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Do Kids Really Prefer Junk Food?

Do kids prefer junk foodFood Revolution scared me. And not just because of the Pink Slime. The parents on the show seemed educated and informed. They were feeding their kids well at home, but being undermined by the institutional food their kids were eating during the day. One mother said her son’s tastes had actually been altered by school lunch: “He used to eat all the good food we have at home before. ” Others nodded gravely. Are kids that vulnerable to influence? Would they really just be eating pizza and fries at every meal if we’d let them?

Yesterday’s New York Post asked the same question in a very different context: an article quoting various restauranteurs about kids and fine dining. The angle was irritating in general, but it was the last quote that left me with the worst taste in my mouth:

… at least one of the city’s top restaurateurs thinks parents may be forcing gourmet cuisine down their children’s gullets. ‘The only food I ever see children enjoy at any of my restaurants are the pizzas at Pulino’s,’ said restaurateur Keith McNally, who also owns Balthazar and Minetta Tavern. ‘That’s all children ever want to eat. Anyone who says anything else is lying.”‘

Really?

I saw some children enjoying the linguini and clam sauce at one of McNally’s restaurants earlier this week, and the brandade, octopus, and chicken liver mousse on earlier occasions. Some of these kids weren’t even mine.  Kids with adventurous appetites may be in the minority, but they’re out there. Maybe Keith wasn’t looking, or maybe he just wants to sell some pizzas. I don’t know if picky eaters are born or made. And I don’t judge people whose kids won’t budge on diet—lord knows my kids are mules about other things. But I do wonder how we settled on the few items that kids menus offer. Do we really believe our kids are pre-programmed to eat in a certain way, which just happens to be cheap, easy to prepare and in many cases, not particularly healthy? Is it possible that we’re telling kids that this is what they should like?

Meanwhile, kids who eat adventurously are considered weird, laughable, pretentious. Maybe their parents are just doing it to show off. We didn’t have some grand plan about creating mini foodies.Our kids eat what we eat, when we’re eating it. That’s the way we’ve always done it, and it generally seems to work. Partly it was just easier to make one dinner than two (or worse, three).  Am I thrilled that my kids like to eat a lot of different foods? Sure. But just because I love food and want to share it with them. Not because I think it makes them somehow superior, or because I want people to think I’m an awesome mom for “getting them” to eat this way. Is the theory that we’ve taught our children to pretend to like sushi because it’s cool?  “Just hold your nose and think of pizza, sweetie.” That they’re eating this way because they want to impress us?   I don’t know about your kids, but mine are ALWAYS doing things they hate just because they think I want them to.

I was talking to a friend of mine, another mother of the rare adventurous eater child, about this today. Her take: Kids like what they like. If they don’t like something, you can’t make them. But you can offer them more options. And maybe, as in the case of the kid on Food Revolution, if you offer enough of the easy stuff—sweet, fatty or otherwise—other things don’t seem as palatable anymore.  I’m not sure what makes kids more or less open to eating outside the kids’ menu box.  But I think it’s pretty reasonable to assume that if that’s all we ever offer them, there’s less chance of them wanting anything else.

Read Twee-sine in the NY Post.

photo: Darwin Bell/flickr

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