The last time I checked, McDonald’s didn’t serve fresh carrot sticks. However, according to a study published in the Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, preschoolers prefer the taste of carrots when packaged in a McDonald’s bag. The ‘brandless’ carrots just didn’t taste as good. Neither did the brand-free french fries, hamburger and chicken nuggets, even though they were genuine McDonald’s products simply served in a plain bag without the big ‘m’ present.1
So what does it mean when kids prefer the taste of carrots wrapped in fast food packaging? Should you start serving veggies in brand-name containers to get them to eat up without the usual tantrums?
No. It does not mean you should start serving vegetables draped in corporate logos. This would only be a short-term quick fix that could further diminish your power as a parent. This study simply shows that kids respond to good and consistent marketing. And they are a tad gullible.
Short-term quick fixes
You are a parent so it’s natural to want the best for your child. This includes excellent health and good eating habits. But how do you get fussy, strong-willed and plain old stubborn children eating healthy food on a daily basis? You could use short-term quick fixes such as nagging, smacking, shouting, hiding vegetables in more desirable food and banning TV viewing. However, let’s consider the problems associated with relying on these methods:
Nagging is a common strategy used by many parents, especially weary mothers who care about their kids. They nag them to clean up their room and they nag them to eat healthy food, among other things. In the short-term, nagging can work well. All you do is dish out repetitive instructions that get increasingly louder each time, wearing your child down into a submissive ‘Yeees, Mum’. Now they’ll take a reluctant bite of that grainy sandwich and hate every moment of it.
You may find nagging works for you now but wait until your family develops a curious case of ‘selective’ deafness. Then nothing you say will be heard the first or second time you say it. Yes, nagging is only beneficial if you like repeating everything at least three times before getting a response. This is exhausting and you will forever be a weary and undermined parent if you don’t break the nag cycle.
SMACKING AND SHOUTING
Smacking and shouting are old fashioned methods for getting kids to comply with the household rules and are considered politically incorrect these days. However, some people believe that bad behaviour, obesity and crime are predominantly due to poor discipline and that belt-cracking punishment should be reinstated. But are these short-term quick fixes really the answer to raising healthy kids?
Of course they’re not. Smacking and shouting teaches a child that violence and yelling are acceptable forms of communicating your wants and needs. I learnt this the hard way when my daughter was two. She bumped her head on the table. To make her feel better (and stop her from crying as quickly as possible), I resorted to smacking the table and said ‘Naughty table!’ She smiled and hit the table and my problem was solved. Until a boy at her day care centre accidentally bumped into her. She belted him and told him he was naughty. Clever communication and marketing are much healthier and in the long run, they’re more effective than smacking and shouting.
HIDING VEGETABLES IN MORE DESIRABLE FOOD
What about the well-meaning health experts who recommend hiding vegetables in sauces, casseroles and pies? They say purée your vegetables or chop them finely enough to blend in with more desirable food like mince patties. Now your fussy child doesn’t know they’re eating something healthy and they won’t upset your day by being difficult.
While I’m not totally opposed to this method of administering healthy food, you do have to wonder if it really helps your child to be healthy. It may give them more vitamins and minerals but you are missing out on a wonderful opportunity to be the primary health educator of your child. That’s fine of course: you can always leave your child’s health
information up to their school, their mates or junk food manufacturers who have the big bucks to advertise.
Alternatively, you could be the one to let your child know that eating vegetables is a fact of life and a damn important one that will help them feel good, look great and be successful. Educate them because you care and let them in on the secret while you still have some influence over them.
BANNING TV VIEWING
An experiment found that even a single exposure to a TV advertisement influenced preschool children’s brand preference.2 This is true. My daughter has a favourite bathroom cleaning product thanks to Bam’s fun name and effective marketing. Another study showed there is a correlation between increased television watching and excessive calorie consumption in the youth of today. And the foods they’re munching on are more likely to be the same ones frequently advertised on TV.3 This is great news for advertisers but not so good for us. So, should you ban your kids from watching television to prevent naughty fast food manufacturers from poisoning your child’s delicate mind?
However great banning the TV seems in theory, be prepared as it means you’ll have a child who demands five star entertainment from you, especially when you’re busy cooking dinner. This is okay and can be a wonderful way for the family to bond. I personally loved having no television for a few months, then I realised my partner would slowly go insane if I didn’t let him have a humongous flat screen.
A large TV is like having an extra window in the room but should the kids be allowed to share this portal into a land where soft drink makes you popular and sugar makes you an iron man?
By all means, kick up a fuss about fast food marketing and ban the TV so your family can’t be victimised anymore. However, your child acquires prejudices from more than just television. There are billboards, shops, the internet, peer pressure and well- meaning relatives giving your child messages of what products are going to make them feel good.
You must get smart and stop blaming outside influences. Marketing is not an underhanded crime wielded by heartless food manufacturers. It’s legal and astoundingly effective. So why wouldn’t you learn the marketing tricks that make these food giants so successful? Yes, I am telling you to use subtle brainwashing techniques on your child so they voluntarily eat veggies, favour wholegrains over white bread and reach for the water jug without demanding ‘Where’s the cordial?’
Key points to remember
Short-term quick fixes are only beneficial in the interim and they can cause more hassles for you in the long run.
Keep nagging to a minimum (yes, you can still nag a little bit).
Don’t smack or shout unless you want to raise a child who is good at smacking and shouting.
Limit hiding vegetables in more desirable food as your child needs to get to know vegetables on a first-name basis.
You can ban the television but be aware that your child is influenced by more than just TV commercials.