For decades, children have been the prime target market for big food corporations. In this recent interview clip, Michael Moss, author of Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, tells the history of Oscar Mayer’s Lunchables, the on-the-go snack of processed meats, cheeses and crackers the company marketed to kids of working moms as a fast, fun and easy alternative to a healthy lunch. (Listen to Moss’ NPR Interview for more of his findings.)
Packing in more sugar than snack cakes and cookies, processed breakfast cereals continue to attract children with brightly colored boxes, cartoon characters, and catchy jingles. Grocers have long helped boost kid cereal sales by stocking the most sugary options on the lower shelves at children’s eye level. It only takes is a simple glance at a colorful toucan or silly-shaped marshmallow to wage a war of wills between parent and child.
What’s the harm in marketing processed foods to kids?
Melanie Warner, author of Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal, recently explained that processed foods are devoid of naturally occurring nutrients (because the processing removes them) and require synthetically manufactured vitamins to be added back in. Cereals, for example, often contain synthetic vitamins derived from non-food materials and chemical processes. Warner gives the example of B vitamins made from chemically treated nylon.
Gross substitutes aside, processed foods, as noted by Moss, are chock full of unwanted sugar, fat and salt, and can spur food addictions, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, behavior problems, etc..
How can you protect your children from the dangers of Big Food?
You can raise a healthy eater in spite our ad-laden cities, grocery aisles, and computer screens. Here’s how:
- Educate from within. Make nutrition a common topic in your household. Check out our post on mindful eating for tips on how to help your child establish a healthy fondness for food.
- Do your homework. Find out which products are the safest for your kids. A great resource is the Environmental Working Group who has compiled a list of the best and worst cereals. Be sure to check out their healthy breakfast tips, too.
- Be selective: Choose products with fewer ingredients, and look for labels stamped with “100 percent organic“, “GMO-free”, and ‘USDA-certified organic’.
- Shop local. When possible, bypass the chain store and buy from local organic vendors. Introduce your kids to local farmers so they can learn where food comes from.
Remember, you’re your children’s first and best influence.
One day when your children are able to make their own food choices, it should be your slogans and behavior that guide them, not marketing manipulation from Big Food companies. Please call us at 415.826.1701 to learn more about the how you can ensure a healthy diet for you and your child.