Earlier this month, the New York Times published a humorous piece mocking Americans’ dietary habits and all the ways in which “expert dietary advice” gets so muddled. Here’s an excerpt:
. . . nuts are good for your cardiovascular system because they contain unsaturated fatty acids. I’ve taken to eating them with raisins in trail mix and discovered that if you buy the kind with enough M & Ms you barely taste the nuts and raisins. It’s almost like eating candy.
That piece was on my mind the other day when I walked into my local Whole Foods and was met with this back-t0-school display:
Parents are being told here that the “best” and “smarter” lunches come from Whole Foods, but almost every item in this display is just a health-washed version of foods our kids really ought to consume less of: apple juice pouches; cheesy, white-flour-based snack mix; “fruit” gummies; and more.
I don’t remark on this in a judgmental way. More than a few of those items have made it into my own grocery cart — almost always when my kids are shopping with me. And, of course, if you’re going to eat a packaged white-flour snack mix, better to choose an all-natural brand than one with an ingredient list like this.
But this sort of health-washing can lead to so much dietary confusion, even among well-intentioned parents. For example, everything about this packaging says “healthy” and “wholesome:”
And everything about this package screams “Big Food:”
Yet the from a nutritional standpoint, the two products are virtually identical:
As I discuss in my free e-book, The Lunch Tray’s Guide to Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom, it’s just this sort of confusion that complicates matters greatly when parents are asked to send in “healthy” food to school parties and events. Unless you’re highly educated about nutrition, figuring out what’s “healthy” is no easy task; what’s considered “healthy” among any given group of parents can vary wildly.
And what about our kids? I find that even my own two children easily fall for this sort of health-washing, an outcome that’s all the more likely because these products just plain taste good. It’s no wonder kids might prefer a sweet and chewy gummy candy to a piece of fresh fruit, when fresh fruit can challenge the palate in so many ways: unexpected sour or bitter notes, a fibrous or mushy texture, and more.
If the gummies are sold at Whole Foods, are “organic” and “made with real fruit,” why can’t we buy them, Mom???
And so we have to sigh deeply and work all the harder at explaining to our kids why these products are really no better than the supermarket brands, why they have to be regarded as the occasional treat, and all the benefits of eating a whole-food diet most of the time.
But some days it feels like an awfully uphill climb, doesn’t it?
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