I dislike squeezy applesauce. Actually, I might think it’s delicious. I never tried one before. That’s because I am not a baby or an astronaut. They bug me because they represent a lot that bugs me about food as it is marketed to parents. They take something simple and make it brightly colored and packaged in what will, soon after the contents are sucked down, become trash. They contain no special ingredients, but suggest that they are food specially designed for children. They tout their convenience and make it seem like a necessity for today’s busy mom. At the end of the essay I will share a snack idea that is as portable, healthy, and easy to have on hand as a pouch of pureed fruit* for your child.
I think that they sell because we have an odd belief that children’s food is a different kind of food from real grown-up food. Chain restaurant children’s menus and packaged meals for kids tend to range in color from light beige to ecru and the flavor palate ranges from a little salty and greasy to a lot salty and greasy. If the products on shelves and all the menus declare that that is what ‘kid food’ is, then I don’t blame parents for believing it. I’m pretty sure, (note that this is the kind of pretty sureness tied to too-lazy to really research this) though, that this belief in interesting and varied fare for the adults and breaded ranch-dressing receptacles for the kids is far from universal. First of all, a sadly large portion of the world’s parents can hardly make one dinner for their family, let alone make two age-specific dinners each night. Secondly, I’m pretty sure that Thai kids eat Thai food, spices and all, and that the roasted goat for dinner in Morocco is not formed into dinosaur shaped-nuggets for the little ones.
We rely too much on the marketers to tell us what our kids like to eat. Ten years ago, how many non-Asian parents gave their kids seaweed as a snack or in their lunch? I know I never saw any in lunchboxes until recently, and that’s because now they are being packaged and marketed to us for this use, and many children love it. What other nutritious and tasty options are our kids not having because no one has thought to put them in a colorful packet yet?
Kids can and do eat real food if that is what is given to them. Really. There are all sorts of wonderful flavors and textures that you child should be exposed to, just like she should be exposed to a variety of other sensory input. They will not love everything, just like you don’t love everything.
And that snack idea that is portable, healthy, divided into individual servings, as easy to prepare and carry as a squeezy applesauce and with no packaging? An apple.
*I want to be clear that any food exploration should safely fit the chewing and swallowing skills of kids. I know I am tongue-in-cheek about some stuff, but I am very serious about choking danger. It really happens. Don’t give your kids esophagus- sized pieces of hard foods, and always watch a child while he or she is eating. Kid in the back sea/t parent in the front does not count as watching your child. You might say that the applesauce packets are better because they are safer than an apple choking-wise, but a) I’m not talking about babies, and there comes a time when a person needs to learn to chew food, for goodness sakes, and b) they have these plastic caps that the kids like to put in their mouth which the package notes is a choking hazard. And c) so fine, make it a banana.