Even before they are school aged, toddlers are fed junk food at day care
By trade, I am a registered dietitian. So, I know a lot more than the average mom about what to eat and what not to eat. In fact, my mother is also a registered dietitian, so the basics of a healthy diet were part of everyday life for me growing up.
As a dietitian, I know the importance of healthy diet for proper physical and mental development. I also know the importance of having family meals for social and emotional development. Giving my daughter the best possible start in life is a priority for me and began even before she was born. I ate a wide variety of nutritious food during my pregnancy and breastfed my daughter for 2 years. Extended breastfeeding is not something that is celebrated in my part of the country. Most breastfed infants born in the Southeast are lucky to be breastfed for the first 6 months of life. Research has clearly shown the health benefits of being breastfed; yet, we live in an environment that is not always supportive of mothers who are trying to do this.
As a working mom, my toddler attends child care. I give her fruit before “school,” then they feed her a morning snack, lunch and an afternoon snack. My problem is the selection of snacks. I look at the menus and see Oreos along with other items that I don’t consider nutritious being given to her at snack time. As with many good Americans (including her parents), my little girl’s favorite foods are simple carbohydrates. Crackers, cookies, pancakes, and pizza top her list. She also happily eats fruit, veggies, and many other nutritious foods, but I worry about her preferences and the precedent being set at the child care facility.
I know these snacks are cheap, convenient, easy to store and serve, and popular with children. What child wouldn’t prefer a snack with a cartoon character on the front? If given a choice, would she pick the apple slices over the Princess fruit snacks that are mainly high fructose corn syrup? Clearly, I would prefer she receive more fruit and vegetable choices as a snack while she is in child care, but I know that these items are more expensive to purchase, more time intensive to prepare, and less accepted by most children, which means there will be more food waste.
I am upset that all of my work to give my child a solid foundation in healthy eating habits could be quietly undone by what she is exposed to outside of the home. My current plan of action is to continue our family meals and involve her in meal preparation and growing food as she gets older. I want her to develop a taste for healthy foods so that making a choice between an apple and an Oreo is not a big deal.
Professionally, I am frequently asked to speak to worksites and other community groups about healthy eating. While I welcome the opportunity to educate people on good nutrition, I am consistently disappointed to see the food choices offered to these groups. My most recent request came from a worksite that wanted me to talk about a heart healthy diet during a monthly employee meeting. What was on the menu while I spoke? Ham biscuits, juice, and birthday cake. Do we really expect an employee to be successful in receiving the message of a healthy diet with those foods being offered?
Junk food is becoming the normal food for any time we eat. These foods should be considered a special treat—not an everyday expectation. Sweet, salty, fatty foods made of refined grains are being offered daily at child care facilities, schools, church functions, and worksites. When we are brave enough to say something about it, we are either ignored or dismissed. Even if you do not have issues with getting to the grocery store to purchase healthy, fresh foods, our environment is saturated with offerings to steer us off course.
This post is part of the National School Lunch Week with Healthy Food! A MomsRising Blog Carnival. Take a moment to read and comment on these thoughtful blogs, then tell us your story. Our stories are powerful and are what led administrators to set these rules in place.