Are we too busy to teach our children to chew? Why parents should be wary of the 'food pouch' fad

Sales of food pouches–the puree-in-a-bag (just insert in mouth and squeeze)–have soared over the past few years.

According to manufacturers, parents love them. Healthy food without fuss = happy parents, happy kids. For busy families, always on the move, this is a good thing. Or is it?

The pouches contain healthy fruits and veggies, so they must be good, right? Well, to the extent that they replace other snacks (like Goldfish crackers), they probably are an improvement in nutritional terms.

But the problem is that these pouches lull parents into thinking their children are actually eating vegetables and fruits. They’re not. Real food has complex tastes and textures; children learn to like them over a period of time, through repeated exposure. If you’re feeding your children sweetened veggie mush in a bag, you’re teaching them to eat….sweetened veggie mush in a bag.

Will they move on from that to eating leafy greens when older? Or will they look for other processed snack foods, preferably the ‘liquid foods’ that the food industry is betting will be big sellers in years to come–for those adults too busy or lazy to chew.

And given that pouches seem to be used whenever kids are feeling peckish, another issue is that they set kids up for random snacking (and emotional eating) habits that will be hard to break later in life. (“Should kids be allowed to randomly snack? Definitely not…here’s why.”)

(They’re also incredibly expensive and environmentally unfriendly…two additional good reasons to avoid them!).

In short, food pouches teach children the wrong lesson about WHAT as well as HOW to eat. That’s why I only use them on rare occasions. That’s right, I do use them. Once in a while, they’re useful. The key term here is once in a while.

In fact, food pouches have existed in France for years. They have applesauce or other fruit compotes in them. Not meal substitutes. Parents buy them for for emergency needs (like long trips with very young children), but otherwise largely avoid them. They’re certainly not used as meal substitutes, as this recent article in the New York Times (“Putting the Squeeze on a Family Ritual“) suggests.

“That may be fine for the French,” you may be thinking, “but aren’t these an inevitable solution for busy American parents?” Well, the French have longer workdays than Americans do, on average. And French mothers work outside the home at the same rate that American mothers do. So if we are too busy to teach our kids to eat, we only have ourselves to blame.

One final point. Are we really that busy? Check out the number of hours of television per day watched by Americans versus the French:

French adults watched over two hours less TV than American adults (2 hours and 47 minutes versus 4 hours and 57 minutes)

French preschoolers watched 2 hours less per day than American preschoolers (2 hours and 18 minutes versus 4 hours)

French teenagers got 5 (yes, five!) hours less screen time (video games, TV, internet) than American teenagers (2 hours and 41 minutes, versus 7 hours)

With all of that extra time on their hands, the French spend a little more time cooking (18 minutes more per day, on average, than we do), and more time eating (1 hour more per day than we do–a lot of which is spent chatting to family members and friends, as the French rarely eat alone)–as well as more time engaged in leisure and physical activities.

So, are we really too busy to teach our children to chew?

Sources: Data drawn from the following reports:
• Neilsen (2012) “State of the Media Trends in TV Viewing—2011 TV Upfronts”
• Kaiser Family Foundation (2012) “Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8 to 18 year olds.”
• Eurodata TV Worldwide (2012) “Kids’ TV Trends”
• Insee, enquête Emploi du temps 2009-2010.
• Strasburger VC, et al “Policy statement — Children, adolescents, obesity, and the media” Pediatrics 2011; 128: 201–208.

9 thoughts on “Are we too busy to teach our children to chew? Why parents should be wary of the 'food pouch' fad

  1. I have always disliked these food pouches and could never articulate why – I just knew that I would never buy something like that. Thank you for putting my feelings into words! I’m linking to this for my weekend post.

    I’ve never been one to carry snacks with me everywhere, but I see parents doing this all the time. As if Junior cannot go one hour on an errand without food? It’s silly to me. I have 6 kids, pregnant with #7 and if I had to pack snacks every time I left the house I would be lugging a cooler around. No thanks :-)

    Like this

  2. Very interesting stats! Being a French mom living in the US, I really notice things like taking the time to eat a meal. I find most other moms around me feed their kids running after them, a spoon here and there… (pouch comes in handy then I guess). But a lot of American adults have meals on the go also, in a hurry, wanting to get it over with, instead of really enjoying the process of the meal. So I guess the kids do the same. As French, it is ingrained in me somehow to enjoy a sitdown meal, chat, take my time (whenever possible, though I would say at least for one meal a day) and I notice my kid is always the one staying in the high chair perfectly happy to be eating and sitting at the table for a good while. I think the way the French eat in courses is key to this also (I recently wrote a post about this http://frenchfoodiebaby.blogspot.com/2012/06/thought-for-food.html). Also I see a lot of toddlers snacking on those pouches (like on puffs) throughout the day, which could explain why they-re not so motivated to eat at lunch or dinnertime. So they don’t eat much then, and the parents give the snacks because they didn’t eat that much… catch 22. Just some thoughts on the topic, apologies for my long comment. Enjoying the conversation. :-)

    Like this

  3. Glad you’re enjoying the blog! Regarding the average length of the workday, my stats also come from the OECD! The average length of the workday in France is slightly longer than in the US–but not including ‘unpaid work’. Note: French government officials work similar hours to us (the 8 hour work day). But in the private sector typical hours are longer. However, just like everywhere, there is a lot of variation between big towns and everywhere else, and between sectors and professions. The 35 hour work week is a myth for many–because people either work a ‘part-time’ job (up to 32 hours, without the benefits associated with full-time work), or they work more than 35 hours (but in some cases get to ‘bank’ the extra hours as holiday time or take them as extra pay).

    The French do, by the way, get more holidays than we do–even the kids! The school year goes from September to June, but kids get six weeks of holiday (not including Christmas and statutory holidays).

    Like this

  4. Interesting post and quite scary data about the media habits of this country. I was reading parts of this to my husband, and he called me out on one piece though:

    “Well, the French have longer workdays than Americans do, on average.”

    Do you have a source for that? When I try to Google it, I am finding that Americans work at average of 8.3 hours per day, while in France it is only 7.5 hours (source: OECD.org, April 2011). But I hate that data because it includes “unpaid work.”

    Thanks for your blog. I’m finding it fascinating, albeit a bit depressing when I consider our local school lunches.

    Like this

  5. I always thought pouches of purée were for weaning and that by the age of one were no longer relevant….it’s baby food. Older children should only be having it as a sauce on a pudding for example, not as a meal.

    Like this

  6. At first I was on the defensive about these ‘food pouches’ as they are present in our life, however, I let a sigh of relief when your point of ‘once in a while’ came up. We travel with our children, a lot, and carrying a fresh apple or bag of apricots over multiple continents, through countless airports is nearly impossible. We discovered these pouches in France 4 years ago and they have been a life-saver…once in a while.
    Thank you for the post. Always enjoyable.

    I was appalled at thinking the average preschool child watches 4 hours of TV a day. 4 hours?!?

    Like this

  7. I was frankly flabbergasted to see a photo at the top of this NY Times article of a child who is clearly old enough to have teeth. As a mother of a three-year-old I thought I was pretty knowledgable about various kid-oriented stuff on the market; some are god-sends, most are rubbish. But, seriously, I thought these food pouches were just a different way of packaging jars of baby food. And why, pray tell, would you feed these to anyone who has more than four teeth?

    Parents, your lives are busy? Wah wah wah. If you can’t take five minutes a couple times a week to put some washed and prepped fruit and veg in your refrigerator’s produce drawer and teach your kids how to open the door, then I should hope that your children grow up to have better sense than you do.

    Grabbing a $2/100 cal. pouch of food for car trips instead of a banana, some trail mix, or cup of grapes? Seriously. You must have lots of money to burn. Send me some.

    Like this

  8. I LOVE how you show screen time comparisons to show just were some of that extra time is coming from! If Americans stopped watching television they would be amazed at what else they could fit into their lives!

    Like this

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s