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(post, Susan Odell)
I was in the checkout line at the grocery store yesterday and overheard a fascinating conversation. It was between a mother and 4ish-year old daughter. Apparently, the candy and such that is displayed conveniently close to the cash register had caught the eye of the little girl, who in turn caught a pack of gum in her little fist and added it to the groceries on the conveyor belt. What captured my attention was when Mom said, “No, you can’t have that gum; it has sugar in it.” Great idea, I thought. What child needs more sugar? I then stole a glance at the products Mom was unloading from her cart. Many had brightly colored packaging with cartoon drawings, meticulously designed to be attractive to the very young. I saw Captain Crunch berry cereal, containers of flavored yogurts with minced cookies in the lid, a giant bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup and several frozen kiddy dinners. Not a green leaf or piece of fruit in sight. My first thought was to call the cops and have Mom arrested for child endangerment. My second thought, somewhat more rational, was to gently point out that what she was buying for her daughter to consume wasn’t really food anyway, and a little extra sugar in the gum was no big deal. Parents are busy and don’t always have time to think through their purchases and create home cooked meals with whole foods all the time. Many resort to keeping the kiddos happy with great tasting, highly processed convenience foods. This makes for a more pleasant evening with less whining but it doesn’t make for a healthy kid. School teachers and daytime care givers often get the brunt of the processed food side effects via midday sugar crashes, hyper activity and reduced attention span. There have been many studies where sugar was removed from schools and guess what? Performance improved, behavior improved and kids were more attentive. Most people by now know that sugar isn’t the best source of energy for kids (or adults, for that matter.) Unfortunately, sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup (which is even worse, but we’ll address that at another time) hide in most packaged foods, including the ones that appear to be healthy choices. Many fruit juices, flavored yogurts, processed cheeses, flavored crackers, granola bars, etc., are merely sugar bombs dressed up to look like food. Read labels carefully, or better yet, buy foods that don’t have labels. Fruits and vegetables come to mind. Your kids’ teachers will thank you, your wallet will thank you, the environment will thank you, and even your kids will thank you – someday. In the end I didn’t say anything to the mom in the grocery store, I just came home and wrote this missive. I could have helped them make better food choices – but is it any of my business? What would you have done?