By Julia Moravcsik, PhD, author of Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food
Food manufacturers know how to use psychology to get your child to like their products. Corporate researchers learn to use the psychology of taste preferences to make your child crave their empty calorie junk foods.
Food manufacturers count on the fact that if parents feed their kids processed food, even if they do so only occasionally, the kids will crave it and ask for it more and more. Eventually, some parents will give up and feed their children a steady diet of processed, manufactured food, ensuring a steady income for the food manufacturer giants.
Here are some of the techniques that Big Food uses:
1) Sugar - Food manufacturers put sugar in most of their foods, even those that aren't desserts like spaghetti sauce or frozen meals. Human beings have a natural desire for sugar -- it signals calories and vitamin c, which were scarce in prehistoric times. The amount of sugar in manufactured foods is much higher than any foods that our prehistoric ancestors ever ate -- and produces an addictive response that can be as strong as cocaine.
2) Fat - Food manufacturers put vegetable oil in most of their foods. It's cheap and, like sugar, addictive in large quantities.
3) Salt - Salt is also addictive and hides the unpleasant flavor that a lot of processed food has. Food manufacturers know that if your child is given a high salt diet, she will learn to crave the salty taste.
4) Mild Taste - Processed food has very little taste. Manufacturers rely on salty, sugary, fatty tastes to get your child addicted to their food. Processed foods have little real flavors, compared to the strong taste of real foods like oranges, spinach, or cauliflower. This means that children can eat the food over and over again and not get tired of it. Your child can eat her sugary cereal or granola bar every day, but would get tired of broccoli if you fed it to her every day.
5) Predictable Taste - Processed food tastes the same each time you eat it. One box of Oreos tastes the same as the next box. Your child gets used to the uniformity and starts to find the variation in natural foods like peaches or apples disgusting. In prehistoric times, if a food tasted different from usual, it usually meant it had gone bad. Food manufacturers know that if they corrupt this instinct by getting children used to food that is absolutely the same, the children won't go back to eating their parents' home-cooked meals, with its natural variability in taste.
6) Predictable Texture - Like taste, children have an instinct to avoid foods that have an unusual texture, especially mushy or slimy foods. Food manufacturers know that if they get kids used to the uniform crunchy, chewy, or creamy textures that factories can create so well, they won't like the complex and variable textures of a real meal.
7) Appearance - No parent can create foods of multi-colors, shaped like animals or stars. Children are very drawn to appearances, and food manufacturers know this.
8) Ads with Excitement, Fun - Most of us can remember wanting a toy that we saw on TV, only because the commercial was exciting. The same is true of food. Parents don't advertise their home-cooked meals. Food manufacturers do advertise their food, with bright colors, music, smiling faces, and excited "cool" kids.
9) Ads with People Eating - In addition to exciting ads, food manufacturers show people eating the food and enjoying it. Food manufacturers know that children have an instinct to eat the same food other people are eating. This instinct was beneficial in the days when many plants were poisonous -- children had to learn to eat the same wild plants that the adults around them were eating.
10) Packages - Children love packages. Young kids will ignore a birthday present in order to play with the box it came in. Manufacturers know this, and make their packages as colorful and fun as possible. Children will whine for a cereal or candy, just because they like the box it comes in.
What can a parent do? Try your best to keep your child away from processed food and processed food ads. The more children are exposed to processed food, the more they like it. For tips on how to wean your child off of processed food, read Why Children Like Processed Food and What You Can Do about It.
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.
Other interesting articles:
Children Like the Food They Grow Up With
Why Children Don't Like Vegetables - And What You Can Do About It
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