As parents we work very hard to raise our children to be happy and healthy. Sometimes this can be an uphill battle, especially when faced with advertising and marketing aimed at tapping into child pester power. As a parent, teacher and registered nutritional therapist I am always looking for solutions that ensure my family are exposed to healthy options and can understand why making good choices is so important for their health and well-being.
Large food companies and a growing population have increased the production of manufactured, processed foods and over the years children have been identified as a growing market force, with significant influence on parental spending. Estimates suggest the US food industry alone spends over $1.8 billion each year on child marketing and the influence on parental spending is estimated to be in excess of $300 billion. Children’s exposure to such advertising and marketing is now bigger than ever through television, radio, websites, computer games, social networks and even schools.
Manufacturers use every trick in the book including playing on children’s naivety. Tactics include free gifts, brightly coloured packaging, endorsements by children’s book/TV characters and processed products packaged to look like the real thing, creating brand awareness and desirability in a child’s mind. Manufacturers are also savvy to children’s increased understanding of health and nutrition and even inform them their products are natural and healthy and contain many nutritional benefits. Unfortunately as parents who can read the labels and see the truth, the battle commences, we then need to help children understand the realities of such claims and help them to understand why real food is so important.
To educate and inform children I often ask the question, “Is it in a colourful packet?” This helps children to think about where that particular food came from. Did it really come from nature and is therefore natural teeming with real nutrients, such as fresh tomatoes or carrots or was it produced in a factory with lots of added and synthetic ingredients?
As children learn to read they become inquisitive about labels and signs and asking them to find the lowest sugar yoghurt, ice-lollies or fruit bar in the supermarket becomes a great challenge. This helps them to choose the one you want them to eat, they have chosen it and they also begin to understand why such a choice is better for them.
As a parent the supermarket aisles you choose to take your child down also have a huge influence on their understanding of real food. We tend to visit the fruit and veg and then the fridges, trying hard to avoid the biscuit aisle, drinks, crisps, sweets etc. The checkout can be an area of challenge with many supermarkets still selling ‘unhealthy’ snacks placed directly at children’s eye level. Interestingly Lidl recently surveyed parents which revealed this area of the supermarket was where pester power became most challenging and as a positive response they have since banned sweets and chocolate from the checkouts of all their UK stores.
Supporting children to ‘grow their own’ is another step to helping them understand real food. It can be as simple as cress seeds on the windowsill or corn on the cob in the garden. Talking about the foods you cook and prepare whilst they are young and then helping them to cook, prepare and bake food, as they get older also widens their understanding. Informing them of the real nutrients in different foods and why they are good for them, such as helping you grow, better concentration, rich in vitamin C and keeps colds away and lots of good fats which are good for your brain will further their understanding about why good choices are helpful.
Though it is often a battle, we do live in the real world and keeping a balance is also important. We want children to have a positive, natural relationship with food and helping them to learn about real food and why it’s good for them will help to educate them for life and help them differentiate the reality from the complete marketing spin they are so frequently exposed to.