Real Food Journey: Marketing Junk Food to Kids

Follow our Real Food Journey | Serving Joyfully

I’ve shared before that this real food journey has been easiest on our children. We’d already established mostly healthy(er) habits with them, so there were just a few things that changed for them and they’ve been fine with it.

So, overall, it has been an easy transition for them. They understand, as much as they can, what we are doing. We explain that we want to eat real food the way God gave it to us because it’s better for us.  Their standard answer now when asked about junk food is “that’s not good for you.” My friend gave me the idea to explain further about chemicals. She calls junk food “chemical food,” so we do that sometimes as well to help them understand why those things aren’t good for us.

However, a couple of recent incidents have really opened my eyes to just how much junk food is created for and marketed to children.

Incident #1: The Cereal Box

We were picking up a few things at a wal-mart–this particular Wal-mart carries King Arthur white whole wheat flour, which I keep hearing great things about. While there, my 6 year old, who hasn’t had boxed cereal in a month, points to some General Mills sugar cereal and asks, “Can we buy this cereal?”

We didn’t buy a ton of “fun” kid cereal before. I bought some for treats when it was on sale, but generally didn’t buy much except what we got on WIC, which is the “healthier” kinds of cereal. So it was kind of odd that my 6 year old was asking for this particular kind.

I said, “What do you think?”

He knew the answer would be no. Usually, he’d just move on. This time, he persisted. “Mom, I know the cereal isn’t good for you, but look what we can get!”

He was pointing to this box of Reese’s Puffs cereal..can you guess, specifically, where he was pointing?

Marketing to children

If you guessed that big row of super heroes, you’d be correct. Apparently, General Mills has placed an exclusive line of comic books in several of their kids’ cereal boxes.

And apparently those superheroes are quite attractive to kids.

Incident #2: McDonald’s

Again, most of this has been easy for my kids, but something about the draw of a Happy Meal just keeps hanging on. Especially for my 4-year-old.

Just yesterday, he proclaimed, “I really wish we could have a happy meal.”

I gave him the usual “they aren’t good for us, we want to eat real food the way God made it and not chemical food they have at McDonald’s.” And, we didn’t have that many happy meals before!

His response surprised me, “I know it’s not good for you. I won’t even eat one bite. I promise.”

Then it clicks. He doesn’t want the happy meal. He wants the fun, novel toy promised with the happy meal. The skylander one that he can’t get elsewhere.

Nevermind that my child doesn’t understand that the toy isn’t worth the $4 price tag. The point is that they are marketed to him in that way, and it works. Even if he doesn’t like the food at all, he’d still want to shop there for the toy. And McDonald’s wins.

When Food is the Enemy

I’ll be honest. The further we get into this journey, and the more I research about the harmful effects of all those processed and chemically modified ingredients we’re being sold…the more angry I get about the fact that companies spend so much money (1) making sure that they are as addictive as possible, and (2) marketing them specifically to children.

I know a lot of you may be shaking your heads about the addictive part. And it’s true that some are more susceptible than others. But I have felt it. I’m not quite ready to describe in detail just how bad it got, but use your imagination with the word “addiction” and you might get close. And that addiction carries real risks. The health risks of being overweight and unhealthy due to a poor diet are worth their own blog post, and others have listed them quite well.

Food Addiction

Processed foods are a drug and the big corporations are pushing them. To children.

Coming from a childhood in which I was surrounded by substance abuse, I was hyper-aware of those things. I never smoked, drank, or tried any drug because I knew that the fact that my dad is a {recovering} alcoholic made me pre-disposed to addiction. It’s in my genes and I was going to fight it by starving it. If I don’t try it, I can’t get addicted to it.

But food snuck up on me. I never knew that food–especially the chemically/processed kind–could be addictive until it was too late.

So when I learn that companies spend millions of dollars in research to make it that way on purpose, it makes me mad. Then when I learn that they are targeting our children to get them hooked early on, it makes me really mad

We cannot afford to hide our heads in the sand. I’ve been guilty of it for far too long. But we just can’t do it. We have to step up, educate ourselves, and be aware of what we are putting into our children’s bodies. I’m not saying we can’t ever have a special treat. But we need to be educated and responsible, knowing that our children are trusting us to do what’s best for them. We are their advocates.

I love to hear your feedback and value your thoughts! All I ask is that we remain respectful and civil, even when we disagree. Thanks so much for reading. I appreciate you!

Thank you for joining in the discussion!