Disclaimer: If you have an eating disorder, allergies, serious food aversions or some other condition this is not about you. (I have a medical condition that limits what I can eat) This is about how feeding children in Canada and by extension the US has changed in the last twenty years and the various factors that have influenced that change. Also let it be said that all of us have foods we dislike, for example i still don’t like bell peppers and raisins although as an adult i’ve finally come to appreciate fresh (non-canned) spinach. I’m only sharing this because I think it’s an interesting discussion on the intersection of food and culture. As someone who’s lived in both Asia and Europe i’ve noticed marked differences in what kids eat in both places versus my experience here in the US. As usual, you do you and eat what you want, cuz you’re an adult!
This is a long piece but it’s well worth the read, because my learning disabilities are being feisty this week i’m just going to copy and paste the paragraphs the stuck out the most to me.
Cut up a fresh, bone-in chicken breast and you’ll notice that it naturally separates into two distinct parts: a larger, teardrop-shaped lobe of flesh — the piece of meat that you probably think of when someone says “chicken breast” — and a more narrow piece sometimes referred to as a “tender.” The chicken finger originated in the need to find something to do with that tender, explains food historian Gary Allen in a short history of the convenience food published online five years ago. Chicken fingers, Allen says, were seldom seen before 1990 or so, but by the end of the 1980s, fear of saturated fats turned many North Americans away from beef and toward chicken. Increased demand meant billions of additional chicken breasts were processed — but what was the industry to do with the tenders? The answer is on children’s plates.
Mealtimes for children were quite different just a few decades ago. Over the past few months, I’ve spoken casually and in formal interviews with dozens of people about food and childhood. As a general rule, people who grew up in North America and are now over the age of 30 recall that when they were children, kids ate what the adults ate. Families usually dined together at the table. There might have been foods you didn’t like; depending on the rules of the house you might have been expected to try them or even finish them. Or you might have been free not to, as long as there weren’t too many foods you were refusing. Either way, it wouldn’t have occurred to you that an adult was going jump up from the table to prepare you something precisely to your liking. And if you didn’t eat, you might have to wait quite a while for the next opportunity: Studies show that North American kids snack more often and consume more calories than they did in the 1970s.
The busy house with a full freezer turns into something almost like a restaurant, and the kids get what they want, with the food industry playing an instrumental role in exploiting children’s preference for nutritionally dubious foods.
The 1980s and ’90s saw the advent of countless convenience and snack foods, from fruit and chicken nuggets pressed into “fun” shapes to sugar-laden yogurts and foods kids could assemble themselves. Grocery stores increasingly sold meals that resembled fast food. As Moss chronicles in Salt Sugar Fat, these products, many of them portable and/or frozen, helped transform the North American diet. Their flavour profiles, packaging, and advertising and marketing programs were often designed to appeal specifically to children with a sophistication that made the 1960s breakfast cereal explosion look limited and quaint.
Yet in the real world, the diversity of culinary heritage isn’t disappearing, it’s arriving on our plates all at once. While we’re feeding children a dumbed-down diet, adult cuisine is becoming more challenging, with restaurants serving up previously unfamiliar foods like kimchi and duck hearts and sea urchin. Where does that leave a child raised on mac and cheese, who never “learns” to eat adult food? It’s easy to imagine how an adult picky eater could be stigmatized for, say, refusing what everyone else is eating at a work lunch. Online forums for adult picky eaters are full of stories about embarrassment at restaurants. Food restrictions are generally considered fine and normal in urban middle-class Canada if they have a basis in biology or moral concerns. Celiac disease, lactose intolerance and vegetarianism are not social faux pas. But refusing to eat vegetables because they taste yucky? Not cool.
For a lot of parents, the challenge begins during toddlerhood, when many children start to grow suspicious of certain foods and refuse to eat them. Vegetables receive particular disdain. Marcia Pelchat, a taste researcher at the Monell Center in Philadelphia, says there are two possible explanations to be found in human evolution (neither factor conflicts with the other, so both might have played a role in our evolution). First, children who are just learning to walk are also mobile enough to start grabbing a fistful of wild plant material to jam into their mouths — which could be poisonous, as bitter-tasting plants are especially likely to be. Second, children might crave higher levels of sugar, fat and salt than adults because they’re still growing, and their need for huge amounts of energy turns them into little calorie-seeking monsters.
The wider a variety of foods an infant is exposed to, experts say, the more they’ll eat later on without complaining. Canadian pediatricians and dietitians now recommend flavourful food for infants as soon as they’re ready for solids, not the previous generations’ bland mush. There’s even evidence that taste preferences start in the womb; a Monell Center study showed that mothers who eat a variety of fruits and vegetables while pregnant give birth to babies who do, too.
Beyond that, a few pieces of advice come up over and over again. Some may sound familiar: Sit with children and serve them the same meal you get. Serve them challenging foods and encourage them to eat, but don’t force them. Fighting about it can create negative associations for that food. Listen to kids’ ideas about what they want to eat, but don’t turn the menu into a point of negotiation once dinner has been decided upon. Involving children in food preparation sharpens their appetites, so involve them whenever possible in grocery shopping and gardening, and let them watch you cook.