May 30, 2007

Fighting The Kids Menu Industrial Complex

From the NY Times:

I came to the realization that America is in the grips of a nefarious chicken-finger pandemic, in which a blandly tasty foodstuff has somehow become the de facto official nibble of our young.


ConAgra manufactures a product line called Kid Cuisine: prepackaged meals in compartmented, TV-dinner-style trays. If you visit the company’s Web site, you’ll find that all 14 Kid Cuisine meals are beige-yellow-ocher in color — a grim hallmark of the genre — and 5 of them are built around an entree in the breaded-chicken-nubbin family.

We've never been to ConAgra [heh], but the kid won't eat a chicken anything. We've almost always operated on the "kid eats what the parents eat" principle. The "kid eats anything, parents will be relieved" principle also holds a lot of sway. The "kid eats what the dad eats" is out, though, until she can buy her own Diet Coke and her own damn box of Fruity Pebbles.

Don’t Point That Menu at My Child, Please [nyt]


We've been fortunate that we've been able to do the "kids eat what we eat" with our daughter.. so far.

Of course, that only applies to dinner. Lunch and breakfast, my wife and I usually eat different things from each other anyway, so...

We subscribed to the "kid eats what the parents eat" theory for a long time. Unfortunately, for his 4th birthday, Monster decided to become a picky eater. Suddenly we were thrust into the world of chicken strips (made at home, so not completely bad) carrots, but only if there was dip and macaroni and cheese. It was frustrating, and I probably did it to myself. Being very pregnant, i just didn't have the energy to argue with him.

I see great problems in our future. We have a daughter who cannot have any milk products. Even the breading for those stupid pre-molded chicken strips often contains some sort of milk substance, and 90% of the food on those stupid children's menus contain cheese.

Luckily, Monster has branched out and has started eating actual food again. We even found a sushi place that offers children's menu choices like "4pc sushi, goma-ae and rice". I could kiss the chef.

i'm still (probably) years away from having a kid, but this is something i dread. i remember being one of those kids who only ate chicken fingers and spaghetti with no sauce and the occasional hamburger and while i've definitely expanded my tastes since then, i'm still one of the pickiest eaters ever. (you'll never convince me to put dressing on my salad or eat the tiniest bite of seafood).
i want to be able to encourage my kid to try new things but when i don't want to try them myself it's a little tricky.
i still have anxiety when i think back to nights at the dinner table when i'd sit there for hours because i wouldn't try at least one bite of peas or au gratin potatoes or whatever. and my mom's a good cook and didn't cater to special tastes much. (there're six of us, if she tried to make something different for each kid she'd be cooking all day).
hopefully some sort of balance can be struck between me and my husband. *fingers crossed*

This is one of the biggest differences between the US and France that I have seen. Americans in general seem to have a lot of wild hang ups, anxieties, and so-called allergies about foods. Don't they ever find it strange that the US supposedly has so many more cases of "allergies" than any other country? And it seems like every year, some new natural food that people have been eating for millenia gets nominated to the pantheon of evil (i.e. bread or pasta, or just glutens, or dairy products, or peanuts, and on and on...). I understand and respect those people with genuine allergies and intolerances to food. But those cases are far fewer than people realize. In France, it's almost non-existent, but here it's almost impossible to have a dinner party without having at least one person insist that they can't eat something or other. Anyway, our one-year old eats everything we eat, and we eat everything. Hopefully, it will stay that way.

[I totally agree. except for what you said about bread, wheat, peanuts, pasta, and dairy--that stuff'll kill ya -ed.]

about france - where i currently live - i'm not sure i can agree that the average person eats a substantially better or more varied diet than elsewhere. i've been shocked by the amount of industrial foodstuffs parents feed their kids and eat themselves. the diet is largely composed of white flour and processed foods: long-shelf-life breads like 'pain au lait' figure in almost every kids daily diet (it's the 'gouter'), the beloved baguette is generally white flour with salt and water, and the average family i've seen eats pasta + big chunk of meat for their main meal (notice lack of vegetables). it's also near impossible to find a breakfast cereal that doesn't contain chocolate, and it's generally eaten with long-life milk, which according to a chemist friend no longer has the same molecular structure as 'real' milk.

aside from all this, since being pregnant there's not a large selection of things i can eat here when eating out, as i need to avoid undercooked meat, especially beef, and all unpasteurised dairy products (most french cheeses...). all this so i don't infect our baby with toxoplasmosis. france is generally noted as the reigning world champion of toxoplasmosis, even in french info sources (

and to finish my rant on french eating habits, try eating a low/no-meat diet here. nearly impossible in the 'french food' eating out category. thank goodness for lebanese food...

i'm not a fussy eater, i will try anything. i'm lucky to have grown up in toronto and often for a treat we'd get taken to a restaurant with no english on the menus and get to choose one thing, not knowing what it was. we were always encouraged to try everything at least once. i still think food is one of the great pleasures of life, it's one of the reasons i moved to europe 7 years ago. i find however it's more natural, more healthy and more varied in other countries besides france, where it seems people are very adamant about sticking in their food ruts, and food is generally very refined and processed (with the exception of dairy). the ruts however, are different ones...

sorry for the novella, touched a nerve...

My wife's biggest beef with children's menus is that our kids almost invariably order Macaroni and Cheese which costs four dollars or more a plate even though it's usually the same stuff that we could make at home for 50 cents a plate or less. When you are feeding three or four young ones, it seems like a huge waste of money.

Y'know we often get so wrapped up in the "I've got to get my kid to eat" mentality that we overlook one of the most powerful and persuasive tools in our parenting arsenal - hunger. Nobody is going to call CPS and there will certainly be no damage done to your child if he/she opts not to eat what's been served and is simply allowed to go to bed hungry. Now, I know this is heart-breakingly hard to do, but you'll only have to play this card once or twice before the message is received loud & clear.

However, that said, we do try to introduce new, iffy food items alongside of tried & true ones. So, sure, we test the waters with some steamed zucchini but also make available a smallish portion of some highly-favored item like mac & cheese.

Also, you can "healthy up" comfort food faves like mac & cheese by using whole grain pasta and real cheeses instead of the nutritionally-void white-flour pasta & cheezy powder atrocity found in the boxes. Likewise for chicken - if you cook it, you control the seasonings & coatings.

And if cooking it yourself isn't always realistic - yeah, I live in the real world - some of the better "Mom & Pop" local fast food restaurants make their chicken strips from scratch with real chicken pieces, not amalgamated chicken scraps, corn meal, & HFCS. Even deep-dried, this is a far, far superior alternative to the crap that McDonald's or Burger King has the gall to call poultry. (And you're helping to support your local economy too!)

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