Previous Post Next Post


Brought to you by

Would You Let Your Kids Eat Diet Food?

By ccampion |

The other day at the bus stop I was catching-up on some school gossip with my neighbor. She had done cafeteria duty at our elementary school and told me about one Kindergartner who brought a lunch consisting entirely of diet food:  low calorie mini-cupcakes, low-calorie yogurt, everything she had was pacakged as “low-fat” and “diet”.
When the mom inquired about what she was eating, the little girl was able to describe the calorie-counts of each item: “these cupcakes only has 100 calories per-serving”.
Even if this little girl was overweight (which she’s not at all) is this the best lunch for her little growing body? What message is she being given about food and her own self-image?
Now I realize it’s very possible that her family’s lunch duties that day may have been frantic (picture dad in the pantry throwing whatever was handy into the Barbie lunchbox), or handed-over to a relative who’s an employee at Snackwell, or maybe this was only indicative of one meal out of her day and the rest are well-balanced and diet-lingo free.
But if this is not the case, then I wonder what is going on?

As a long-time editor at several woman’s magazines, I can tell you that many personal stories about eating disorders start with the writer describing a mother who was obsessed with fad diets—from grapefruit to South Beach—or put them on a diet at an early age.

And besides the concern about the message this child is getting about her own self-image, what about her missing out on all the nutrients and good fat (there is such a thing) that real food has to offer?
Yes, there is an epidemic of child obesity in this country and I’m all for portion control: I serve my family 2 % percent milk and 2% Greek yogurt and water down fruit juice when I serve it to them, so yes, I am thinking about sugar and fat content as well. But I have never given my kids a Snackwell product or a Lean Cuisine meal or a glass of Crystal Light. Have you? Would you?
I would love to hear your opinions on this!

Find more:

How can raise daughters without eating disorders?

9 ways to encourage healthy attitudes about food

More on Babble

About ccampion



Caroline Campion is a contributing editor at Glamour Magazine, and has also been a senior editor at GQ along with the food magazine Saveur. She has contributed savory recipes to the Babble Food channel in the past, and currently writes on her blog Devil and Egg.

« Go back to Food

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, profile photo and other personal information you make public on Facebook (e.g., school, work, current city, age) will appear with your comment. Comments, together with personal information accompanying them, may be used on and other Babble media platforms. Learn More.

28 thoughts on “Would You Let Your Kids Eat Diet Food?

  1. jennyfeldman says:

    I most definitely would NOT–agreed with you.

  2. Julie says:

    I think this story is sad. If they just threw the lunch together, then who cares, but if it was thought out, then that’s pretty scary. I don’t find this kind of thing that much different from parents that are vegetarians and make their small children vegetarians too.

  3. Kelsey/TheNaptimeChef says:

    Growing bodies need healthy food. Healthy food for children is not diet food. Yes, we need to watch what our kids eat and make sure they get a balanced diet with lots of fruits, vegetables and protein but feeding them diet food isn’t the answer. The fact that this little girl already knows how to count calories is sad. Calories shouldn’t matter – especially children – if kids are eating a balanced diet and enjoying a healthy active lifestyle. Worst of all, she may be missing out on some essential fats if she isn’t allowed to eat “healthy fat” food like avocados, etc.

  4. JCF says:

    Absolutely no diet food here–for the kids or the adults. We eat foods in their whole, natural state as much as possible. I don’t buy mini diet cupcakes, but neither do I buy mini non-diet cupcakes. Don’t get me wrong, my kids get treats on occasion, but for the most part, they’re totally content with lunch items like cheese, whole wheat bread, fruits, veggies, plain yogurt, etc. I want them to eat healthy foods, enjoy them, and have no concept at a young age of calorie counting.

  5. Rachel says:

    This is sad. And, it’s as sad as the photo that’s with it. The photo, much to the dismay of most, is of REAL food, not diet food. Diet foods are processed foods, and aren’t good for MOST people. The food in the picture is not diet food, but real food, and food that children should be eating with abandon. (And, food that adults should be eating with abandon, too.)

  6. Voice of Reason says:

    That’s one of the saddest articles I’ve seen in a while. When a five year old knows the calorie counts of all of her lunch items, it signals a BIG problem at home. The messages about food (in these formative years… and beyond) should be positive, not laced with warnings and scaremongering. That’s really messed up and doesn’t bode well for that little girl’s preteen/teen years.

  7. Jaime says:

    The most disturbing thing to me is the idea that SO many Americans believe that diet food is “healthy” food and are probably deluding themselves into thinking they will actually lose weight with aspartame and any other number of excuses for things like that.

    But the deeper issue here is our little ones believing they have to measure up (or measure down as the case may be) to fit into someone’s idea of the perfect body.

  8. Jen F says:

    Define diet food. Lean Cuisines stink, but when my child wants cookies, they are in a 100 calorie pack. Why? Because 100 calories is a fair serving of cookies. A pack of Oreos isn’t. Maybe if children knew what went into a healthy diet, they wouldn’t wind up obese at 30, and buying lean cuisines.
    If you’re so against diet food, teach kids healthy habits and put Snackwells and the like out of business!!!

  9. [...] contributor to Babble’s The Family Kitchen, posted a piece today about discovering that a kindergartner in her elementary school was being sent with lunch consisting entirely of low-calori….  In it she says that “the little girl was able to describe the calorie-counts of each [...]

  10. losifra says:

    Totally agree–no diet foods. Too much crap in them, not to mention the planting of future body image minefields.

  11. Holly says:

    Julie – Please enlighten me further on how choosing to feed children a cruelty-free diet is akin to feeding them fake foods. We eat real, whole, healthy food, but we intentionally eschew meat as a family for ethical reasons. I am offended by your remark – the two are COMPLETELY unrelated.

  12. TKIAM says:

    I just wrote about the pervasive problem with body image in young girls from a very personal perspective ( It is a sad and potentially scary situation. Here’s a fact: Young girls today are so appearance conscious that many have indicated in surveys that they are more afraid of becoming fat than they are of cancer, nuclear war or losing their parents (from the NEDIC web site). My thinking on this subject is that there is a very insecure mother behind these lunches and their correlating calorie counts.

  13. ajsmom says:

    i agree with above posters — i don’t give my daughter that much in the way of treats (she’s only 1.5 years old), but i also don’t believe in “diet food”. teach your children to love fruits and veggies, whole grain breads, and whole, not processed, foods.

    but to “julie” who commented above, how is this the same as raising your child as a vegetarian? one is teaching their daughter to count calories and worry about weight while still eating processed crap. another is teaching their children to eat vegetables and eat well. how is that even remotely relatable? i’m not a vegetarian, but i assume that if i were, my child would likely be as well, or close to it, since it would be something that i as a person would believe in.

    sorry, but i think it’s way worse to feed your kids processed foods 90% of the time, diet or not.

  14. im-in-tx says:

    “I don’t find this kind of thing that much different from parents that are vegetarians and make their small children vegetarians too.”

    That is a completely uninformed (i.e. ignorant) viewpoint.

  15. Jasmine says:

    Seriously, “diet” junk food = vegetarianism…? WTF???

  16. joylynn says:

    I don’t know that the products in this child’s lunchbox are as bad as her attitudes towards them or that they seem to make up the bulk of her diet. I would never give a young child a product with artificial sweeteners or fats and I don’t think young children should know how to count calories. That being said, a 100 calorie cookie pack seems like a good serving size for an occasional treat and I would definately give my child a Lean Cuisine TV dinner over a Kid Cuisine one. Lean Cuisine tries to be a balanced meal whereas Kid Cuisine is just junk food. However, I do not resort to convenience foods often, do not diet myself, and don’t allow discussions about diets around my daughter. I do pay attention to nutrition and discuss things like eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables everyday.
    If there was no dr prescribed medical reason for that child’s diet-lunch then it was unhealthy but so is a diet of non-diet convenienced foods and both will lead to health issues later.

  17. Josie says:

    I only keep skim milk in my house, and we also have fresh fruit like apples or bananas, in addition to low sugar yogurt and sugar free beverages. Diet food? nope. Healthy food? yep.

  18. Rachel says:

    I have given my daughter a glass of crystal light…not for the reason that it is diet…but just because she LIKES the taste. I have also given my daughter a lean cuising hot pocket in place of pizza. I think its all about the ATTITUDE behind the product selection. I do so because it is probably healthier for her to eat some foods that may be considered as diet. We rarely select these things…except in a pinch. As a result of telling our child…(These are HEALTHY) rather than (These are LOW CAL) she will eat just about anything…regardless…including tabouli, couscous, all kinds of fish, etc and has been doing so since she was 1 1/2!

  19. Annette says:

    We as a family drink Crystal Light, skim milk, and water exclusively – no soda, and eat only low fat or fat free dairy products in addition to lean meats and produce. Why is that so wrong? Are there really more nutrients in full fat yogurt than fat free or is this a witch hunt for supposedly unhealthy additives like aspartame which have never been proven to be detrimental? And yes, we do it because they are ‘diet’ and have fewer calories and fat. Just because I’m conscious of my family’s health and weight, doesn’t mean my kids can recite the calorie counts of their food, but it does make them more conscious to the fact that there are healthy alternatives to the junk marketed to kids they encounter when I’m not around. Organic, whole grain, natural sugar coated frosted flakes are still frosted flakes. Just because it’s ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ doesn’t mean we should be eating it with abandon, either.

  20. SUE says:


  21. Jodie says:

    please think twice about giving your kids any beverages made with artificial sweetners. even those touted as safe are potentially harmful or can cause digestive problems.

  22. Deanna says:

    While I wouldn’t serve my child a ‘lean cuisine’, I certainly do look for juices with lower sugar/calories. I also choose to buy her ‘sweet’ snacks that have lower sugar/fat/calories. So yes, she gets the 100 calorie packs of yogurt covered pretzels or 100 calorie oreo cakesters…and I do have the low cal non fat yogurt. Does she know she is eating this…no. Does she know calorie counts…no. During the day she has her fruit, vegetables, proteins, etc as main meals. She does whole milk, I do 1%. I don’t know why its such a bad thing to cut where you can, especially on the empty calorie items. So call it ‘diet food’ if you want, I would just say that it is making better choices. No reason to fill your child up with calories that aren’t necessary. Whats wrong with Snackwell or low fat yogurt?

  23. el says:

    Two of my friends are obsessed with their kids and their weight. One counts weight watcher points for her 4 yo, the other won’t let her 4 yo eat if it isn’t meal time, then only the amount she wants him to eat. Both moms are skinny and can’t stop dieting themselves and are now creating an unhealthy example for their kids.

  24. Tannie says:

    When you think about it meal serving sizes and calorie counts these days are outrageous. Lean cuisines offer those guilty pleasure items that could consist of an entire days calorie allowance for a child, or even an adult in both a reasonable portion size an calorie count, as do the 100 calorie count packages of cheeses, cookies and other snacks. Eating habits develop in childhood, and I think it is more outrageous that kids are taking in 1000 calorie meals in one sitting. Also on another note according to nutritionists after the age of 2 years of age children are supposed to transition from whole milk cheeses, yogurts and other products to lower fat options anyways because they no longer need to make up for the rapid brain growth of the first year. The can transition to getting their fats from unhealthy unsaturated fats, to good fats from vegetables and vegetable oils.

  25. The Wealth Planner says:

    I personally think diet foods should be banned anyway – to kids and adults alike. If people did a little bit of learning about health and nutrition, they would come to realise that properly grown fruits and vegetables are a lot better tasting and satisfying than any of the processed foods… If you are then still fond of pizza and burgers, make it the exception rather than the rule!

  26. Kaitlyn says:

    I don’t think diet foods like cupcakes are a good choice, but low fat yogurt or skim or low fat milk is fine in my book. Although children do need some fat in their diet, if children are going to get all the dairy servings they should then at least some of them should be low fat or skim options because if they are eating a balanced diet then the healthy fats they need should come from better sources such as poultry, fish, avocados, nuts, beans, etc. Teaching kids that healthier alternatives like low fat or skim milk are just as tasty and nutritious is important, without putting the emphasis on their weight or waistline, but rather on just keeping balance!

  27. Kaitlyn says:

    And being a vegetarian is fine for children, as long as their parents are very mindful and make sure they get enough protein and other nutrients that most children would get from animal sources.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

Previous Post Next Post