True story: twice in the last three weeks, my kids were lured by a tiger. The first incident was a lazy Sunday morning when my two-year-old son checked out the Target flyer and noticed the tiger (which is interesting is that this caught his eye over anything else–even toys). The second time was when we made a brief stop in a small market, and my five-year-old daughter noticed those eyes, which she said looked so “friendly.” Both incidents left my kids wishing we could invite the tiger into our home and make him part of our family. Yes, that’s right…I’m talking about Tony the Tiger on the Frosted Flakes box. But more importantly, I’m talking about the time, energy and marketing that goes into making my kids react the way they did.
I’m sure it won’t surprise you that I launched into a full analysis of this situation with my kids. Starting with my two year old, I asked if he even knew what he was looking at. How could he tell a) that he wanted it and b) that it was food, if it was only a picture in a flyer? I then turned to my daughter and asked why Tony the Tiger was so inviting. She pointed to his eyes, noted his coloring and just summed it up by saying he looked “fun.” Is she saying that my Kashi cereal doesn’t look fun?
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reports that the food industry spends $10 billion a year on (very effective) marketing to children. It exists in the supermarket, on TV and in restaurants. On a recent road trip my son wanted to stop at the restaurant with the “fun slides and inside playground”…also know as McDonald’s.
By the way, in case you are wondering, I have allowed my kids to eat food from McDonald’s. I primarily introduced them to it so that they knew what it was all about since they hear about it from friends and see it on TV. I wanted them to view it like any other restaurant. However, I passed on the Happy Meal (and toy) and ordered from the Dollar Menu instead. Guess what? They didn’t even like it, not the taste or the texture. Despite this, they occasionally ask me if we can go so that they can get a toy and play on the slides. Congratulations, McDonald’s. Your strategy to keep kids coming back obviously works.
So how do we manage all of the messages, brands and gimmicks that our children are being exposed to? Like anything else from stranger danger to “just say no,” we need to also educate our children on how the food industry works. We also need to also educate ourselves, to look beyond effective advertising campaigns and fancy packaging to investigate what a food really offers us. Luckily, we have the Guiding Stars to help us accomplish this.
I took the time to explain to my children that the reason mommy doesn’t buy the “tiger cereal” is because it isn’t going to make them big , strong and healthy like the cereal that we already have at home. In the mean time, they have dropped it, which goes to show you the limited power of these things when we don’t give in (because believe me…when my kids really want something, they never drop it!).
And then a funny thing happened yesterday. There was a new Kashi commercial on TV and my son noticed and ran toward the TV jumping and saying, “Mommy, look! We have that!” So maybe Kashi can be fun after all!
About our Consulting Dietitian
Allison Stowell MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian and a working mom of two. Allison enables individuals to make positive, sustainable changes in their eating habits by stressing conscious eating, improving relationships with food and offering a non-diet approach for reaching and maintaining ideal body weight.
She also runs a successful private practice with offices in Danbury, CT, Bedford Hills, NY and Mahopac, NY. Since 2007, Allison has also worked with the grocer, Hannaford Brothers Corporation, as a Nutrition Coordinator. She provides complementary nutrition classes and tours, community workshops and one-on-one shopping experiences at their Carmel, NY location.
She joins the Guiding Stars team to help people in a number of sectors (grocery, hospitals, schools and universities) to understand how to use the Guiding Stars nutrition navigation program to make healthier food choices.
Allison lives in Connecticut with her husband, two small children and her dog, Chase.