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do we really need to serve “X-ray carrots?”

Posted by on Nov 7, 2011 in Blog Posts | 18 comments

Well, there are some intriguing studies that fun food  names for kids (and fancy names for adults) helps kids choose “healthy” options. So, when you call them “X-ray carrots” kids tend to choose them more often– when you call something “Salmon au beurre blanc” instead of “salmon with sauce,” adults diners chose them more often.

I don’t know, it all feels so tiresome and manipulative somehow. The goal being, “how do we get kids to eat more carrots.” If they tasted good and all the psychological overlay were gone, the kids would be more likely to  just eat the bleeping carrots. (See post on working too hard to create kid-friendly food…)

M’s school menu said, “Whole grain and chicken corn dogs” for today, and reminded me of a story a school-meal official told about corndogs. When they were labeled as “turkey” corndogs, vs just “corndogs” the kids left them sitting there, even though they were the SAME corn dogs.

It’s exhausting. We are obsessed with “nutrition” and label the foods that way, and kids don’t chose it, or we have to spruce up the name to get kids to chose them. I haven’t done much of any of that in my home. It’s just food, and M seems to eat a great variety.

Case in point, we were at our favorite Chines buffet, and M chose noodles, rice, green beans, broccoli, and her new discovery that she told her little friend about, “It’s good, it’s the brown chicken with the slime and sesame seeds!” Yummo! What’s in a name!?

What do you think?

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  1. Heather

    This is of off topic from the original post, but I just wanted to share that so far, I’ve been pretty happy with how food is dealt with in my son’s kindergarten class. Parents sign up to bring in snacks and we are told ‘sweets are fine sometimes but we also like snacks that have fat and protein to help sustain energy throughout the afternoon.’ I helped out at the Halloween party and there were snacks of cheese, crackers, and veggies, but there was also a table where the kids decorated cookies with frosting and then ate them. I heard a kid complaining that he didn’t like something in the snack and the teacher’s assistant said matter-of-factly: ‘You don’t have to eat anything you don’t like.’ It seems more relaxed and balanced than what I’ve heard of in other schools.

    • katja

      Not off topic at all! It’s all related! You are SO lucky. That is rare indeed. I would love to know where the school is and reach out to the principle and see how they got to that point. I do staff and teacher trainings, and that is so not the norm that I would be curious what process they used…

  2. nsv

    I am sick to death of schools’ cheerleading of kids eating fruits and veggies. In my family, vegetables are just another thing we eat, like pasta, chocolate bars, cashew butter, tortillas, the occasional frozen dumpling dinner, and their grandmother’s spaghetti with meatballs. My ten year old’s school wants him to check off how many fruits and vegetables he eats during the day, but the truth is that his old school imperiled several years of his education by not allowing any snack except a fruit or a vegetable, which meant that he faced every afternoon with low blood sugar for lack of protein to sustain him. Are we TRYING to raise a generation of eating disordered children?

    I come from a family with lots of food issues, and have just decided to serve MORE desserts – yes, sugary ones – because I don’t want my children growing up feeling they have to sneak dessert. What I want for my children is to know when they’re hungry, recognize what they’re hungry for, find some reasonable compromise between that and what’s being served that meal, and to eat with joy the lovingly-prepared food that’s set before them. And to learn to cook, of course, a task on which they’ve made considerable headway.

    And to love their mother, of course. 😉

    • katja

      I don’t think we are trying to raise a generation of adults with eating disorders, but I fear that is where we are heading. I think that I see serious binging behaviors already in 6,7 and 8 year-olds. It is tragic, and schools often are not helping. It makes me crazy when “healthy” snacks are just gruits or veggies. It is NOT enough for kids. They need fat and protein as you said. Maria Montessori had some great quotes about giving kids soup with lots of fat globules to help them learn 🙂 I too serve more sweets than I like to eat (I am not that into them) so that my daughter learns to handle them. It sounds like you are doing a great job. Joy and love are great ingredients!

  3. Nicole

    This is such a pet peeve for me, this idea that the norm is for kids to hate vegetables and so they have to be cajoled into it.

    My son’s new school district sends home “nutrition tips” on their lunch menus, and they are just infuriating. This month’s was something like, “It’s great if you’re eating a lot of vegetables, just make sure they’re not always covered in cheese sauce! A little olive oil is fine, but stay away from the butter!” I really don’t think it would have occurred to my vegetable-loving children that vegetables HAD to be disguised in the first place, but I’m darn well not going to cut out the little bit of butter that they are getting when I serve steamed veggies. Don’t bodies absorb the nutrients in vegetables better with a little fat anyway?

    (Actually, I did make cheese sauce for my kids’ broccoli once. I was very excited because it was going to be a big treat. They just thought it was weird to want to cover up the taste of broccoli.)

    • Jenn

      My kids won’t eat cheese on broccoli either. I love broccoli with cheese sauce or even some sprinkled parm but they won’t eat it, so in that respect they have taught me a good lesson 🙂 they also call them trees. They know it’s broccoli but when they are eating they always say “mom look at this tiny (or big) tree”

      • katja

        I tried it roasted with parm, and none of us were blown over. I like it pretty plain, or with any stir-fry sauce 🙂 Love the tiny tree story. I used to give my spaghetti a haircut, but it wasn’t something my parents suggested, and it was tolerated up to a point, but not encouraged.

    • katja

      I get annoyed with those tips too. What is wrong with a little butter and cheese??? There is a high incidence of eating disorders in nutrition professionals, I think this is part of how it plays out. the sad things is the access they have to kids. Yes, there are several vitamins, A,D,E,K that are fat-soluble and need fat for absorption.

  4. Amy

    I’ve heard that the whole “carrots are good for your eyesight” thing was made up by the British airforce during WW2. They claimed their fighter pilots had amazing eyesight from eating carrots to cover up the fact that they had radar technology, which they didn’t want the Germans to know about!

    And snopes seems to confirm it:

  5. Jennifer Hansen

    In my experience, if you use the names the kids made up themselves for foods, timid eaters are more likely to eat them. For example, my five-year-old looked dubious the first time she saw a piece of deep-fried fish. I explained that it was like a chicken strip, except that it was made from a fish (could have been halibut or cod or shark for all I know–it was “catch of the day” at the local chowder house). “Oh,” she said, “fish-chicken,” and she gobbles it up under that name. Boneless ribs are “pork-chicken with sauce” and vegetable beef soup is “beefy soup.” If I use their right names, she won’t eat them, but if I use the names she made up, she will. Kid logic, I guess.

    • katja

      We too called all meat “steak.” It was chicken-steak, or pork-steak. I think that what you did so beautifully is follow her lead. You gave her a nice descriptor, you related it to familiar foods. She then knew what to expect in terms of texture and flavor. I think that is helpful and factual, and doesn’t smack me as a lot of work for you, or as coming from a place of manipulation… Does that make sense? I remember trying “broccoli trees” and it didn’t seem to make a difference. If using a fun name is fun, and isn’t getting pushback, and you’re not doing the hard sell, it’s probably fine. I guess what I was musing about is how far do we need to go? Is it helping to name them “Bob the builder” noodles, or is it done out of a sense of desperation. This is a nuanced topic, and than you for sharing what has worked for your family!

      • KellyK

        Hey, if you can have tuna steak, why not pork steak and chicken steak? 🙂

      • Jennifer Hansen

        I think the problem with adults giving foods names with supposed kid appeal is that it essentially says to the child, “Don’t eat this because you’re hungry and it looks tasty, but for some other reason.”

        But, as you said, there’s nuance to the topic. If calling it “chicken with melted butter that comes out when you cut it” makes chicken Kiev seem less weird, what’s the problem? What about if you call it “chicken that’s a butter volcano?” (Never mind the dieticians who blanch at the notion of serving a child chicken with melted butter inside.)

    • wriggles

      She sounds cute as in witty!

      • katja

        wriggles, they are cute and witty. It can be such a pleasure to let go of all the worry and just enjoy your kids at meals and snacks. I wish more parents could get to that point, rather than the “hostage negotiating” many clients describe…

  6. KellyK

    I like the balance between not emphasizing healthiness but not trying to make it overly “fun” either. I will admit that “whole grain and chicken corn dogs” sounds less appetizing to me than just plain “corn dogs” too, because I’m expecting them to be low fat and oddly textured.

    I think that if you talk about things like whole grains in a neutral way, that might take some of the negativity away. Like if brown rice isn’t described as “whole grain and good for you” but just as rice that has a nutty flavor and is chewier than white rice, maybe kids won’t automatically assume it’s “health food” and therefore “gross.”