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Kids don’t need "kids’ food"

My mom hates the idea of "kids' food." The food served only to children, she has always maintained, is bland, over-sweetened, unhealthy and unlikely to develop a person's palate. When I was a child, we rarely had kids' food at home. My sister and I grew up splitting adult entrees at restaurants to avoid the privations of the children's-menu hot dogs, ordering blue cheese dressing on our salads ("Thousand Island is pink and has pickles in it," my mom would say disdainfully), and hearing our mother insist that we could have a piece of nice, "grown-up" chocolate cream pie after dinner instead of the second-best kids' treats like Jell-O or Rice Krispies squares that were served at parties hosted by our parents' friends. I must admit, I always thought the occasional piece of chocolate cream pie was a fair trade-off for the fact that I didn't get to eat breakfast cereals with names like Cookie Crisp.

Since my childhood days, the world of "kids' food" has grown ever larger, as food companies develop and advertise more products specifically for children. Some of these products seem less awful than hot dogs or Jell-O, but I'm still skeptical. So I was curious to read comments about kids' food from nutrition and public-health expert Marion Nestle, PhD, in a recent interview for the scientific journal Childhood Obesity. Here's part of what she said:

Food marketers deliberately target children and adolescents for marketing... The purpose of food advertising is to make kids think they are supposed to be eating kids’ food—foods made just for them—and that they know more about what they are supposed to eat than their parents do. That is reason enough to be concerned about food marketing aimed at kids.

I bet my little sister can still sing the Cookie Crisp advertising jingle from the early 80s: "You can't have cookies for breakfast, but you can have Cookie Crisp!" We thought it was hilarious. Imagine having a mother who would buy that one! Apparently many moms did, though, because Cookie Crisp is still available, albeit with a different tag line now.

And back to my mom, the conclusion of Nestle's interview is sure to warm her heart:

Kids don’t need kids’ food. If adults are eating healthfully, kids should be eating the same foods that adults eat. Babies don’t need commercial baby food. Older kids don’t need kids’ products. Families can all eat the same foods, and that should make life easier for all concerned.

Previously: Want kids to eat their veggies? Researchers suggest labeling foods with snazzy names, New federal nutrition standards mean healthier school lunches and To squeeze or not to squeeze: Using packaged foods to increase a child’s fruit and veggie intake
Photo by GeneralMills

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