The Kid’s Menu: Food Marketing to Children

Kids Menu Title Text

Happy New Year! If you resolved to feed your munchkins a healthier diet (yay!), you need to know that purveyors of fast food are not on your side. Their success depends on your failure, and they have bigger wallets than you do.

Knowledge is power, so some facts about fast food advertising from the Rudd Center:

  • In 2012, 4.6 billion dollars was spent on fast food advertising. That is a hard number for me to get my brain around. 4.6 billion dollars will buy 920 million kid’s meals: 33,000 lifetimes worth of daily happy meals. Imagine the profit that must be generated to make spending that amount of money reasonable. These people are not your friends.
  • Fewer than 1% of kid’s meals (33 out of 5427)  met USDA nutrition standards.
  • Only 3% of kid’s meals met the industry’s own standards.

Fast food was traditionally advertised in print, on TV and radio, and on billboards. Add on product placement and packaging (that attractive box is not at small-hand-reaching-from-cart-distance by accident). Pile on celebrity endorsements and the use of popular characters (Spongebob Squarepants Fruit Snacks anyone?)

Newer methods embrace social media, including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. Americans spent an estimated 121 billion minutes–a total of 230,213 years–on social media in 2012. Where better to find a potential customer?

Social media sites entice with advergames, contests, points to redeem, and free downloads; if your child subscribes to or follows a YouTube or Twitter site he or she is volunteering to be sent endless “opportunities,” with ads on the side. They recruit their users (your children) to “share” and “invite” friends to participate on the websites–free word of mouth advertising! The star of social media is Facebook, but it comes with 6 billion fast food ads–19% of the total ads on the site.

Advertisers hire brilliant marketers to design attractive logos which grab the attention of potential customers. Food stylists make their options look better than they ever do in reality. Ads hint at advantages beyond the food: “Live every day with love” with Ne-Yo at McDonalds, or have cool friends with applewood smoked “bacon teens” at Wendy’s. They suggest health benefits and a happier, more carefree life. They bait with prices that will feed your children more cheaply than the grocery store, until you switch to higher priced items at the counter.

McDonalds alone spends almost three times the dollars on advertisements than all of the fruit, vegetable, water, and milk producers combined.

Children’s advocates fight to decrease fast food advertisements aimed at children, and increase ads for nutritious foods. We fight to have most of the kid’s options healthy, not just the current average of 2%. We work to make fast food restaurants default to a healthy option (apples and milk, rather than fries and soda), and keep those healthy options affordable. We have made inroads, but the struggle is a mountain and profit motive is a mudslide.

Fast food ads have presence in your child’s life. They are unavoidable. Your children will see them and will want what they are selling.

We have absolutely no evidence that media literacy in any way defends against the effectiveness of advertisements. None. Knowing that they are trying to sell you something that is bad for you does not keep you from wanting it. You may not remember that you can “live every day with love” with Ne-Yo, but you will get a bit of a lift when you see that bright red and gold sign. We are grown ups, and we fall for the ads. We cannot expect more of our children than we do of ourselves.

In the end, it comes down to committing to do the right thing, and then acting on that commitment:

  • Clean out your cupboards and throw out all the junk.
  • Make a meal plan for the week before you shop.
  • Shop with a list made from that meal plan.
  • Shop at farmer’s markets and around the outer rim of the grocery store. Avoid the aisles unless there is something on your list that is on that aisle.
  • Prepare meals ahead for busy nights, so that you don’t end up in that line at the fast food restaurant.
  • Keep healthy snack food available to hand: fruits and veggies, whole grain crackers, cheese, popcorn… Throw out the chips and snack cakes.
  • Eat the food you bought, at home, with your kids, at the table and with the TV off. So much better than the fast food line with your kids bickering in the back seat!

Most importantly, be consistent.

Remember that “never” is much easier for a child to understand and deal with than “sometimes.” If you never stop at the drive through and never buy junk food, after the first two weeks your kids will rarely ask, even though they saw that yummy advertisement a dozen times and really wanted to try those fruit snacks.

If you sometimes give in, they will ask until your ears bleed. Pestering is powerful when you’re tired and stressed.

You can do this. They have 4.6 billion dollars on their side, but you have love for your children and the responsibility they handed you with that warm sweet bundle. You win.

Domesticated Momster

Parenting: Top Ten Transforming New Year’s Resolutions

storkHappy New Year! Time for those resolutions. This year, instead of resolving to lose that last ten pounds or eat more veggies (although I will applaud you if you do), resolve to do the best job at parenting. The reward is so much bigger than going down a clothing size! So, my Top 10 Amazing New Year’s Parenting Resolutions:

I will henceforth…

10. Require chores. Equal participation is fundamental to receive the reward of being in a family. The pride your child feels serving the carrots he helped peel is well worth the time it takes to get him to do it. Every member of the family contributes, to the best of their ability. Family bonds and trust will form over the raking of leaves.

9.   Make rules, and enforce them consistently. Rules keep kids safe, teach them right from wrong, and civilize them. Make sure your child understands the rules, and every single adult in his life needs to enforce every rule each and every time, the first time it is broken. No “warnings,” because you made sure ahead of time that they understood the rule. Decide what the consequence will be for a broken rule long before you need to do it; make the punishment appropriate for the crime (timeout? loss of the toy? paying for the damage?).

8.   Feed my munchkin a healthy diet: whole foods that look like they either grew out of the ground or walked on it (I know, but not everyone is a vegetarian). Teach your children to eat when they’re hungry, and stop eating when they’re not hungry anymore. Aim for about half fruits and vegies and about half protein (meat, eggs, cheese, beans or nuts) and starch (potatoes, bread, pasta, corn). Everything else will be easier if they are well nourished.

7.   Keep a regular sleep schedule – both enough hours and at about the same time every day – as much as possible. Kids who are short on sleep are irritable, tired and have no attention span. Everything else will be easier if he or she has had enough sleep.

6.   Keep them safe when I can. There are lots of surprises out there to keep life interesting; there is no need to risk the preventable injuries. Use those seat belts and bike helmets, lock up the household poisons, guns and Grandma’s meds, and get those vaccines.

5.   Teach financial responsibility. Spend less than you make, stay out of debt, and save for the future. Do it where they can see you and explain what you are doing. Go through your budget with them in an age appropriate way, and feel free to say, “We can’t afford that.” Give them an allowance for those chores and require that they save some.

4.   Not wear blinders. Your primary job is to protect this child, even if it is sometimes from themselves. Children will lie, take things that are not theirs, and sneak out at night when they are 14. You need to catch them so that they learn that it doesn’t work. If they get caught stealing at 7, they have an embarrassing memory of having to go back and pay for what they took. If they get caught at 25, they land in jail and loose their job, partner, and children.

3.   Give them love without condition the child you have, not the one you dreamed they would be. Love is not a prize you can give when your child is good, and take away when they do not live up to your expectations. Without the absolute faith that no matter what happens or what horrible thing they do you will still love them, the foundation on which they build their life will by shaky and unstable. You chose to have them; unconditional love was part of the deal.

2.   Nurture my child’s unique talents and abilities; don’t try to fit the ones you want them to have on their unsuitable frame. This little person is an original – why would you want to shove him or her into a standard form? And what irreplaceable gifts would be forever lost because you did not value them? Respect the exceptional person that he or she is.

1.   Inspire them with myown life. Be what you hope for them. Find work you love, maintain a healthy relationship with your partner, eat a healthy diet, and exercise. Learn something new every day. Never lie. Give respect, and demand it for yourself. Keep an open mind, explore the world and grab opportunities when they happen by. Make your children proud.