Many of you read an article in today’s New York Times on the growing ubiquity of “food pouches,” i.e., fruit, vegetable and grain purees for young children, packaged like this:
I’d certainly noticed the recent proliferation of these squeezable foods in my own market, but with a 10- and 12- year-old at home, they didn’t make much of an impression on me. But today’s article describes how parents are relying on these pouches not just as snacks but as meal substitutes for young children too over-scheduled — or just too distracted — to sit down for a family meal.
For example, the Times reporter describes how enthusiastically his 22-month-old daughter has taken to the squeezable meal:
After gymnastics class one Saturday morning, when she’d had little breakfast, she slurped down a mash-up of blueberry, pear and purple carrot. The next afternoon, on the way to a party, after a skipped lunch, it was a mixture of zucchini, banana and amaranth.
One night, when his daughter wouldn’t eat dinner in her high chair, he discovered:
moments later, my wife had given the freed girl a Yogurt Mish Mash pouch with berries, bananas and beets. She ate it while jumping around the living room, playing trampoline.
Now, I really try not to get judgmental here on The Lunch Tray when it comes to parents’ struggles to feed their children well. My attitude is that we’re all in the trenches together and whatever works for you and your family, more power to you.
And yet . . . and yet . . .
Maybe it’s because I just finished reading Karen LeBillon’s French Kids Eat Everything,* which describes, among other things, how deeply the French abhor between-meal snacking, eating food anywhere but at the table, and letting kids dictate their own menu. Or maybe it’s my (shaken but still continuing) support for the basic theories of Ellyn Satter, the childhood food expert, whose central thesis is that parents, not children, should decide what, when and how food should be eaten. Or maybe it’s because my own kids were trained from an early age to sit at a table, dine at regular meal times, and generally eat whatever I and Mr. TLT were eating (with minor modifications as needed).
Whatever the reason, I just could not read this father’s account without my inner voice screaming, “No, no, no!” (Or maybe, due to Karen LeBillon’s influence, it was “Non, non, non!”)
Now, I have nothing against packaged snacks, which I certainly rely on when we’re pressed for time. But when slurp-able pouches morph into actual meal substitutes, we need to step back and ask what is getting lost in the process:
Instead of being trained to sit at the table and eat with others (a slow and admittedly painful journey for all concerned), this author’s toddler is learning that squirming and complaining in her high chair will be rewarded not just with free play, but also a sweet and filling treat. For that reason, she doesn’t ever get to experience the logical consequence of demanding to be let down from her high chair at a meal, i.e., feeling hunger pangs until the next scheduled meal or snack time. So when the author mentions in passing that his daughter skipped breakfast one day and lunch on another, I think we can fairly draw the inference that she’s already figured out there will always be a tasty puree at the ready.
And what about this idea of purees, anyway? While I have nothing against the occasional breakfast or snack-time smoothie, I have to believe that an over-reliance on “drinkable foods” could seriously impede a child’s acceptance of those same foods in non-pureed form, especially in these early years when expanding a child’s palate is critical. Put another way, for the same reason I’m no fan of food “sneaking” (a la Jessica Seinfeld), getting beets into your kid via a pink, berry-flavored puree is no victory if your child won’t go near a roasted beet (or even stay at the table long enough to have the chance.)
But whatever my concerns, it looks like I’m in the clear minority. The Times reports that:
Plum Organics conservatively estimates that its sales of pouches for babies, toddlers and children will be $53 million in 2012, up from around $4,800 when it put out its first pouches in 2008.
And the trend isn’t just confined to the toddler market. Remember last year when I told you about PepsiCo’s forecast that the future of snack food is the “snackified” beverage? That led to their introduction of Tropolis, drinkable fruit for older kids and adults (skewered here by Stephen Colbert). At the time, one beverage industry commentator said:
If you are in this business, you want to get something into a consumer’s hand and get them put it down as fast as possible. And these products, it’s a whole lot easier if you have something that is, say, a combination of drink and a beverage where you don’t have to peel the banana or literally chew the apple. So you get the same kind of satisfaction from getting fruit or a dairy sort of product in a form that’s sort of between a food and a beverage. It’s convenience. The American consumer’s too lazy to chew, so you have find something where they can have their apple or their pear in a semi-liquid form.
With sweet liquid calories linked to obesity, do we really want to set very young children on a path of “lazy eating” via “drinkable” food?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.
* Review and giveaway of French Kids Eat Everything next week!
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