Kids eat processed food because parents give it to them (for the most part)

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One thing we expected to gain from our family’s strict “100 Days of Real Food” pledge was a new perspective. And a new perspective we got. I am convinced that before cutting out all highly processed food – including white flour and sugar – I was going through life completely oblivious to what I was eating and feeding my family. Not only was I ignoring the ingredients on the packaged stuff I was buying, but for some reason the long list of refined grains, artificial additives, and sweeteners wouldn’t have raised a red flag for me anyway.

But more than halfway into our real food pledge things were suddenly different. Thanks to Michael Pollan, we now understood that most of what we used to eat – including pasta made from scratch using white flour – was not the best choice. And after completely making over the way our family shops for food, cooks, and eats I cannot not help but observe what food choices others are making in this processed food world that we live in. Call it nosey, call it judgmental, but regardless - I am incredibly curious about what others are eating.

I am especially curious about what other parents choose to feed their children. If you hand your kid a bag of chips, sure they are going to eat it and probably enjoy every last bite (I know my kids would). If you hand your kid some Pirate’s Booty or Veggie Straws because for some reason – that you might not be able to explain exactly – you think it’s a “healthier” alternative than chips I am sure they would eat that as well. But what if you went through a little extra effort and sliced up a few pieces of their favorite organic fruit? Wouldn’t they most likely dig right into that too?

It seems to me as though young children have to rely on their parents to make the right food choices for them. My daughters certainly can’t go to the grocery store, pick out food, and make purchases without me leading the charge. I am their “enabler” if you will. And, like most moms, I know what food – both “real” and processed – that my children will likely eat. I know they would enjoy some cold apple slices with a little peanut butter on them just as much as a bag of chips – especially if they never even knew the chips were an alternative. So, as their mother, I am learning that it is my responsibility to buy and provide them with the right whole food choices even if it might require a little extra work on my part.

Following is a July 2010 excerpt from our “100 Days of Real Food” pledge:

The other night after dinner I let my daughters dig into a homemade freezie pop, which was basically frozen organic applesauce inside a colorful silicone mold. It was the perfect messy treat to eat outside on a hot summer day. Once we got outside not one, not two, but three little friends on our street came right over. Each child separately indicated they wanted to try “one” too – even though I’m sure they didn’t even know what it was. So luckily, I had exactly three extra homemade freezie pops ready to go, and I was happy to divvy them up. All of the kids sucked them down with pleasure, and the only thing they were eating was frozen organic applesauce!

Yes, it took a little effort on my part to order the freezie pop molds, pour in some store bought applesauce, and stick them in the freezer, but once all of that was taken care of these kids were thrilled to eat exactly what was offered to them. And these are the very same kids that are usually walking up and down our street with artificially colored, high-fructose corn syrup filled, factory-made frozen treats from the grocery store. Because of course that’s what was available and given to them.

Note: This was originally published in my weekly syndicated newspaper column, but I wanted to revisit it today since it’s a topic I touch on often.

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173 comments to Kids eat processed food because parents give it to them (for the most part)

  • Ashley

    I do not feel judged by this article at all! When we “woke up” about what we were eating I also noticed what other people are feeding their families. I had one instance at the store, while waiting in line I noticed a family in front of me. The parents 2 young children and a baby. I noticed that they had cases of soda, tons of processed junk food and hardly anything healthy. One of their children picked up the divider so the cashier asked what was theirs. The mom replied with “none of the healthy stuff is ours” and laughed. I honestly felt bad for her children.

  • Jessica Ortiz

    I find you to be incredibly judgemental. I have read a couple of your posts for information to help me feed my family better. However, coming across this one turns me off to your blog altogether.I am a teacher and in the summer my family eats impeccably because I have time to go to the market 2-3 times a week for fresh produce and plan/prepare meals and snacks. What I am trying to get at is, sure it sounds super easy to feed your family nonprocessed foods 100% of the time because you stay at home and that is your entire job. Most people don’t have that luxury, so please don’t jugde what’s in our carts.

    • Lisa

      Jessica – I may be at home, but I work practically full time (with no summers off) running this blog. I think you missed a key point of my post that handing your kid a banana or an apple is no more work than giving them a bag of chips. And when eating real food does require more work/time my wish is that people will do their best to make it a top priority over other things.

    • Kitt

      I work full time and attend school full time. Due to food allergies in my family (myself and one of my girls), pretty much everything we eat falls under Lisa’s definition of “real food.” Yes, I’m responsible for all prep/shopping/cleanup. It’s NOT impossible if you’re willing to change some habits. It’s not even really cumbersome once you get used to it. What’s hard about brown rice in a rice cooker? Raw nuts out of the jar? An apple? A carrot? Whole grain pasta? I would have thought differently a few years ago, but then I was forced to do it this way to avoid anaphylactic shock(or losing tons of weight from just not eating). Now I see it as a blessing in disguise. I really don’t think Lisa just sits around all day with nothing to do other than cook. Some people just aren’t willing to prioritize real food to the same level.

  • Tonya Mae

    I no longer have small children at home, as my only child is grown. However, I am a teacher. And this post has made me rethink what types of food I will serve at our class parties.

    I discovered your blog back in May and have since switched to real food. No more processed, white flours or sugary drinks. Yes, it is more work to prepare, but the benefits far outweigh the time spent preparing. I am already back at school. So I spent my Sunday preparing, cooking and freezing things like soups, tortillas, whole wheat pastries, pizza crusts, pesto and more so it will make life a little easier during the school week.
    Thank you for your candid post. :)

  • Isabell

    Lauren and all others who think this article is judgemental, I agree there is guilt playing a part here. And frankly saying you don’t want people looking in your cart and judging you, whether you want it or not, it happens. People will always silently judge what is in your cart, what you are wearing, what car your driving, etc., etc. You will never stop it. Just let it go. You do it too whether you like it or not whether you find yourself “stopping it” or not, you’ve already gotten the thought out before you can stop it. You are simply dealing with more guilt again when you catch yourself judging. Actually, it’s validation you are really having trouble stomaching. If you find it distasteful and just found yourself doing it then it’s pretty certain just about everyone else is returning the favor and that’s what really bothers you. As long as they don’t tell you to your face what they are thinking or you them, who cares. It’s not hurting anyone. It’s human nature. That aside. She is simply saying do your part. Regardless of what is going on in the outside world don’t contribute to it yourself as much as you can help. And her example wasn’t even time consuming! She’s saying something as simple as buying organic apple sauce and freezing it instead of giving your kids store bought processed popsicles makes a difference. Heck she’s not even saying you need to make the applesauce homemade from scratch for it to count! This article is just a wake up call. If you are already aware of this importance and are already doing all you can to provide for your children in this way, then this article was not written for you.

  • [...] buy boxed snacks, they won’t eat them. Lisa had an excellent article on the subject called Kids Eat Processed Food Because Parents Give It to Them. #5 Inspiration- I was feeling bored and tired with the food I was feeding my family. This 10 Day [...]

  • Crystal

    It’s just as easy to give your child a banana as it is to give them a bag of chips.

  • amy

    My house is still having a difficult time doing away with some processed foods. My five year old is extremely pickey. As in make himself throwup if he has to eat a greenbeen. He’s my biggest problem. My second son(1 1/2) is complete opposite. He screams in the produce section for carrots and apples and oranges. If it wasn’t for Ainne’s organic products and EnviroKids cereal I think my older boy would starve.
    My problem is I’m terrified my younger boys is going to start copying his big brother. I’m trying to introduce one new food a week to him but it’s not working to well. My little one gobbles up all the good stuff and his brother just wants junk.(that he’s allergic too!) Help.

  • Bonnie

    I had a hard time with Easter. My kids were bombarded with candy from school, church, friends and family. I asked my Mother and Mother-in-law to refrain from giving the kids candy and maybe give them a small gift or fruit but if it had to be candy to make it a very small basket. My mother gave them a basket full of fruit. She took a picture of the kids holding the baskets and the HUGE smiles on their faces because she didn’t think any of her friends would believe her when she told of her grandchildren actually loving the idea of receiving a basket of fruit rather than candy. My mother-in-law, being a diabetic, couldn’t imagine a child not receiving candy so gave them a very small basket but it was in the bottom of a very large bag which held a lot of candy. She just couldn’t understand the request. lol :)

  • Liza Swartz

    For all the picky eaters… the pediatrician I had as a child told me mother no child will starve to death when food is offered to them. My mom shared that with me when I had my child and I remind myself of that often. My daughter is 21 months old and yes, does spit things out, but also eats all sorts of healthy, non-processed, non-GMO, organic foods. Is it sometimes frustrating to spend the energy as a single parent who works full-time to make a from scratch meal and have her not want it, yes, but I am the parent and she is the child. Those are our roles and I feel it is my job to give her the best nutrition I can. And I have to say, she eats most foods at this point :) And if it takes her more tries to adjust her taste buds too it, I am patient. I am trying new things too while “awakening” to the new lifestyle diet and have to even tell myself that it takes children 10 tries for their pallett to recognize and enjoy some things, I need to do the same. It’s all a learning process and a journey that I feel passionate about. You are what you eat… such true words!

  • Angie

    I started following you on FB. I really enjoy it. I think we should all strive to feed our families the best food we can. Some of it is cooking techniques, sometimes it is meal planning and others it is adapting to what we can get a great price. I have a fully stocked second freezer and a pantry full of things to make real food for my family. I love reading your daily lunches and getting ideas for my 2 young boys ( 3 & 4 1/2) we have started getting them more involved in the kitchen too. I will say that it doesnt happen ovenight, it has taken me about 5 years to get to where we are(hubby is a bit resistant) but I am happy where we are and where we are going

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