I finished reading this 15 minutes ago and I’m still infuriated. Not at the idea of having to engineer our food to trick us into eating more of it but because it plays into this constant messaging I hear parents getting from before they even think about having children:
Kids hate vegetables.
You have to bribe children to eat healthy.
I’m biased, because my personal experience is that Little E cries out for broccoli, that he shoves grilled chicken into his mouth the way I shove cupcakes, and that he doesn’t much care for ice cream, although he’ll have a bit if I’m sharing. That’s not a humblebrag, those are just facts. I fully expect this to go away, and hope like hell it’s not until he gets much older. That said, I have never in any fashion anticipated that my kid wouldn’t like healthy things. I figured (which I like to think is accurate although I’m no doctor) that his tastes will end up similar to mine and his father’s because he eats what we eat at most meals. To send that message to new parents, and to reinforce it to older kids through advertising, sets families up for nutritional failure.
For those unfamiliar with the process, here’s how it works: even if you manage to spend your whole life ignoring the mixed messages about food and body image and you’re feeling pretty good about what you do for your body, the second you get pregnant the world invites itself into your business to impart their opinions. Now, you’ve got your doctor who will tell you things very emphatically which are the opposite of the things that your friends’ doctors will tell them emphatically. Sushi, exercise, cheese, meat, the very terrifying threat of listeria everywhere you turn… and everyone you know knows someone who read the story of a person who lost a baby because they did the thing you’re doing, and everyone also will laugh at how scared you are to do it. I realize this isn’t statistically possible, but I promise this is exactly how it goes.
Then you have this amazing tiny human(s) outside of your body and everyone’s freaking out about breastfeeding and don’t even think about finally letting yourself get back to the foods you love because now those are in your breastmilk and you can bet your boobies everyone has a loud opinion about that. Then months later you start fretting about cereal, pureed fruits, potential allergies, the convenience of store bought baby food and the expense of organic brands, the struggle with continuing to pump and nurse as teeth come in…
And then at one year, the all clear comes. You can stop breastfeeding! You can give your kid anything and everything as long as it’s small enough that they won’t choke! Go for it! That’s right, at least a year and nine months of conditioning yourself to freak out about feeding and suddenly you’re out there on your own.
I sound pretty confident at the top of this post, but the truth is I was and still often am terrified every time I put something new on E’s plate. Is this going to make his throat swell and kill him? Will he hate everything and I’ll end up giving him chicken nuggets and parents everywhere will assume I’m reading the same parenting books Britney Spears did? Can I even give this to a baby?
Now imagine facing that fear, looking into tiny eyes on a tiny person who is entirely dependent on you, and consider that you also have ingrained on your brain that kids won’t eat vegetables. Do you reach for the spinach or do you reach for the stuff that’s labeled “for kids” even when that stuff is chicken hot dogs in a jar? Add in the ever present obstacle of time (the real issue behind obese children and families who buy junk with food stamps, but that’s a topic for another post) and you can’t blame a parent for reaching for the stuff that seems idiot-proof.
This is the point in the post -who am I kidding? This point should have been 4 paragraphs ago. – where I should finalize with a strong suggestion or idea about how to fix it, except I don’t have one. Not yet, anyway. Just listen to the rhetoric you engage in around families and parents and consider whether it’s supportive or setting them up for failure.