ingredient. It might only be 10% of the total. Of the other ingredients (corn, bone meal, who-knows-what), none of them might comprise more than 9.9% of the total, but added all together, they could make up 90% of the product.
Which is kind of a long way around of saying, you need to read the whole ingredient list. If we’re going to pay that much attention to the food our dog eats (remember, this is an animal who will drink out of the toilet!) how much more should we pay attention to the food we give our kids?
Don’t just rely on the big typeface on the front label. Take the time to read that list of ingredients. While there’s not necessarily anything wrong with applesauce, from the standpoint of balanced nutrition you don’t want that to be the major ingredient of every meal you feed them. Just because the front labels is proclaiming the presence of blueberries or sweet potatoes or green beans, that doesn’t necessarily mean those are the only ingredients.
Or even the main ingredient, for that matter.
So read those labels! And if you have (or can make) even an hour or two available from time to time, consider making your own baby food instead of relying entirely on the canned and packaged stuff.
Thus endeth the rant for today.