"Recent immigrants aside, Americans spoil and cater to their children more than do other countries. We buy them more toys, read more books about how to bring them up, and give them larger allowances to spend."
--An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies by Tyler Cowen
Tyler Cowen is an American economist, academic, and writer. He occupies the Holbert C. Harris Chair of economics as a professor at George Mason University. I have been reading his newest book, which was released last year, and it is a fascinating look at the world of food. He possesses strong opinions, and though I don't agree with all of them, there is validity in much he has to say.
Spoiled children! Even if you won't admit it, I am sure you know plenty of parents who spoil their children too much. You might even be one of those parents yourself, though you probably deny it. There are numerous negatives attached to spoiling children but I am only going to deal with a single aspect here: Food.
Food? How does that fit into being spoiled? Let us start at the beginning. "Food habits start in the family. That is where we learn what to eat, how to eat, and how to value food. While a palate can be retrained, most people keep the food tastes of their childhood." (Cowen) This is an essential foundation and applicable to many varied food issues. If we truly want to change the negative aspects of our food system, much of our efforts should be directed at changing the eating habits of children.
"We also spoil our children by catering to their food preferences, but this damages dining quality for everyone. American parents produce, buy, cook, and present food that is blander, simpler, and sweeter, and in part that is because the kiddies are in charge." (Cowen) Sugar coated cereals, hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken fingers, McDonald's and more. Go to most restaurants, and that is what usually can be found on their childrens' menus. This often bland and predictable food can negatively impact a child's future consumption patterns.
However, the negative impact also adheres to the parents and that may not be as readily visible, but it needs to be considered due to its significance. "A lot of American food is, quite simply, food for children in a literal sense. It’s just that we all happen to eat it." (Cowen) Parents fall into the trap of eating similar food to their children and there are multiple reasons for this. "Since it is easier to cook for the whole family, American food followed this simpler, blander path." (Cowen) Rather than cook two meals, one for the children and one for the parents, many choose to cook a single meal, which caters more to the blander, simpler tastes of the children. When children eat out, many want to go to fast food chains, from McDonald's to Burger King, and they take their parents with them, who then also eat there. "Many fast food outlets target their marketing at children, hoping that parents will be dragged in as well." (Cowen)
When children are on their own, with their own money, their eating habits don't get any better. "...(C)hildren spend a lot of their allowance money on candy, fast food, and snacks. This shapes their tastes and gives them some food autonomy, relative to their peers in other countries, who are typically more dependent on the food chosen by their parents. The result is a lot of bad food and a lot of sweet, bland food. For instance, children have been the driving force behind the prominence of doughnut chains in the United States." (Cowen) You can't expect most children to seek out healthy food when they are out on their own, with their own allowance money.
Other countries often lack their issues. For example, "In France, in contrast, the wishes of children, whether for food or otherwise, are more frequently ignored. The kids are simply expected to eat what the adults feed them." (Cowen) Children are far less spoiled and they learn to eat much better cuisine. Interestingly, at AKA Bistro in Lincoln, which has a French bistro section, their childrens' menu includes items like snails, replicating more of the French experience.
In the end, parents need to seize control and stop spoiling and catering to their children. They need to feed their children better food, more interesting and healthy foods. They need to stop taking them so much to cheap fast food chains and stop them from guzzling gallons of sugary drinks. The children are not going to stop on their own. Parents bear the ultimate responsibility and it is time for them to step up to the plate. Don't look to the government to solve problems such as children's obesity. Parents, look at yourselves and make the necessary changes.