Fruit Pouches and Foie Gras

I knew they were Trouble with a capital T when I first saw them at a trade show. Have you seen the plastic pouches of squeezable fruit being marketed to kids? It is literally puréed fruit (well, a bit of vegetable, grain, or milk may walk through) in a plastic disposable pouch for preschoolers to eat on the run. This New York Times article, Putting the Squeeze on a Family Ritual, made me sick.
Puréed Fruit is Fabulous Food

Puréed fruit is delicious on yogurt and ice cream and it is perfect for shakes, cocktails, vinegars, shrubs, fruit soups, muffins and cakes and as a sauce for meat, fish, eggs and cheese. It is indispensable in French jellies pastes, mousse cakes and mascarpone creams, but to pour it down a toddler’s throat? Non, non and non!

Missed Opportunities

Realize this: Children NEED to chew. The formation of the jaw and the muscles of the face depends on chewing. And children NEED to sit-down to eat meals and snacks to learn what and how to eat and how to socialize at the family table. If an over-pouched child were to present for a behavioral feeding  assessment, the parents would lose points for (1) substituting easy “stand-in food” for structured meals and snacks; (2) making use of developmentally inappropriate food textures; and (3) adding too much simple sugar to the diet.  Sucking sugar also destroys the teeth.

Q: How is a toddler strapped in a stroller sucking on fruit pouch like a “foie gras” goose?”
A: Both are force fed simple carbohydrates while being denied exercise. 

“Foie gras” is French for “fat liver.” Geese and ducks are fed carbohydrates until their livers expand full of fat that tastes like yummy butter. A goose can be gorged with gavage feeding or left to gorge naturally on fruit. The Romans fed their geese dried figs to make foie gras. And so, if you see a fruit sucking preschooler develop fatty liver in a few years, remember you heard it from me first. But, please, don’t let it happen!

Your thoughts: Is this a New York thing or do kids everywhere have fruit pouches?

Watch Stephen Colbert blow the truthiness whistle on fruit pouches in “Thought for Food.”

Pushing Sugary Cereals on Kids

True story: I’m driving in the car with my 4 year old daughter, Liza, when “Happy Together” by The Turtles’ comes on the radio. I sing, “I can’t see me lovin’ nobody but you. For all my life…When you’re with me, baby the skies’ll be blue. For all my life…” That’s when Liza faces me with puzzled look and says, “But where’s the part about the complete breakfast?” Punk’d! TV advertising to kids! She’s talking about the 1980’s Golden Grahams Cereal Commercial. Golden Grahams, those toasted squares of whole wheat and corn sweetened with honey and brown sugar, with 3.6 teaspoons of sugar in a mere ¼ cup.

The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University recently issued a follow-up to their 2009 report, Cereal FACTS. They found the cereals most aggressive advertized to children rank at the bottom in in terms of nutrition and at the top in added sugars. In 2011, the average 6- to 11-year-old saw more than 700 TV ads for cereals, or almost 2 ads every day, and the preschoolers saw nearly as many. The majority of cereal ads seen by children are for products consisting of one-third or more sugar. A bowl o’ sugar, indeed!

The funny thing is that, in 2009, the big three cereal companies – General Mills, Kellogg and Post – pledged to the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative – the food industry’s self-regulatory program – to improve the nutritional quality of cereals marketed directly to children and to advertise the healthier cereals. Three years later, the companies did improve nutrition somewhat in many kid’s cereals, but total media spending on child-targeted cereals increased by 34% and most ads were for the least nutritious products.

Honestly, people, the food industry is not going to police itself! Vote with your wallet to save you family. Feed kids spoon-size shredded wheat, Cheerios, Kashi Go Lean, oatmeal, and other cereals that are high in fiber but low in sugar, fat and sodium, and free of saturated- and trans-fat. Ideally, one serving of a good cereal will provide no more than 8 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fat, and 140 mg of sodium, but with about 5 grams of fiber and a whole grain listed as the first ingredient. Fortified cereals provide significant nutrients, but fortification does not supply all of the nutrients in whole grains. And remember, cereal is made healthier by adding milk and fruit.

Read a summary of the Yale Rudd Center report, Cereal FACTS 2012: A Spoonful of Progress in a Bowl Full of Unhealthy Marketing to Kids.

Your thoughts: What have you noticed about cereal and kids?

If You See Something, Say Something

The New York MTA subway voice calls out: “If You See Something, Say Something.”  Does this count?

Yesterday, I saw a young mom and her sons, ages four and two, sitting next to me on the 2 Line from Brooklyn to Manhattan. The children were clean and well-behaved, mostly because they were busy eating ample portions of candy. The older boy had a 1.5 ounce Kit Kat bar, the one that comes in four long pieces. With 210 calories and 11 grams of fat, I imagine it was quite filling and bound to spoil his supper. Pity it doesn’t contain nutrients. The little guy, not much of a talker, had a shiny yellow bag full of sticky, tooth-tugging nuggets. Mom had candy too, but she was further away.  All of the candy came from her purse.

I chose to say nothing as is customary. It’s not my place to help the mom see that special treats are not for everyday and that parents can show their children love and attention in other ways. It’s not my place to talk about the difficult battle she faces because children are exposed to an estimated 10,000 advertisements for food per year, 95% of which are for fast foods, candy, sugared cereal and soft drinks.(1) It’s not my place to explain that children need nutrients to grow and blossom, and their lifelong eating habits are being shaped, along with their patterns of fighting their biological preferences for sweets and salt, which will face them forever unless there’s a fundamental change. No, my eavesdropping had nothing to do with an unattended package or suspicious behavior, and so what could I say?

And one more thing: neither of the boys was overweight. If they had been, a subset of the population would have justified saying something. But, you know, some people just gain weight more easily on the same crappy diet. And that’s why it’s not fair to stigmatize fat kids. (Read about genetic obesity issues in my blog, Newspaper Ad Mocks Obese Women.)

Your thoughts: Do children belong to society? Should we say something?

1. Schwartz, M.B. and Puhl, R. Childhood Obesity: a Societal Problem to Solve. The International Association for the Study of Obesity, Obesity Reviews. 2003:4, 57–71

Bless Your Throat. Bless Your Food.

Tomorrow morning, February 3rd , I’m heading over to the Catholic Church to celebrate the feast of Saint Blaise. Back in St. Patrick’s School, that was the day we lined up to get our throats blessed. The priest came to classroom (while the nuns went teeheehee), carrying a cross of two large candles tied with red ribbon. The priest held the candle cross up to each of our throats and, in Latin, said, “Through the intercession of St. Blaise, may God preserve you from throat troubles and every other evil.”  I loved the quaint the little ceremony and the story of St. Blaise who saved a boy with a fish bone stuck in his throat.  A kid just like me!  Nowadays, I like being saved from “every other evil” thing.

Keep on Blessing

Forever, I’ve believed that blessing food is the way to go. It’s especially important when practicing a new way of eating. Blessings confer holiness and strong wishes for happiness; they are inherently good. I just don’t think you’re likely to lose control on blessed food. When done sincerely, the blessing brings in a state of mindfulness, gratitude and peace. And so it stands to reason (to me anyway) that blessed food will be eaten with intention and joy.  A lit candle is also nice for casting out dark confusing thoughts. I mean, why not give it a try?  Bless your food.

A penny for your thoughts…


Summer, Fall, Winter, Death, and Diet

When I go home to Rhode Island, I always read the obituaries. This time, I was saddened by the death of a girl I lived with briefly in college. Five of us girls and assorted (and sordid) friends lived in a historic, somewhat rundown, Victorian house in Narragansett Pier. It was a summer so long ago that Elton John was actually young. We were not even into our  mid-twenties.

The girl was, truly, the sweetest of gentle souls. She had a delicate face, a soothing voice and a lilting giggle. Everybody loved her, but she was ill-matched to that house.

We were vegetarians eating rice salad and stuffed eggplants, and she was eating McDonald’s and other really junky foods. She’d take her bag of food and soda to the front porch and tell us, “Don’t say anything!” And who would after that obvious admission of guilt?  But I never saw her eat a vegetable or other healthy thing.

We did not keep in touch after that summer. The death notice described her full life and mentioned hospice, which usually means cancer. Back in those days, it was common to puff on cigarettes and bake in the sun. The weird part about cancer is that it takes years to develop: 20, 30, 40 or more.

No one knew that the years would fly by and our habits would be our undoing. Lifestyle habits are odd anyway. There’s no real proof for a particular individual, and cause and effect are inferred at best. And sometimes, summer is over, and we miss out on fall and winter.

I hope my friend had a life full of love and a peaceful death.

 Your thoughts: A penny for yours…