Culture & Entertainment

Kids and junk food: Where's the line?

By: Jennifer Gruden
Canadian Living
Culture & Entertainment

Kids and junk food: Where's the line?

By: Jennifer Gruden
If you didn't catch "The Extraordinary Science of Junk Food" On the New York Times website this week, may I recommend you take your tea and give it a read. I particularly loved the section that discusses the development of particular lunch products. Yes, food companies really are working hard to get us, and our kids, to buy their products. One of the biggest struggles I have had as a parent is experiencing exactly how fraught the whole junk food question is when you have young kids. On the one side, relatives who really, really wanted to take my preschooler to places that basically create junk food addiction in little kids. Because it is fun, to get the toy and the box and sit there and watch that kid light up at the whole experience. And then there were some of my mom friends, and frankly people on the Internet, who seemed to think that if one non-organic dyed orange cracker crossed their child's lips the world would end in an explosion of junk food wrappers. I probably skewed more to the "edaname or bust" end of the scale. I have worked pretty hard to wean my own taste buds off the junk food addiction I developed as a teen and in my early 20s, and I also really do believe in whole foods, and slow preparation, and basically Michael Pollan's food rules: Eat (real) food, not too much, mostly plants. And yet I also have to admit that for me it's really not a party until there are chips and dip. Here was my watershed moment. I was at the home of a good mom friend's having a playdate when she pulled out a product I will not name but which involves artificial strawberry flavour on something that is grain-based. It was the kind of snack I had kind of drawn the line about in my own mind for my under-3-year-old: No redeeming nutritional quality, and so on and so forth. And it was offered with the absolute kindest of intentions and love. What do you do? Well here's what I did. I flashed forward 25 years in my mind, to when my extraordinarily gifted and confident young adult child would be globe-trotting in the name of world peace (*cough*) and stop in at the home of a local diplomat, and he would be offered a cultural delicacy that to his eyes looked strange. And what would I want him to do? Try it. So I let it go. All things in moderation. My child did not implode. He did not come down with an immediate junk food addiction (that took a bit longer.) I did not buy him more. But I did start to relax a little. I am not advocating that we feed our kids junk food, although I will totally admit that we have eventually come to terms with having it sometimes. We try to make good food choices 95% of the time, 19 meals out of 20, and if we fall down on the 20th meal or snack well, that's the world that we live in. Not just because quite frankly, sometimes it is easier or faster. But also because our family lives in our current food culture and I just am...into it sometimes. And as my child's gotten older and hit the wide world of elementary school, I have realized that he actually is really going to end up making his own decisions...the same way I have. How do you make food decisions for your family? I am truly fascinated about how people navigate this area. Do you have a junk food addiction? How do you cope with junk food at friends' and family's homes? And I'm also going to link here to pieces at Canadian Living that really do inspire my table for real, because that inspiration is what keeps me going some weeks:
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Kids and junk food: Where's the line?

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