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.

Top Ten Holiday Poisonings

Cute kid girl in glasses thinking about gift on Christmas holiday. Vintage portrait

or, “how to avoid visiting the Doc during the Holidays”:

  1. Tiny magnets: These aren’t really poisonous but they can get stuck in noses and ears, choked on or swallowed. Keep track of the big kid’s toys so I don’t have to make the little one cry digging something out of his or her ear. Worse, magnets that are choked on or swallowed can require surgery to remove. Two magnets in the gut will stick to each other and wear through the bowel wall.
  2. Button batteries: Same problems as above, plus they can leak and cause burns, eating holes through the bowel that can be fatal.
  3. Grandma’s meds: These are on countertop at her home, and sitting in her unattended purse when she is visiting yours. This is the most common poisoning that I see. Other people’s meds also count, of course.
  4. Household poisons: Both the usual suspects (cleaning products, bug sprays) and the holiday specific (liquid fuels) are more available and less monitored in the holiday craziness. Lock ’em up.
  5. Food: Avoid potato salad that was made on the counter where they just cleaned the chicken. Return leftover food to the refrigrerator quickly. Wash those hands! Pick up and throw out unfinished drinks–kids can drop their blood sugar and fall into a coma with a relatively small amount of alcohol. Throw away cigarette butts, because kids eat them and the poisons in cigarettes can actually throw small people into a seizure. (And we inhale these things on purpose. Blech.) Add e-cigarette refills to this list for the last couple of years. 1/2 tsp can kill a child.
  6. Decorations: It’s actually pretty hard to poison anybody with holiday décor. Antique items will sometimes have lead, so don’t let the little guy eat the metalics. Don’t breath in the spray snow, because it has either acetone or methylene chloride in it. And don’t hit Uncle Joe with that branch, no matter how tempting….
  7. Plants: Poinsettias are not poisonous. Promise. Neither is Christmas cactus. Holly berries, mistletoe berries and peace lily berries are, as are bittersweet and boxwood.
  8. Smoke and carbon monoxide: Very poisonous. Live trees and decorations can be dry and fires, candles and space heaters abound. Keep your eyes open and your smoke and carbon monoxide detector batteries fresh.
  9. Mind numbing toys: Boycott toys that don’t engage your children’s minds. Look for toys that they can create with, explore with, or build with. I know this is not strictly a poison, but it’s my list, so I can bend the rules. So,…
  10. Poisonous soul numbing holiday insanity: Back up and take a breath before you spend money you don’t have on stuff you don’t need. Defeat stress and exhaustion with a healthy diet, exercise and regular sleep. Celebrate your heritage, enjoy your family and friends and create joyful memories. Ditch the rest.

“It’s Just a Cold…”

Adorable child dressed as doctor playing with toy over white

Happy cold and flu season! How many times have you taken your child to the doctor and been told, “It’s just a virus. Rest, push fluids, and they’ll feel better in about 10 days”?

Sadly, it’s true. There are hundreds of different viruses that cause colds, from the most common rhinovirus through the ever-unpleasant adenovirus to the rather pretty coronavirus (it has a crown…).

We can’t fix any of them.

All of them are contagious. All you have to do to catch one is breathe around someone who has one, or touch a surface that someone infectious has recently touched and then rub your nose or eyes. After a 2 or 3 day incubation period you will wake up to a scratchy throat and headache and you too will be infectious (mostly for the first 3 days).

Children catch an average of 8-10 colds during the first two years of their lives; they average 6-8 colds per year during their school years. Since most colds occur from October through March, this means 1-2 colds per month, lasting 10 days each. If it seems like your children are sick all the time, it’s because… they are sick all the time.

Symptoms of a cold include fever, red watery eyes, congestion, cough, tiredness and decreased appetite. Your child’s ears might feel plugged up. Watery nasal discharge can turn thick and green after a day or two (this doesn’t mean they have a sinus infection, it’s just part of what a virus does).

So how do we keep them as healthy as possible? You probably already know the basics:

  • Wash their hands frequently. Keep those hands away from their eyes, nose and mouth! No nail chewing!
  • Cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough. Elbows or facial tissues work.
  • Disinfect surfaces.
  • Look for small daycares and classes whenever possible (I know, but we can dream).
  • Do what you can to boost their young immune systems. Breastfeeding your infant will make me poor–all that wonderful grown-up immunity transferred to your little one. Never smoke in air your child will inhale. Really. Never. It will destroy their immune system. And yours, by the way. Take probiotics like Acidophilus (in yogurt) or Lactobacillis.
  • Make sure they get enough sleep. If they are sleepy during the day, move their bedtimes up. Tired people get sick.
  • Offer them healthy food, and throw out all the unhealthy food so they will have fewer options when they get hungry.
  • Have lots of fluids available, because hydration is necessary for your body’s defenses to work. And no, I don’t mean soda. Water, dilute juice or milk please.

When your children get sick, treat their symptoms so that they will feel better. We have nothing that cures colds–antibiotics do not kill viruses. Salt water (saline) nose sprays are safe. Tylenol or ibuprofen will help with fever and pain. Over the counter cold meds will suppress some of the symptoms in children over 6 years of age, although they’ve never been proven to work for younger kids.

Call your doctor if the fever lasts more than three days, if your child is lethargic or unusually cranky, or if they have an earache or breathing problems.

Make them rest and drink fluids, and they’ll feel better in about 10 days.

Domesticated Momster

Reading Milestones

ROARlogo2-01This week’s blog comes curtesy of the Reach out and Read program.

Reading together is the single most important thing you can do to develop language skills and learning ability in your children, especially between the ages of six months and five years. Nothing will do more to prepare kids to excel in school: reading increases their vocabulary, their understanding of phonics, familiarity with the printed word, storytelling ability, and comprehension. Snuggling up and reading with your children will also help them feel loved and secure; do this at bedtime and it will help them sleep.

All this is before we get to the actual contents of the books!

For tricks on how to read to tiny people, check out my blog on Growing Brains.

Read, love reading, and encourage your children to love reading and their world will open up with possibilities.

The Reach out and Read people have come up with a very neat chart of reading milestones by age, from six months to five years. I thought I should share. Just click on it to make it bigger:

Reading Milestones

Domesticated Momster

Parenting: How to Fight Like a Grownup

CinemaUsher-01Children thrive in a home where they feel secure: security that is based in large part on their parents being sane and reliable. It can be terrifying when parents argue. If Mom or Dad act crazy when they fight their daughter, watching from around the corner, or son, lying in bed with a pillow over his head, will believe their world is falling apart.

As a result, an important part of parenting is learning how to discuss and resolve differences of opinion without devolving into screaming insults and accusations.

The goal of any parental conflict is to reach a compromise with which both parties will feel that they have won something, and both parties feel that they have given up something to the deal. If one party wins everything the compromise will not hold, because the other will have nothing to loose and will either keep fighting or just give up. We are looking for a win-win.

Parents are individuals first, with unique histories and priorities. There are bound to be disagreements over the decades it takes to raise a child. (Last week’s blog outlined common areas of disagreement; after this is how to fight with a child.) Since these disagreements happen between two people, the personalities of those people will impact the process. A little self examination is in order before we move on to how to fight like a grown-up.

There are three common personality styles that can negatively affect – umm- discussions:

  • The avoider: this person will not bring up the problem, will change the subject when they can, try to make jokes, deny that there is a problem… The problem will not get solved unless they can be brought to ground. (My husband is nodding and pointing at me.)
  • The nice guy: this person will give until they can’t give any more and then they explode. They will yield all points and agree to whatever their partner wants. Said partner will be completely blindsided when the divorce papers come.
  • The competitor: this is the person who will argue for points they don’t even care about, because they just want to win. Sometimes they can go over the line and and get nasty, flinging insults and accusations.

Parenting is too important to allow personality style to impact decisions. Figure out how you and your partner argue, and realize that your child is important enough to force yourself out of your comfort zone and let go of whatever habits you have indulged in until now. Face whatever the issue is, stand up for what you think is right, but don’t steamroll over your partner. Discuss the issue with the goal of compromise and cooperation.

People smarter than me have studied how to resolve conflicts in politics and business. The same principles work for relationships and parenting. The process can be divided into steps:

  • Listen. This means not interrupting until your partner in life, that person whom you love most in the world, has made his or her point. So hush! If you have trouble staying quiet, place a timer prominently between you and give each person a few uninterrupted minutes. Listening also means hearing and trying to understand what their words actually meant. This is difficult to do when all you are thinking about is your own point of view and what you are going to say next. You need to know how your partner in life sees the problem in order to fix it.  Sometimes it helps to repeat back what you heard, because what one person says is not always what the other person hears. “I’m frustrated and angry because we can’t pay our bills” can sound like “I want out of this marriage” if you are not careful.
  • Communicate. Talk about the actual issue. We want the best education for our child, but we can’t agree  on priorities. Don’t detour over to how you feel, other issues, or past history. Don’t try to assign blame. We never should have moved, or You should have taken that other job, won’t help.
  • Summarize. After you’ve both had a chance to make your point, sum it up. Name the problem, list the points on each side. Write it down if it helps.
  • Start with agreement. In every discussion there are points of agreement. Start with those points, and work from there. We both value education, but we know we cannot afford the private school we love… You want to work more so we can come up with the money, I want you home more and think we can teach them by reading, traveling, going to the library.
  • Don’t make assumptions, or jump to conclusions. Slow down, give yourselves the time to fully understand. Don’t let emotions and the thrill of drama get the better of you.
  • Realize that you must come to an agreement, there is no other option. We can work a little more to pay for math camp during the summer, and carve out extra time to hit libraries and museums.

Both sides must give a little and both sides must win a little, because you are in this together. One partner cannot overpower the other, or the partnership will not last, and your children need your partnership to last more than they need whatever you are arguing about.

In a conflict between parents either both parents win or both, in the end, loose.

Domesticated Momster

Pesticides: Not a Major Food Group

bleach boy-01A recent statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that we should limit our children’s exposure to pesticides.

It turns out that chemicals designed to kill insects and rodents are not good for children. Who knew?

In large doses, pesticides cause acute poisonings, with symptoms including dizziness, nausea, headaches, twitching or weakness. Smaller doses over a longer time can harm your child’s brain or hormonal systems. When pesticides injure a child’s brain they can cause developmental delays, and attention and behavior problems. Hormonal effects can impact your child’s growth and perhaps his or her reproductive ability. We do need to limit our children’s exposure!

Children are more vulnerable to poisons than adults, not less. Their bodies are actively growing and maturing and are thus easier to damage, like a gymnast caught mid leap. They have faster metabolisms: their hearts beat more quickly and their lungs breathe more rapidly, allowing chemicals in more quickly and in larger amounts. Also, their protective systems aren’t mature and don’t work as well as those of adults to stop the damage.

So, how do we lower children’s exposure in our day-to-day lives? The most common place for your child to ingest pesticides is in the food that they eat, particularly the fruits and vegetables. This does not mean they can skip their veggies! Just wash them first, eat a variety of different produce (different vegies have different amounts of pesticides), and buy organic when you can. Your local farm stand is, of course, your best friend.

Children are also exposed to pesticides in their homes and yards, so we may need to make some changes there. Keep all of your household pest products in their original containers with child proof caps intact. Just today I had a child drink a degreaser because her mom had stored it in a soda bottle! Store poisons out of reach and out of sight in a locked cupboard. If you are using a pesticide and the phone rings, close the container and put it out of reach while you are out of visual range. I have seen more than a few kids poisoned when mom went to see why the baby was crying, or to answer the door. Kids are quick.

Read and follow the directions on the container. Use pesticides only when there is a problem, never to just prevent one. Less is always better. When you do use them, use crevice and crack treatments, not bombs. Think about how your kids live on the surfaces to which you are applying the treatment: kids lie on the ground, crawl under things, and touch stuff and put their hands in their mouths. Don’t put the rat poison behind the couch – your 2 year old will find it. My amazing, brilliant grandchild found the mouse poison behind the dishwasher. World’s worst grandma.

Change your clothes after you use pesticides, and store your shoes outside.

If you have a wooden play structure that was built between 1970 and 2004 and not made of cedar or redwood, the wood was probably treated with chromated copper arsenate. Arsenic also is not good for children, so you may want to replace the structure.

Read the ingredients on lawn and garden products and any pet products. Organophosphates (most commonly malathion, but there are dozens) were banned from home use in 2001, but many people have old products sitting around, or use commercial products at home. They are also still used in public parks and schools.

In America we use more than 1 billion pounds of pesticides every year in our farms, homes and public spaces. Ask what is used by your city and at your child’s school. There are many newer, safer products that have been developed in the last few years, so suggest alternatives and avoid the organophosphates when you can.

Stay safe and be healthy!