foodstuffs rant

There is a certain one year old I know (almost two) who has a powerful family history of obesity and diabetes. If this were my toddler, I'd be veeeery vigilant about getting her started in life with a good, healthy diet.

But her parents don't seem to get this. Every time I see this kid eating, she's eating yellow, white or beige food (and I don't mean yellow squash). It's all macaroni and cheese, french fries (always with the french fries) and white bread. I have never seen the child consume anything green. And all th efruits and veggies she does get are heavily processed and come in a jar labeled "Gerber Graduates" or something.

I have always been way too cheap and lazy to buy jarred baby food for my babies. I figure babies can eat mashed up bits of whatever happens to be on my plate. And feeding solids is such a pain that I really sort of put it off 'til they were literally asking for it bt grabbing things out of my hands or off my plate. At that point, I figured they wanted some solid food. So I gave them some.

Feeding babies a steady diet of store bought baby food seems to me a bit like feeding a ten year old nothing but canned soup and beefaroni. It's not fresh. It;s heavily processed. And frankly, it's mostly gross.

I know you can buy some yummier looking organic and additive free baby foods now, but if that's all you want, why not just mash up some peas with your fork or smash the bananas with a spoon and feed the baby that? Steam some spinach or broccoli, add a little melted cheese, and voila!

But this poor kid, I swear she has never seen a fresh piece of fruit. When she gets fruit, it's "Gerber Mandarin Oranges" in a jar (read: in sugar) or "First Foods Toddler Dessert Fruit Dinner," or some such junk like that. No wheat breads. No green beans. She drinks loads of juices "from concentrate." And her parents brag about how much she loves those chicken nuggets and fries. They say she just "won't eat" certain healthier foods. Well, at age 22 months, your child will eventually eat whatever you consistently feed them. I assure you, they will. Of course all children develop favorite and not-so-favorite foods - that's natural - but if the majority of the foods you offer her are pretty healthy, the favorites are going to be stuff that's good for her, even if some of her least favorites are too.

I worry about her. I really do. There's nothing wrong with the occasional Happy Meal, but it shouldn't be a tiny child's entire diet.

Rant over.


Jenny said...

This is a huge issue for me. We too know a 23-month-old that eats Pop-Tarts for breakfast and Happy Meals for dinner. The dad actually boasted -- beaming -- about the first Happy Meal (and believe me, it was really early). Also significant parental obesity there.

I fed my baby jarred food for the first several months of solids, but no Graduates, no meats, no pastas, no sugar-added jars. He had fruit and water & vegetable and water. In those first few months (4-8 months or so), he had one cereal, one fruit and one veggie at every meal (incl breakfast). When it was time, he began having natural foods: fresh fruits and vegetables, scrambled and hard-boiled eggs, cheeses, wheat toast, and mashed beans & cheese.

He still has fruit at every meal, and a vegetable at lunch and dinner. He loves all kinds of fruits: pineapples, kiwi, bananas, apples, watermelon, cantaloupe, and on and on. He likes peas, carrots, squash, lima beans, green beans, turnip greens (!), and more. He loves red, black, white, and pinto beans; egg, tuna, and chicken salad sandwiches; and tons of milk.

It's not hard or time-consuming. Sometimes I feel kind of guilty because I never "cook" my son a "meal." Most often I'm just cutting things up and putting them on a plate. But he's healthy and strong and will eat anything. Absolutely anything.

I don't ban ice cream or cookies; that's a recipe for coveting bad foods. Kids will have plenty of chances to eat crap. I just don't serve it at my home.

I too am confused when someone says her child "won't" eat something. When I serve food, my son can eat it or not, but he's not getting something else. Strangely enough, when he's hungry, he always chooses to eat what's on his plate. Weird how that works.

Anonymous said...

I always found it much easier (and less expensive)to put a little of whatever the family was eating in a mini food processor.I never fed jarred food.Now,at 14,my daughter has very healthy eating habits.She was sick once in her first 7 years and I think that she picked up that bug in the doctors office while getting a checkup.I don't know whether it was pure luck or the lack of eating junky foods.

Anonymous said...

Any good books to suggest for developing healthy eating habits??? I am a new mom and worried about this...not that I would do the steady diet of chick'n nuggets or anything but I did not develop good eating habits until I was an adult and still at times they are not the best...

Leslie said...


I hope all your kids will be like your first one and love healthy foods, but I can assure you that different kids *will* develop their own preferences, likes, dislikes, etc. regardless of what they are offered as babies. I've got five, and my fifth will try anything while my fourth will try next to nothing, and I did *nothing* different. All five have their preferences even though all were breastfed and then offered mostly food from our plates when they were ready for it.


It's especially easy to be lax about what your toddler is eating when there are "big kids" in the house who are wanting big kid junk food. Maybe you only let your big kids eat healthy foods and that won't be a problem, but whereas my first baby never ate sweets until she was two years old and ate very healthy foods, the littler ones have been exposed to bad things at an earlier age because the big kids are eating them. Of course, I realize I could be more diligent about what the big kids eat, but the fact that their father likes junky food makes that challenging.

Anonymous said...

I believe that what children eat is directly linked to behavior. I taught high school for 15 years and never understood why we would make such poor offerings of processed foods for kids. This past summer I worked with 16 three year olds. The food brought from home varied from healthy to lunches of which every food item was wrapped in plastic--and not a zip-lock. Fruit roll ups and a white bread PRE MADE, crust-less peanut butter sandwich with machine made crimped edges?
All processed.
This poor child was very sweet but had no concentration. I thought, "Ah, this kid will be on ritalin" by the time she reaches high school.

I am suspect of my own culture because it does not respect food, basic nourishment, for our bodies. It has not protected the ecology of the family farm.
Okay, in sort. I TOTALLY understand the distress of seeing one child being fed commodity instead of food. The book "Omnivore's Dilemma" is an excellent book for understanding why it is so easy to eat so poorly and thus medicate our ills so heavily in America. Good (yet somewhat painful) reading.
Like Jenny, this is a HUGE issue for me as well. Along with baby formulas and fast food etc. I see a squeeze between commodity food (corporate) and pharmaceuticals. The only way I can see to deal with it is to grow my own food and stay "small". That is support local farmers and try not to support anything done on a large scale.
Okay. Enough. I caught the rant bug because I am truly bugged by this issue. Bonne nuit.

Laura Linger said...

Sugar, sugar, sugar, chemicals, chemicals, chemicals, and more sugar.

It's not good for adults, so why would it be good for the little ones?

How are kids supposed to learn about different wonderful foods if all they eat are tater tots and Lunchables?

I'm proud of the mothers in my family, they both feed their children healthy, natural, and very often organic food. One mother is a little more relaxed about the junk food, but this is the same mother who makes sure her daughter is part of the dinner-cooking process every night. Consequently, this three-year-old's current favorite food is creamed spinach with soy cheese and nutmeg. All homemade, all fresh.

My parents did very little right in raising us kids, but we did have excellent food in our home. We didn't eat junk, it was never offered to us as anything but a rare treat. I had never even eaten McDonalds until I was 11 years old.

Consequently, all three kids are what you might call "foodies."

Leslie said...

I totally agree that behavior and diet are linked! One of my kids has ADHD and anything with red dye in it sends him bouncing off walls. Plus, he needs to eat regular, high protein meals or he suffers meltdowns.

Adrienne said...

It's a big issue, yes, but I have to agree with the mom-of-five (even though I'm only a mom-of-two) -- your kids are going to eat what they eat.

We did nothing different with our two either -- one will eat almost anything and the other eats almost nothing. Yes, even if we only wait until she's hungry. She'd rather starve than eat an egg.

I'm thrilled that so many have had such great success with their eating habits. And if though mine are different, neither eats a lot of processed crap -- but it isn't always as easy as simply offering what you think they *should* be eating. Remember that they are, indeed, small individual people, not small versions of you.

A professional chef has noticed the same thing about his kids:

katie allison granju said...


I totally agree that different kids demonstrate different eating preferences at even the earliest ages. Mine definitely have. But I do think that if most of the types of foods you offer kids are things you would be happy for them to eat, then within that variety they'll find stuff that appeals to them. I also live in the real world, where the toddler will occasionally eat the Happy Meal fries or the jarred fruit. C'est la vie. But the kid I am talking about literally eats NOTHING but this stuff.

Laura said...

i would agree....these truths worked well with my first four kids and i was oh so smug in my adhering o these truths and feeding my kids well.
then came daniel
daniel has a paralyzed vocal cord and proved a pedi wrong by literally starving himself than eat by mouth. at 7 months he got a g tube and was dpendent upon tube feedings until he was 3 years old. months and months and monhs of occupational therapy and speech therapy and working with nutritionists to teach this boy how to eat, yes, he had no clue how to eat and then to trust his self to eat without choking, without fear AND gain weight because he has been diagnosed as failure to thrive from age 5 months to present at age 5.
yeah, i used to agree with you 100% then i walked a few miles in shoes i never imagined were out there. the blisters on my feet from those shoes have caused me to see another reality and not be so quick to judge.
of course the "uber-moms" out there still cluck there tongues at me and the moms who have tube fed oral defensive children an the lengths we go to get our kids to put food in their mouths without throwing up or inhaling it into their lungs.
i guess that is what i get for being so smug with my first 4 kids' nutrition.

Anonymous said...

No one responds well to someone telling them they are making poor choices for their child, unfortunately. All you can do is give the kid good stuff when you are around her yourself.
I've tried to gently suggest cutting out the constant juice in the sippy cup to a friend because of the dental issues but she didn't 'hear.' All I can do is give her daughter water in the cup when I'm babysitting.

Anonymous said...

Laura, Your situation is exceptional. With a special needs child, you do what you must do, which is often quite different from how you would care for or feed a child without special needs.

But as a pediatrician, I must agree with Katie. I see so many toddlers and preschoolers whose parents tell me the kids will "only eat" fries or mcnuggets or Kraft macaroni and cheese. I say baloney, your child will eat healthier foods if you stop giving them access to the crap and you start feeding them a variety of healthier foods. Maybe your child will never love spinach, but she may love the edamame beans or broccoli you offer. If she loves yellow, creamy foods like mac and cheese, steam some yellow squash, cube it and add some melted cheese. Replace pasta and breads with whole wheat pasta and breads. These small every day changes will add up.

I see many kids 5 and 6 years old who are already getting fat. Their parents feed hem nothing but frozen pizza and lunchables and wonder why they are getting fat.

Katie is right that occasional junk food is fine. The key is to make sure that the basis of a child's diet is the good stuff and the other stuff, like fast food, is the "icing."

Anonymous said...

Another tip -- instead of only allowing your kids to order from the child's menu at rastaurants, which is normally limited to fried chicken fingers, burgers and fries, allow them to sample and try the tastier variety on the adult menu. Kids need to taste seafood and different vegatables and sauces and stronger flavors as children or they will learn a very limited palate which will serve them poorly as they grow.

Ma Turner said...

We belong to a biodynamic CSA and to make my son's food, I just popped stuff into the food processor after cooking it. Sometimes I'd mix with expressed breast milk if the consistency was too thick. I didn't want to fork over the cash for jarred organic foods when I figured I could do just as good a job, if not better, with the food prep. I relied heavily on Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron a a guide to get started. Now at 16 months, his diet is enviable!

Clisby said...

It's almost unbelievable how bad most restaurants' kid menus are.

Places where an adult can get a decent meal like grilled fish or chicken and a couple of vegetables have a kids' menu with nothing but chicken fingers, hot dogs, and hamburgers - all served with fries.

Often you can split an adult meal between 2 kids for not much more than a couple of kids-menu meals.

Anonymous said...

So will the baby be eating a steady diet of Taco Bell run through the blender? :)

jon said...


With plenty of hot sauce.


Anonymous said...

Was that last comment from Jon? The face kind of threw me for a minute.

sajmom said...

I started out doing so well with my first child-when suddenly at 18 months she stopped happily eating anything. Probably her way of asserting independance, plus I faught relatives (and strangers)trying to offer her garbage at every step. A two year old does not miss soda when she's never had it. Nor does she need candy for Easter or a lollipop from the bank or doctor. Babies 2 & 3 were never great eaters and only got worse. Plus it's harder with older kids who are starting to have foods that you don't give the younger ones yet. I repeatedly offer good foods that either weren't touched or were spit out. (I should add that unlike many of your readers, money also plays a role for us-I can't afford to buy foods continually if no one eats them. And good foods are often not cheap! I can't buy all organic, although I would love to. Produce really adds up as well.). I know kids often need repeated tastes of new foods until they like them-but my budget does not allow for that. I have to stick with what they will eat. Another factor that some of you may not have to deal with-it's great if both parents are on the same page nutritionally. But what about when one parent has no interest in eating "good" foods. Kids know the junk is in the house! I may refuse to let them eat their father's chips, but he gives in when they whine. That makes it very difficult to get them to eat the healthy stuff when they've had a taste of garbage food. They also witness their father's extreme pickiness and that surely doesn't help. Everyone insists that a kid will not refuse to eat, that eventually they will eat what is on their plate-I find this doesn't really work with my kids. They choose to go hungry (and get incredibly cranky as a result). And it gets confusing because parenting advice today is to never "force" them to eat(it's their body you can't push the food in and it may give them issues with food, etc.)and both my husband and I were forced to sit at the table and finish food-a strategy that didn't work so well with either of us. Both of us had battles where we held food in our mouth for hours as children, and many incidents where we found places to hide the food. My husband told his mother that a certain food made him throw up she insisted he eat it and he threw it up. I would like to avoid those issues with my kids, but at the same time.....I am very worried about some of the foods they eat. I try to model healthy eating for them, but trust me, just because they see me eating it doesn't mean they will!! I've tried letting the older two help make foods to stir interest in eating it-which usually doesn't work. I've tried using dips-my kids eat the dip and no more than a bite or two of the food! The pediatricians don't have any advice that isn't offered in magazines and articles and books.....and they don't treat it as a serious problem. I think it is serious-food affects behavior, mood, learning capacity, and general health. But I don't know the answer. I offer my info as possible reasons some of the children you see may not be eating as healthy as they should be. Not all parents just don't try-some of us try very very hard with little sucess. Obviously the situation Katie describes is more clear cut. It's not that simple for everyone......

Anonymous said...

I think your modeling of good eating habits is very important for your children! It is so difficult and often a challenge for all of us to eat healthy in our society with the constant availability of "junk." I find myself grabbing a second (and sometimes third!) cookie made with a cup of butter and a cup of sugar (not to mention the m&ms and chocolate chips) that my secretary loves to bring to work to share (a Paula Dean recipe)! Still, the fact that you do care and are trying to expose your kids to real food is so important. Hopefully, the price of organic food will decrease as more people demand it in the stores. I like the "smoothie recipes" that Dr. Sears has on his website. We have one for breakfast and I stock up on the organic frozen fruit when on sale at the grocery store. I add an Omega-3 supplement (orange flavored called "coromega") and some type of "greens" for good measure (powered supplement). At least this way, the whole family is eating something healthy at least once a day and getting off to a good start.

Anonymous said...

Add me to the "offers my kid organic whole foods at every meal but he doesn't eat much of anything" club. We are members of a CSA and almost everything I feed my son is organic and/or whole food but he is very, very, very picky. He is almost two and is still nursing so I know that has something to do with his appetite for solid food, but when I see other kids we're around eating green beans, broccoli, or even a sandwich I feel like a complete failure.

I think it's great that some kids are good eaters but in my experience anyone can get a picky eater. I'm not condoning the constant eating of junk food by any stretch but the "your child will eat what you put in front of them" thing doesn't seem to always work either.

Anonymous said...

I always say that its not WHAT they eat its how much. I think there are a lot of emotionally empty kids who are comforting themselves with food out there. I grew up around a lot of people who ate a lot of junk and not a one of them was fat. Thing is they weren't stuffing themselves 24/7 to medicate away the pain of their daily lives.

Anonymous said...

and unless you are in a position to help this kid is it really any of your business???