Farming is a wonderful life lesson. With a little care and patience, something that starts out as small and seemingly insignificant as a seed can flourish into a beautiful plant with the capability of nourishing others. It’s also a great example of garbage in, garbage out. Try growing a great vegetable garden next summer with nutrient-deficient soil and waste water. Not easy, right?

Apply this analogy to growing a family. Strong, healthy kids are produced with a nutrient-rich diet. Why is it, then, that far too many parents fail to see the connection?

Planting Bad Seeds
Take a guess: who has a better diet? A childless couple or a family with young children? Well, I was floored to find out from a recent study of 7,000+ families that having kids is associated with an unhealthy diet (1). I would have thought parents would be trying their best to put wholesome meals on their families’ plates, whereas childless couples may have more cash and time to indulge in whatever suits their fancy.

To the contrary, childless couples ate 4.4 more pounds of fruits and vegetables than families with children. Childrearing households ate more cereal and potatoes. In short, kids make diets unhealthy.

This story reminded me of a local radio program I heard in which the host asserted that parents should be trying harder to get kids to eat healthier. Some audience members were appalled at the very thought. One caller said his child was born hating vegetables, and the boy would starve if he didn’t serve chicken nuggets every night. Another blamed schools, saying that lunches should be more nutritious while kids should be able to splurge in their own homes. 

I agree that getting kids to eat a well-rounded meal is no easy feat. Some tastes, textures and colors just don’t appeal to young palates. But, not acknowledging that parents are ultimately responsible for their children’s health (and its connection to the foods they buy) is irresponsible.

Row by Row
Luckily, families have a couple extra tools in their arsenals for making healthier food choices. First, there are new regulations that require meat and poultry to be labeled with nutrition facts. This is a great move; hopefully, it will get folks to realize that there are better options than eating 70% lean ground beef five times a week (more in next month’s Grocery News section). Once clear numbers about the fat and calories in meat are staring Americans in the face, perhaps families will consider leaner, healthier choices that were once out of the question because little Johnny didn’t like the idea of ground turkey. This information is long overdue, but thankfully the USDA is finally stepping up to give shoppers the facts they deserve to know.

There’s also been some news on the sugary cereal front. Both Post and General Mills promised this past December to lower the sugar content of some of their cereals to less than 10 grams per serving. Given how much cereal kids eat thanks to aggressive marketing, it’s a step in the right direction—albeit a small one.

It’s a shame, though, that parents don’t realize they don’t need to buy the unhealthy stuff. In fact, a recent Pediatrics report showed that children actually liked low-sugar cereal (2). The bottom line is that if a healthier alternative is presented to them, many kids will go with the flow and eat up. So, the issue may not be getting kids to eat healthier; it’s getting parents to present them with healthier options. And, parents need to acknowledge the root of the problem may be at home, well before the seedling refuses to grow or bear good fruit. WF

Kaylynn Chiarello-Ebner
Editor/Associate Publisher

1. R. Tiffin and M. Arnoult, “The Demand for a Healthy Diet: Estimating the Almost Ideal Demand System with Infrequency of Purchase,” Eur. Rev. Agricult. Econ. 37 (4), 501–521 (2010).
2. J.L. Harris et al., “Effects of Serving High-Sugar Cereals on Children’s Breakfast-Eating Behavior,” Pediatr. 127 (1), 71–76 (2011).

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, February 2011