Whole Happy Food Detectives
If you are like me, whenever you hit the supermarket, health food store, Farmers' Market, or what ever your choice, you have one or more little ones in tow. For a year and a half I had three in tow. Not easy but you make it work. Now I have my two youngest and there are still challenges on the shopping scene. All the marketing done for children specifically, can make walking up and down the aisles of any supermarket with your kids a nightmare. All the little toys that are hung sporadically at eye level, the brightly colored wrappers and familiar characters promoting low nutrient foods can be all your children are begging for from one aisle to the next.
For a long time I saw this as the bane of my chore-fulfilling existence. Really, food corporations and supermarket managers know that any parent doing food shopping with their children is just trying to survive and are bound to give in to some whining and begging in order to avoid a complete melt down. Really sneaky, guys.
But instead of seeing a trip to the supermarket as a tricky obstacle course that I had to get through by distracting the little ones and sharply snapping, "No! No! No!" every 5 seconds, I began to think this is a seriously awesome opportunity to teach them so much. I decided I could use this as a chance to teach them about healthy foods, especially finding and choosing them, and about marketing tricks. (Yup, marketing tricks. And believe it or not, they get it!) Sometimes I forget that if you give them the language and a decent, kid-appropriate explanation, they catch on fast.
I want to empower my kids to be able to spot whole, healthy foods on their own. Essentially I wanted to help them become Whole, Happy Food Detectives. This is a chance to take another step in that direction.
Here is what I started doing:
Here is what I started doing:
You can assume that when we go shopping, we are looking for the healthiest choices we can find. That is a given. Cool packaging does not mean healthy food and no kid wants to feel like they are getting duped. Not even my 4 year old. So when he asked for a box of Capri Sun juices I told him, sorry, not going to happen. His response was, "But there is a cool surfer guy on it!" (insert sad puppy dog eyes right here) So,I told him the truth. "That cool surfer guy is on the package to get your attention and to get you to buy it." Its true, isn't it? If Capris Sun or similar juices marketed for kids had to stand on their ingredients alone, no one would buy them. High fructose corn syrup is often the main ingredient. No thanks. And corn syrup, aka GMO. No thanks again. Plus some flavors have HFCS AND plain ol' sugar, too. In my humble opinion, there is nothing healthy about a juice drink like that. Therefore cool surfer guys are needed. So, for the kids, just break it down:
- Tell your little one there are a lot of things in that product that are not healthy.
- Even though it isn't super healthy, the company still wants you to buy it, so they make it look pretty or cool to catch your attention.
- When you see bright colors, a character or cool surfers, its a clue that the company MIGHT be trying to trick you...
- ...So check out the ingredients!
Tip #2 check out the ingredients and measure.
Your little one doesn't have to be able to read to check out the ingredients! We have worked out a little system. We simply measure with our fingers. If the ingredient list is really long, Brother knows it is probably not a good choice. When he finds something with a short list, there is a good choice I will let it into the cart.
Measuring the ingredients for cheese balls. I think he was being a little conservative here, but he was pretty clear they were NOT making their way into the cart. :)
Measuring the ingredients for these freeze-dried fruit snacks. They have ONE (yes, one) ingredient so they are Momma approved.
Tip #3 Find items with organic ingredients.
Easy peasy! This can be like a scavenger hunt game! If I tell the Little Man he can pick out a cereal, a snack, the ketchup, whatever... but it has to be organic, you bet he can hunt it down.
If kids can spot the McDonalds golden arches and recognize it, then it should be no problem to spin things to the other side of the spectrum and make sure they recognize the USDA Organic label. My little man can spot that label anywhere.
Tip #4 Find Non-GMO ingredients
My stripped down definition of GMOs is that they are grown from seeds that are not healthy for us. This is how we've described corn and things made from corn. So, if the kids want a corn cereal or corn chips, it has to have "the butterfly".
Finding "the butterfly" means that the product is free of genetically modified ingredients. and verified as such by the Non-GMO Project. The non-GMO project has a lot of information about GMOs as well as finding and purchasing non-GMO products.
I should point out that organic foods can not knowingly contain GMO ingredients, so the organic label is also a safety net to buying and eating non-GMO foods.
Nothing says you can't turn your little ones into healthy food detectives. I can tell you in all honestly that both my olders use all the strategies listed here and they have made an impact. I have seen my oldest on her own,measure the ingredients of a snack with her finger and whisper, "Wow, that seems like a lot," showing that she is very aware and becoming a conscious consumer of food. On multiple occasions my son has pointed out marketing "tricks" and has told me that if I looked, I would find that wasn't a very healthy item.
Do they still ask for ice cream and crunchy cheese snacks with a picture of the very cool cheetah on the front? Yup, they sure do. They are still kids, afterall. This is just the beginning of a long, long journey. I definitely don't have all the answers and I might not be getting everything right. My biggest hope is that I am starting this little mob of mine off on the right foot, though.
Here's to hoping....!
Thank you for reading!