Humans are the only animals who feed their kids something other than what they’re supposed to eat as adults. If you watch any nature show, you’ll see that there’s no such thing as “kid food” in the animal world. There’s just “infant food,” such as milk for baby mammals and partially digested, regurgitated food for baby birds. Those special, modified meals are temporary and, as soon as a baby is old enough to manage the real thing on their own, they’re expected to eat it in order to survive.
By contrast, we humans live in a world that has created an entire industry around the false idea that children ‘need’ special food in order to:
A) Convince them that eating is cool
B) Sneak “nutrients” into their bodies (an illusion, of course)
C) Have a fulfilling, fun childhood ("How can childhood possibly be meaningful without Kool-Aid and goldfish crackers?")
David Katz, who wrote “The Case for Eradicating ‘Kid’ Food”, puts our strange human parental behaviour into a humorous perspective:
Imagine the alternative reality in which the wolf pack makes a kill, but the cubs don’t wait their turn to get at that meat. Imagine if, instead of learning to eat what their parents eat, ‘kid’ wolves ate heart, moon, star and clover-shaped multicolored marshmallows (or perhaps, being wolves, their marshmallows would be shaped like hare, moose, stag and caribou; but it’s the same general concept).
A big part of the problem is that there’s too much money backing the kid food industry. Corporations are making a huge profit by feeding our kids inadequate, unhealthy food that is destroying their health in the long run. (Think heart disease, cancer, stroke, obesity, and diabetes, all of which have diet as a root cause, according to this study.) As Katz points out, because we can’t justify profits that ultimately hurt our kids, we’ve created a false mythology that kid food is precisely what makes childhood special and fun, and that ingredients such as artificial food dyes and deep-fried batter are godsends for preventing child starvation in North America.
Katz calls for full legal eradication of kid food via government policy. While I support that in theory, it seems an impossibility to implement. A better and more realistic route is to prioritize the place of real food at home by simply choosing not to buy kid food. Of course children will be exposed to kid food when they go elsewhere, but a child who knows the all-round good feeling that comes from eating well will usually choose the good stuff over the bad.
You’ve probably seen how kids happily raid the fruit bowl or the veggie sticks with hummus. Hand out pieces of whole wheat bread with cream cheese instead of salty crackers and Cheez-Whiz. Toss those Goldfish and opt for a handful of raw almonds. Slice up fruit to dip in peanut butter in place of pre-packaged Bear Claws or sugar-laden granola bars. Drop the juice altogether and stick with water or milk. After all, researchers are saying that our children’s generation could be the first to die before their parents, due to higher-than-ever rates of preventable disease, many of which are related to poor diet. It's time for parents to take a stand.
Kids are much more adaptable than we often give credit for. As one of my favourite quotes says, “Nothing cures picky eating quite like hunger and a good hike.” It might take a few days, weeks, or even months, but weaning your kid off those battered fish sticks while teaching them to enjoy a nice poached filet with veggies could actually save their life some day.