I am encouraged by the call of American families for healthy foods and demands for radical transparency in the food they eat. Nearly all parents now recognize the importance of healthy eating habits during childhood and its impact on behaviors in adulthood. Still, despite consumer demand to find innovative ways to incorporate healthy foods into the family dinner being higher than ever, most children still do not eat the recommended daily serving of fruits and vegetables. This raises the question: Are we doing enough?
As a parent of four, all under the age of 8, I understand the great lengths parents go to get their kids to eat more vegetables first-hand. The well-being of our children will always be our primary concern. I am disheartened, however, by Kraft’s recent marketing stunt featuring salad “frosting” — the food giant’s attempt to disguise their ranch dressing in an effort to trick children into eating vegetables. While Kraft’s recipe remains the same, they have repackaged the dressing to mimic confetti frosting. The idea being that if children believe the vegetables on their plate are covered in sugar, they will be more inclined to eat them. Although I trust that this is not Kraft’s intent, I fear that their campaign may promote a harmful and negative association with healthy eating.
“Innocent lies,” as Kraft characterizes the campaign, do not promote sustainable healthy habits at the dinner table, nor create positive associations with healthy foods. If children are taught that salad is only palatable when covered in sugar, it logically becomes harder for children to develop a true appreciation of nutrition and healthy living. I don’t believe it has to be this hard for parents. It’s pretty simple, actually. If children are introduced to vegetables at an early age through positive associations, children will be inclined to eat them. Such positive associations can develop from something as simple as involving your children in the preparation of healthy dinners and preparing vegetables in healthy and delicious ways. Deception does not have to be a means to an end when you create positive experiences for children around healthy eating.
Ten years ago, I founded my own organic, clean label salad dressing and condiment company inspired by my mother’s desire to get me and my younger brothers, Matt and Brian, to eat our vegetables. When we were in elementary school, my mother created a simple five- ingredient lemon garlic dressing that she that she would serve with salad or vegetables at our nightly family dinners. My brothers and I were fully aware of what we were eating — there is only so much you can do to hide a brussels sprout from a 10-year-old. At the end of the day, when paired with my mother’s dressing, that seemingly unsavory sprout simply tasted good. And rather than reward a good day with candy and dessert, we were gifted with sit-down family dinners anchored by our parents’ love and simple and delicious meals. This is what matters.
In his last address to the Nation as president Ronald Reagan said, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” My mom’s enthusiasm for healthy foods and nightly family dinners encouraged us to approach eating in the same positive way and continues to impact our relationship with food today. We felt loved and nourished. She led by example and we followed. No gimmicks, tricks or “innocent lies” required.
Gregory Vetter (email@example.com) is the founder and CEO of Essex-based Tessemae’s, an organic salad dressing and condiment company.