by Marion Nestle
Nov 12 2012

Kids don’t need kids’ food

I did an interview for Childhood Obesity with Jamie Devereaux, its features editor.

Here are the first and last questions.  For the entire interview, click here:

The issue of access to healthy food is a major topic in the overall childhood obesity discussion in America. How important do you think it is to focus on solving the problems of food access as an objective in addressing childhood obesity?

I was impressed with Michelle Obama’s choice of targets for reducing childhood obesity—improving access to food in inner cities and improving school food. Both are excellent targets and, in a rational world, should attract widespread bipartisan support. It’s self-evident that it is more difficult to make healthier food choices  when no healthy food choices are available or when healthier foods are relatively expensive.

Some years ago I lived in a low-income Washington, D.C., neighborhood and was appalled at the poor quality of the supposedly fresh foods offered in the single grocery store within walking distance. I wouldn’t buy it and wouldn’t expect anyone else to want it either. Some studies report that inadequate access is a huge problem in inner cities and rural areas; others say the opposite. Without getting into arcane details about how the studies differ, the access problem just seems obvious and obviously needs to be fixed.

Finally, if you could shape the discussion of healthy food access for children in America—how would you frame it and what would you focus on?

Kids don’t need kids’ food. If adults are eating healthfully, kids should be eating the same foods that adults eat. Babies don’t need commercial baby food. Older kids don’t need kids’ products. Families can all eat the same foods, and that should make life easier for all concerned. If you don’t want your kids drinking sodas, don’t bring them home from the supermarket. Teach kids to eat real foods early on, and they will be great eaters throughout life.

  • Amen to that!

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  • Cheri

    So glad to see someone addressing the issue of kids’ food. The whole notion of children eating different foods from adults seems so odd, I’ve often wondered why it hasn’t been more of an issue.

  • FarmerJane

    I enjoyed seeing children at a French school choosing from a selection of high quality cheeses at lunch. Also, the annual French Farm & Food Show is held in Paris. Hundreds of thousands of urban school children are brought in to Paris to study terroir, attend the livestock shows, see displays of French agricultural regions and above all, to sample the great variety of French foods. We have nothing like the above in the U.S.


    “French Kids eat everything” by Karen LeBillon.

    Ten “food rules” for kids:

  • Steve

    “Some years ago I lived in a low-income Washington, D.C., neighborhood and was appalled at the poor quality of the supposedly fresh foods offered in the single grocery store within walking distance.”

    Part of the problem is clearly cultural. I’ve lived in Rome and was always impressed by the little trucks (“apes” which means bee in Italian) buzzing around loaded with fresh and beautiful produce being carried to all parts of the city, and sometimes even just setting up shop on the street. In my little neighborhood on the Gianiculo there was no shortage of good fresh food (not to mention great salumerias with their wonderful meats and cheeses and the wine shops).

    But we are talking about a culture (in Italy) where people value food, where dinner lasts most of the evening. To change people’s attitude towards food, diet, and health requires a deeper shift in cultural values; it requires, virtually, a revolution. How do we get there?

  • joe

    “If you don’t want your kids drinking sodas, don’t bring them home from the supermarket”

    I knew we agreed that the issues related to nutrition and health were rooted in personal responsibility not in government!

  • Elizabeth O’Neil

    I don’t remember getting anything different from my parents growing up.
    I have a really picky eater that I am really trying to get to eat healthy and he’s willing to starve before eating what is put on the plate. ugh SO my rule is if you don’t like what is handed to you at supper then they do get an option of peanut butter w/apples or on 100% whole grain bread, but that is all. Atleast I know he’s getting some protein and fiber in his body.
    Also, I learned that the “whole grain” breads that are offered in schools are only required to be 5grams so really, it’s not 100% whole grain. What’s the point???? ughhhhh

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  • SAO

    I can take a while for kids to appreciate good food. When my daughter was 4 or 5 and eating lunch in school or at friends’ houses for the first time, she told me that “bread that comes in a plastic bag” was much better than my home-made bread. So soft, so smooth, so white. It’s only 8-10 years later that she appreciates home made over Wonder bread.

    The most chemically processed junk food my kids don’t like, but potato chips, soda, candy and cookies are all greatly loved. Fat, sugar and salt are tasty to almost all humans.

  • JoAnne

    They say that if given multiple items on the higher tray or however/wherever you feed your baby/kid their nutrition: “They choose what they want and over time, eat a totally healthy diet.” It’s normal food. How revolutionary! 🙂

  • Mary

    I also read “French Kids Eat Everything” and found it very eye-opening. The only time we ever got “kids food” growing up was out at a restaurant once in a blue moon. Other than that my mom cooked one meal and we all ate the same thing. I’ve never been picky, I believe because of the way I was raised. Except for peas…which I was forced to eat and still hate to this day!

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