When healthy kid foods pose as junk food

Sep 3, 2010 by

Cheetos are commonly considered a junk food.

Is that a bunch of baby carrots? Or wait, is it Cheetos? Or does it matter? Image via Wikipedia

It all started with desperate moms pureeing veggies and concealing them in brownies or other nutritionally depleted foods that “kids will eat” without a war. Instead of leading kids in the education of their tastes and affections, we let them lead us, by the nose. Our only hope is to trick the little beasts.

Then today I read a mom’s recommendations on how to buy better-for-you packaged stuff so kids can feel like everybody else at school. The key is that it be in real, store-bought packages with attractive logos and brand names. If we can fool kids into thinking they’re eating the processed junk their friends eat, they will be likelier to like it, and like us. They’re likelier to like themselves, and be liked. Nut in a machine sealed bag are OK; nuts in a lowly baggie from home will make your child ashamed. Applesauce in a factory sealed package are make the cut; applesauce in a reusable container from the kitchen will strike at the poor child’s confidence and hope of a social life.

Minutes later, I read of an ad campaign selling baby carrots as junk food. Can we get kids to eat more carrots by getting carrots classified as junk food? Can we make kids think they’re eating something along the lines of Cheetos? They’re both orange.  Maybe if they’re eaten quickly enough and at a little distance from peers’ eyes and ears, they could actually pass for Cheetos at the school lunch table, if packaged well.  I wonder what else we could pull the same trick with? Peeled boiled eggs in air-tight, stay-fresh packages with a cartoon face drawn on, a brightly colored package, and branded something like Eggheads? No, we don’t want them to realize they’re eating an egg. How about Dumbheads? Nevertheless, the possibilities are endless.

Is this what it’s come to?

It reminds me of the mom who tricked her child into eating “vegetables” by giving her a vegetarian corn dog. The child thought she was eating a “real meat” hotdog. I just don’t even know what to say about that. That’s a good one.

Without going into the extra costs of buying food that’s pre-packaged and branded when we could get plain old bare whole foods and package them ourselves, and without talking about what garbage the food manufacturers are sure to add to whatever edible they package, what are we thinking?

Instead of following kids’ ignorant and immature lead, or the lead of unscrupulous manufactured foods producers, can we teach our kids to be smarter and stronger here? Can we have higher expectations of our little humans?

Can we teach kids to be proud of eating what’s good for them instead of the crap that’s killing people? Can we encourage them to be OK with being different when being different is a good thing? Can we teach them to scorn junk food? Can we teach them to dread it? Can we understand how they feel, while sticking to doing the best thing for them? If they can’t even stand up to the peer pressure of eating junk food instead of real food with their friends at school, if we cushion them even from that tiny discomfort, how much spine are they going to demonstrate with the rest of live’s challenges?

If we trick them into eating relatively healthy stuff by disguising it as junk, don’t they just stay on the road of valuing junk? What happens when they make their own food choices?

I can understand the potential difficulties for a child: I remember taking sandwiches on homemade bread in my lunch. I felt different and weird. If you tell kids you’re making homemade bread because you can’t afford “real” or “boughten” (as we called it) bread, how proud of being different are they going to be?

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s all in the packaging, once again.

What if you tell them why you don’t give them poisons in their lunch, tell them the benefits of better food, and consistently and without apology give them real food that’s so delicious and enticing that they develop a true affection for it?  Show them how you’ve outsmarted advertisers who only want your money and don’t care if you die. Tell them about the deliberate and important choices you make on their behalf and invite them to buy in. Empower them to be the trendsetters at the school lunch table instead of letting the herd lead the way unchallenged.

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair.

Related post:  Getting Kids to Eat: Assume the Best


Wow, great post!! I do have to sneak the veggies in my childs food. But we have discussions about the damage many of the additives/chemicals can do. We talk about how sugar rots your teeth and makes you sick. He's only 5, so far I think he feels pretty good about his diet (he has food allergies as well). He will say "Mommy, you make me the good kind of ____ (cookies, bread, crackers, etc)". Hopefully that will stay with him. We have also discovered bento boxes for him to take his lunch in, he thinks those are pretty cool.

Anna Migeon
Anna Migeon

Thank you, Greg!! Thanks for reading my blog!

Julie Migeon
Julie Migeon

Salut Anna, Je révise mon anglais en lisant tes articles qui sont très intéressants, en attendant l'arrivée de bébé, que j'essaierai de nourrir le mieux possible ! Bise à toute la famille et bon anniversaire à Alex, Julie from France

Anna Migeon
Anna Migeon

Dear Natalia, thanks for reading and for your question! I am going to answer you about all of it, but haven't been able to get to it yet. Didn't want you to think I was not going to answer. I read the article you pointed me to about the neophobic child. More on all that later, but I did want to tell you I had seen something along those same lines about the addicted rats, and commented on it in one of my posts: http://sacredappetite.wordpress.com/2009/07/22/eating-mindfully-how-to-keep-kids-from-getting-fat-by-turning-on-to-better-food/ Maybe it's also something of an answer to your husband's idea that kids need junk food not to feel deprived. More later...


Hi! I'm a pretty new subscriber and really like your take on these issues. My dh feels that they need a little junk food to not feel deprived, but I disagree and feel it just creates an appetite that eventually does end up making them feel deprived when they eat healthily. I just read this article (short and sweet) http://www.ethicurean.com/2010/08/18/neophobia-101-when-picky-eaters-confound-ethicureanish-intentions/ and found it fascinating and would love to hear your take on it. Also the other day, listening to a fact-show on the radio [so it must be true ;)], I heard that there was an experiment with rats where they were fed junk food. They developed changes in their brain similar to those of humans with addictions. They would put up with unpleasant electric shocks in order to eat more of it, even when warned the shocks were coming. And then when junk food was removed and replaced with healthy food, the rats volunarily starved themselves! (I don't know how far they went with this, whether they starved themselves to death or nearly to death, or just for a long time, it'd be good to know). It was almost like once they were on a diet of junk food, it was a permanent addiction. I know rats are different from humans, but it's a very interesting experiment, and makes one wonder whether just removing junk food and only serving healthy is going to be enough for some people. I appreciate all your insights and thanks for the blog!