Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why Children Like Processed Food and What You Can Do About It

By Julia Moravcsik, PhD, author of Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food

If you're like many parents, you may try to cook tasty, healthy meals for your child.  But you may feel like your own home-cooked meals can't compete with processed junk food -- food made in a factory or a fast food restaurant. Your child picks at the lasagna, salad, and whole wheat garlic bread that you make, and then eats her weight in McDonald's french fries or Doritos.

Processed food is the scourge of the modern world.  It can cause obesity, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's, autism, and even permanently lower the intelligence of your child.  Why do children like it so much?

Processed Food Comes in Pretty, Fun Packages

Part of the reason children like processed food is the packaging.  Manufacturers will try to win your child's trust and interest by putting your child's favorite cartoon character on the package.  They spend millions on commercials that make their food seem exciting and fun.

One of their goals is to get your child to have brand loyalty.  Researchers found that children liked food better if it had McDonald's branding on it, especially if the children watched a lot of TV and saw commercials for McDonald's.

What To Do  

Stop the TV commercials. Don't let your child watch TV commercials.  Manufacturers don't care about your child -- they are only interested in making money.  Commercials are the reason why TV causes obesity.  There are plenty of alternatives to commercial TV -- PBS, Netflix, pay-per-view, or DVDs rented from the library.

Decorate your food. Try to make your homemade food look pretty and fun.  Make faces, animals, or trees with your vegetables and fruit.  There are many great books that can give you ideas for food art.

Use Names. Give healthy foods cute names.  A recent study found that calling healthy foods names like Emerald Dragon Bites made children like them more.

Processed Food Tastes the Same -- There Are No Surprises

One package of Doritos Cool Ranch chips tastes exactly like another.  Compare this to carrots.  Each carrot tastes slightly different -- one may be sweet, one might be bitter, one might be crisp, one might be soft.

Children feel safer if their food tastes exactly the same.  Our primitive ancestors used their sense of taste to determine whether food was rotten or spoiled.  If a mushroom tasted different from usual, your primitive ancestor quickly spat it out.

Processed food has such a uniform flavor that it teaches children to be afraid of food that has variability.  Your child expresses this fear by being picky, and refusing real foods with real variations in taste and texture.

What To Do  The less experience your child has with processed food, the more she will like the taste of real foods, and the more accepting of the natural variations that occur in real food.  Keep on making those home-cooked meals! 

Processed Food is High in Fat, Sugar, and Salt

It will come as no surprise to you that processed food tends to be high in fat, sugar, and salt.  Children will immediately like fatty, sweet, and salty food.  They have to learn to like the taste of real foods over time.

Manufacturers rely on fatty, sweet, and salty tastes partly because it is difficult to make processed food have tasty flavors.  The complex, natural flavor of an apple, cantaloupe, or peach will deteriorate if it is exposed to oxygen and light.  Most processed foods don't really taste that good -- we think that they do because they have addictive tastes of fat, sweet, and salt.  Close your eyes the next time you eat something out of a package, and think about the flavor -- not whether it's salty, sweet, or crunchy, but the flavor.  It is often bland, insipid, or unpleasant.  A twinkie really doesn't taste good -- it just has a lot of fat and sugar.

What To Do You can capitalize on the fact that manufacturers can't mimic tasty flavors.  If you continue to feed your child homemade food, and avoid processed food, then years later your child will think processed, manufactured tastes are yucky.  The imitation apple flavor of a lollipop won't compare with a real apple. 

Would you like a simple, easy-to-follow program that will teach your child to love healthy food? See my new book Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food on amazon.com.

Related Articles

Cure Your Junk Food Child in 6 Weeks
10 Ways Food Manufacturers Hijack Your Child's Brain
Let Your Child Smell Flavorful Foods
25 Ways to Get Your Child to Eat Vegetables

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5 comments:

  1. I love this post! I am a speech language pathologist with a special focus on feeding therapy. I work with picky eaters, many on the autistic spectrum. My main goal is to expand their food repertoire and to increase the healthy and nutritious foods that they eat! This is very fitting since most picky eaters I work with only eat carbohydrates/grains, mainly in junkfood form, yet eat zero fruits/vegetables. I love your ideas here for giving veggies cute names, artful presentation, and cutting out commercials. Check out my blog tongueincheekslp.blogspot.com ! I'm sure I'll be linking to you in the near future since many of your posts are relevant to mine! Have a great day!

    Melissa

    ReplyDelete
  2. TRUE. It is always a struggle for parents to make their children eat healthy foods, because they always give their attention to cute-packed processed food. It is important for parents to guide their children’s choice. I suggest that they make a wide variety of healthy foods available in their house. This simple step could help make their children make healthy food choices. It’s a long and difficult process, but it will surely be effective.

    Joseph Carr

    ReplyDelete
  3. Keep blogging away, it is a great outlet and at the very least will help you capture your food memories .

    fun for everyone

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