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.