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Tyranny of the chicken finger: How we created a generation of unsophisticated, picky eaters

Tyranny of the chicken finger How we created a generation of unsophisticated picky eaters and why the cycle must stop National Post


Mealtimes for children were quite different just a few decades ago. Over the past few months, I’ve spoken casually and in formal interviews with dozens of people about food and childhood. As a general rule, people who grew up in North America and are now over the age of 30 recall that when they were children, kids ate what the adults ate. Families usually dined together at the table. There might have been foods you didn’t like; depending on the rules of the house you might have been expected to try them or even finish them. Or you might have been free not to, as long as there weren’t too many foods you were refusing. Either way, it wouldn’t have occurred to you that an adult was going jump up from the table to prepare you something precisely to your liking. And if you didn’t eat, you might have to wait quite a while for the next opportunity: Studies show that North American kids snack more often and consume more calories than they did in the 1970s.

So what happened? What stopped us from feeding normal adult foods to children?

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Just two out of five children were getting their five servings of fruit and vegetables a day as of 2004, and this year Statistics Canada will conduct another survey to find out if the problem has worsened. Children and adolescents are twice as likely to be overweight or obese as there were a generation ago. Twenty per cent of Canadian children and youth were overweight as of 2011 and a further 12% of them were obese. In 1979 (incidentally, the first year a McDonald’s Happy Meal was served), around 14% of children and youth were overweight, and childhood obesity practically didn’t exist in Canada — figures for children under 12 were so low that government reports treated the problem as a statistical zero. - See more at:

It does seem like things changed a LOT in our lifetime. What happened?

Food became entertainment and fashion.

Can that be undone? Can the importance of nutrition be shown to kids?

Parents and pediatricians have to care more.

Parents want to care more but often they are exhausted. 

Start here:

Being realistic, we probably can’t make winkle-eaters out of pizza-bagel fiends overnight. And if we want to change the kids’ menu it will help to start early: The wider a variety of foods an infant is exposed to, experts say, the more they’ll eat later on without complaining. Canadian pediatricians and dietitians now recommend flavourful food for infants as soon as they’re ready for solids, not the previous generations’ bland mush. There’s even evidence that taste preferences start in the womb; a Monell Center study showed that mothers who eat a variety of fruits and vegetables while pregnant give birth to babies who do, too.

Beyond that, a few pieces of advice come up over and over again. Some may sound familiar: Sit with children and serve them the same meal you get. Serve them challenging foods and encourage them to eat, but don’t force them. Fighting about it can create negative associations for that food. Listen to kids’ ideas about what they want to eat, but don’t turn the menu into a point of negotiation once dinner has been decided upon. Involving children in food preparation sharpens their appetites, so involve them whenever possible in grocery shopping and gardening, and let them watch you cook.

I like the angle of having kids help prepare the food. 

Encouragement is easy to say but sometimes hard to do!

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