I don't have children, but you might think that I do, given how passionate I am about feeding children well. It all started in first year, during my first week at CCNM, when Dr. Jason Lee discussed the problems with "kids food" with our class.
The thought of "kids food" makes me sick. What is this crazy concept and where did it come from? How is it that children today eat PopTarts and Captain Crunch for breakfast, Pizza Pockets and Lunchables midday, guzzle kiddie 'juice' boxes and pop to quench their thirst, and get rewarded with Gushers, ice cream, and other kid-sized treats on a daily basis? When and why did we decide it is OK to feed kids crap? Synthetic, sugar-laden, artificial garbage now passes as kids food.
Wait, back up a second, why do we even have kids food? Why not just food? Children don't have compromised digestive tracks; they certainly can digest "adult foods" like asparagus and wild rice. Where did this great divide (adult vs kids) come from? Healthy food like veggies, beans, and grains go to the adults, while all the junk goes off to the kiddos. Just take a look at a restaurant menu! The adults have a huge variety of entree contenders while the kids' menu (why it exists at all is beyond me...) features such delicacies as chicken tenders, hot dogs, grilled cheese, and fries. Where is the fiber? The vegetables? The flavor? No wonder so many adults don't like vegetables. When are they suppose to develop a palate for vegetables; sometime between their SweetTarts and McNuggets?
I see the kid-adult food divide even within my own family. Every year at our annual family pot-luck, we always make sure that there are enough "kid dishes" at the table. And no, we're not talking about meals for toddlers (which are indeed a bit different than adult food, not in terms of content but in preparation). I remember one year we even had a separate cake for the kids, because the adult cake wasn't good enough with all its sugar and butter... it needed to have sprinkles in order to be kid-approved!
What disturbs me most of all is that society's eating philosophy should be the complete opposite. Children, who are rapidly growing beings, need all the nutrients they can get in order to thrive and grow; therefore they should have the best quality food available! Their metabolisms are on fire and need tons vitamins and minerals to act as co-factors for the metabolic reactions that are taking place at lightening speed. Their brains need good nutrition for all the learning they are doing in school each day. Give kids wild salmon and kale, and leave us oldies with the crap! ha ha
In my Clinical Nutrition class, we've been talking a lot about the connection between poor childhood nutrition and mental disorders like ADD, ADHD, autism, bipolar, anxiety, and depression, to name a few. Other pathologies seen in children that are related to nutrition: obesity, type 2 diabetes, asthma, eczema, seasonal allergies, chronic ear infections, and many more. It is unsettling how many children are on medications for said conditions when maybe all they needed was to have their junk food replaced by a good wholesome meal. Did you know that there are cases of autistic children talking for the first time in their lives, after 4-6 years of not speaking, once gluten removed from their diet?! That to me is so, so crazy!
Furthermore, I read this last year on one of my favorite blogs. They were talking about feeding their daughter and their comments really stuck with me:
"Elsa is turning 20 months soon. She has still never had any red meat or
poultry and she has never eaten any sugar, candy, cookies or ice cream.
Around here that counts as something pretty spectacular, and not only in
a good way. Many people seem to think that we are exaggerating about
health. ”One ice-cream every now and then won’t hurt her”. You wouldn't believe how many times we heard that sentence. And sure, they
are right, she eats an ice cream and life goes on. But why? Elsa has
never asked for ice cream, she doesn't even know how it tastes. During a
child’s first two years we as adults choose what food our children
should eat. And they learn from this. It’s a responsibility. If someone
wants to give Elsa an ice cream, it’s not because she wants it, it’s
because they want to give it to her. Remember that."
That's right: wee little children don't ask to be fed junk! It's just us adults thinking that giving a baby a treat is a good thing and those who "deprive" their children of treats are the bad parents. We need to change this thinking. It is backwards!
Despite all of my ranting, I have hope. I have hope that things will change and go back to the good 'ol days of porridge for breakfast, soup or stew for lunch, and a hearty, balanced dinner for supper. Treats only on special occasions. I have several great classmates, friends (M!), and professors who are leading the way, inspiring others with their healthy, veggie loving children. Miss Kendra and Dr. Donna are also teaching kids about healthy eating. Books like Outside the Box are starting conversations. Naturopathic doctors are teaching patients about good nutrition and how it starts at birth. Times are a changin', my friends!
Nonetheless, despite all of the complaining I did in this post, I must say that a fed child is a lucky child. I recognize that for far too many children die daily due to starvation and malnutrition. This breaks my heart more than any kiddie food ever can. Food must not be taken for granted, regardless of its nutritional content.