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

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.

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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 the SEEM like a “healthier” alternative than chips (hint: they’re not much better) 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 organic 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 normally indulge in artificially colored, high-fructose corn syrup filled, factory-made frozen treats from the grocery store. Because of course that’s what’s usually available and given to them.

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179 thoughts on “Kids eat processed food because parents give it to them (for the most part)”

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  1. I agree with you whole heartedly but thing the potato chip photo is deceiving. A bag of chips containing only potato, avocado oil and salt is a better choice than goldfish, Doritos, etc. Obviously an orange is a better choice than any of those but teaching people to pick better options of things they already buy is of value as well.

  2. Hi, I have been reading your blog for some time now and appreciate the time and effort you put in. I am an older person whose children have grown-up and have families of their own. My children and grandchildren eat much more healthy than I ever fed my children when they were growing up. I never really gave food quality much thought, just wanted to fill their bellies. I am glad blogs like yours exist to remind us how important it is to feed our children and ourselves quality food.

  3. Now that my family eats about 90% clean (sometimes you can’t avoid it), I am saddened to see the amount of junk people put in their grocery carts. It almost makes me angry that certain foods are even available, because they taste so good, but they are so full of junk. And the pretty, green labels with leaves and plants make it seem like this sugar filled, artificially flavored “food” is made from spinach and sunshine. Not. Cool.
    Thanks for blowing the whistle, and helping me and my family make better food choices!

  4. I think that many parents literally just have no.idea. about healthy/non-healthy food, or “non-food” really. People really think that a protein bar full of sugar is healthy, because the label makes it sound that way. No one has educated them about ingredients, and what they really mean. And yes, for full meals, canned/boxed foods are much cheaper. It is cheap to buy a $1 box of mac n cheese or canned corn etc. And organic produce is not afforded by all or even understood by most. With what I have learned over the years, I can now determine this & often times can find some organic items that are about the same price as regular if you’re really looking. Aldi & Walmart have some good prices now. But you can’t expect everyone to know. I think education is very important, because things will not change unless the buyers/demands change.

    I also think I have had to get my own junk craving/eating under control, bc now that my daughter is older she knows what is in the house & can get to it, so I have to be a good example too. She still gets quite a bit more junk than I like at school, relatives etc. She now takes her own snack to sunday school & is fine with that instead of their goldfish. It is overwhelming at first, but you just have to start doing one thing @ a time. We like to put out a bowl of fresh pears,strawberries, etc with dinner for “dessert” after. Or put fruit on skewers-instantly cooler. You do have to kind of watch what they get other places, otherwise they would rather have the sugary processed junk & don’t think what you buy tastes as good.

  5. My son is autistic, and I suffer from a severe anxiety/depression disorder (which I am currently on medication for, after 40 years without it), As a child, I was fed very healthy, plain, bland food, exactly the meals you might find in a Joy of Cooking from the 1940s, porridge made the night before, absolutely no sugar on or in anything, very minimal amount of salt. The diet certainly worked in helping my mental health and brain development, but as Ive said before, very plain. So of course, as soon as I was paying my own bills, I ate nothing but processed junk. Ironically, I have spent the last 20 years as a cook. Ive worked everything from fine dining, pubs, family, to hotels and 6000 seat arenas. I usually ate at work, so then my meals were less processed, but still pretty high in fat and sodium. When I retired to look after my son (I am now on disability and may never cook professionally again), I realized after years of seeing your blog posts on fb, that your website might just be exactly what the doctor ordered. I believe I can help us both with an appropriate diet, all I needed was a meal plan, recipe ideas, shopping advice … (the list goes on), the real challenge is going to be finding out what my son will actually eat. Wish us luck!

    1. Hi there, so sorry about your depression. .I have had anxiety for long time and I have found that eating more of “real whole foods has been helping a lot! What about you? ? I have found a great way of flooding my body with 30 different fruits and vegetables per day..non gmo 3rd party tested. .The most clinical research product in the whole world. .I would love to send you video and see if maybe it would be a good fit for you. .I won’t be putting anything here by respect but please reach out to me.i would love to help. It has been proven of helping with autism as well.
      Magalie Boltz

  6. 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

  7. 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!

  8. 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 :)

  9. 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.

  10. 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.