Wednesday, June 9, 2010

conflicting messages

On the junkmail catalog there was a big line on the bottom
How about, please don't send me this catalog that I didn't request...

But, I digress, back to food. At the Rainforest Cafe yesterday (first and last visit) the childrens' menu was a PBS "Curious George Hop into Health and Fitness" that made me want to scream.

"KNOW WHEN TO SAY WHOA! Try to avoid too many fried foods as well as sweets or snacks without any nutritional value." it admonishes the Kiddies as they ogle desserts bigger than their heads.

Meanwhile the children's menu offered grilled cheese, dinosaur chicken nuggets, hot dogs, mac n cheese, popcorn shrimp, coca cola products, fries (it did have carrot sticks and corn as an option) and the dessert featured was a volcano of chocolate brownie cakes with ice-cream and a chocolate lava big enough for half a dozen kids at least (menu said serves 2 or more...)

This nutritional info is aimed at small children. This is not OK. Labeling foods as good or bad confuses kids. It is not a child's job to decide what foods to chose, it is his job to decide how much and if to eat it. The focus for kids and food should be variety, good taste, and joy, not fear, shame or avoidance...

I could go on about why we have children's menus in the first place, but that is another post.

I ordered the nachos (gross with a cheese sauce, not real cheese) that was a huge portion for M and I to share and we left most of it behind. M had a mini burger and corn which was buttered so she didn't like it. She only ate half the mini-burger. That morning we had mangoes and tortilla with butter for snack.)

Would you all be willing to scout out "nutrition messages" that are aimed at small children in the next few days and report back? What do you notice? Are there "health" messages that might confuse kids? Pretty pervasive, no?


  1. I'd love to hear your thoughts on eating in restaurants with kids. Should you let them pick out whatever they want, give them some guidance, or pick for them?

    Great question. It depends, of course! If you eat out alot, you might want to have some ground rules to ensure variety. For example, you might allow one fried option and then you give the choice of a few sides. (So, if they want chicken fingers you might say, "OK, then you can chose from broccoli or carrots to have with that." Also if you include dessert, ask for a "child-size" portion. (I often show them with my hand what I mean in terms of ice-cream, and tell them I will pay for a full dessert, but want a smaller portion, or ask them to split a dessert for two kids.) If eating out is a rare treat, consider letting them make the choices.
    Perhaps challenge them to chose something off the regular menu to share. Enjoy eating out together! Yesterday at the Rainbow cafe it went like this, M chose the burgers, and I said, "do you want corn or carrot sticks?, milk or apple juice?" She asked about dessert, but since we have DQ cake at home for Daddy's birthday I said "not today, we're having cake tonight with dinner..." Does that help? Restaurants often don't have lots of appealing fruits and veggies, so make up for the balance with snacks and other meals that day.

  3. one of my local news stations has a commercial encouraging parents to make sure their children are able to play all year long -- okay, i can totally get behind that. of course, it says to bring your kids to an indoor play gym during the winter, but it makes no mention of how to afford such a treat if you barely have enough money to keep your house warm and food on the table, but i digress.

    the most disturbing part is the narration that talks about not eating too many calories and getting enough exercise while the camera focuses on A BABY CRAWLING. the child can't even be a full year old, and this commercial is making damn sure parents are worrying about their infants not getting enough exercise and eating too many calories.

    the first time i saw it i actually wept, no lie.

  4. Argh! What adds insult to injury is that our tax dollars are funding much of this garbage.

  5. One of the mistakes I made with my kids when they were little was to always make them order from the kids menu. (it's cheaper, the portions are smaller, etc...) Kids menus are always full of the same kinds of food: bland chicken nuggets, little cardboard hamburgers and the like. When my oldest turned 12 and decided she was too old for the kids meals she actually chose healthy options without any input from us. (and by healthy I mean balanced and involving vegetables)

    I'm ashamed to say that I was just being cheap and fretting about paying for a full-sized meal for them when I knew they'd never eat it all! *headsmack* That's what to-go boxes are for, right?!

    I'm still new to this whole new (to me) way of feeding kids and still kick myself for all the mistakes I made. When given a choice and freedom to choose, my kids make great choices!

    ps. Applebees has great little desserts about twice the size of a shot glass that are just right for a kid or an adult who just wants a bit of dessert. Tiny little sundaes, strawberry shortcakes or chocolate mousses.

  6. I am incredibly disturbed by the Froot Loops commercial that tries to explain to kids that Froot Loops are good for them because they contain fiber. If you were curious (and I was) a serving of Froot Loops (as defined by the box I looked at) does actually contain 3 g of fiber.

  7. You can totally control the catalog thang!
    I did and glad I did!

  8. Haven't seen any nutrition advice aimed at young children since, well, since I was last in the United States about 6 months ago. Actually, there is limited nutritional advice aimed at adults here in Switzerland as well. And yet, there is a much lower rate of obesity.

    Perhaps the advice isn't actually useful for anyone?

  9. I was just stewing about something similar and will probably write about it soon. Earlier this week at my middle schooler's academic awards night, the principal announced that there would be "healthy snacks" available afterwards. Some of the kids booed at this announcement. My daughter made it back to the cafeteria but I didn't fight the crowds to get there. I asked her what the "healthy snacks" were. She told me there were fruit snacks and rice krispie treats. The messages our kids get about what's "healthy" is just so crazy sometimes.
    As for kids menus, I recently wrote this post:

  10. I live in Beijing and none of the restaurants here (at least, none of the Chinese restaurants) have kids' menus. It's expected that the kids will eat right along with the adults - stir-fried vegetables and meat and rice and whatnot. Though I think many of them eat more of the fried rice and less of the abalone.

  11. Most places here in South Africa don't have a children's menu - its usually only the "family" themed chain steakhouses etc. that have kids menus. Not what I would consider a good restaurant, or somewhere I would choose to eat, even if I did have children.

    There are only two restaurants I can think of in SA which have nutrition information available - one is a health type chain restaurant - smoothies (made with real fruit, not sugar and ice cream) and sandwiches kind of place, and the other is a Thai chain restaurant. Neither have kids menus, and at both the nutrition information is unobtrusive (on the back of the menu/in a seperate pamphlet).

    In SA we are more concerned about making sure that our nation's kids have enough to eat, not worrying about them eating too much! As I recall, there are still lots of places in the U.S where adults and kids suffer from food insecurity, so why is this never in the US media?

  12. My husband and I were just talking about this! Our kitchen was down for the weeknd (new sink and dishwasher with grout that had to cure for 2 days), so we ate most of our meals out for a change. I really dislike kids menus with their boring and generally tasteless options, so we usually order 2 entrees and an appetizer and then split everything with our daughter. we do give her (limited) options to choose from and if we get dessert we split it because, as you point out, the dessert portions at restaurants are usually huge.

    Don't get me started on nutrition information aimed at kids. As I have commented here before, little nutritional "gems" are showing up in my daughter's pre-school books. Sheer madness. we don't watch many commercials (thank you DVR!) so we are spared kids' cereals with fiber and all that nonsense but I cannot shield my daughter from the comments about "nutrition" made by the other kids at her school that are less than factual.

    Hey, maybe confused nutrition information is replacing confused sex information on our playgrounds: "well I heard that fat is totally bad for you and you should never eat it"...


  13. daturagreenleaf,
    GREAT comment. Indeed, food insecurity is as high as it's ever been since they have been recording this kind of thing. I think it largely gets ignored because it is not a black and white issue. Poverty, hunger and obesity are often linked. I think many people see fat folks on WIC, or in poverty and can't comprehend the complexity. There is a moral element, there is judgement, lack of understanding. "They can't be hungry, they're fat! In fact, they're getting too much food! Let's cut the calorie and fat content in the school breakfast and lunch programs!" Very complex, great spot.