By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

Ubiquitous 'kid food' a rainbow-flavored rip-off

If it’s true that we are what we eat, then our consumer culture must think children are crap. 

If you think that’s harsh or overly dramatic, stroll the aisles of grocery stores to see what is marketed to children and parents as “kid food.” Frankly, I think the food kids eat is directly related to the health and behavior problems we’re witnessing in epidemic numbers across the country.

Seeing these bright packages containing equally bright and therefore artificially colored foods makes me crazy. Seeing carts pushed by well-meaning parents stocked with boxes of this kind of fake food makes me cringe.

I don’t cringe, mind you, in judgment of the parents, rather in reflection of their lack of knowledge about what is actually inside those boxes. They’re designed to make life easier when it’s really not that hard to cook healthy in the first place.

It’s just that we’ve bought into the myth that there is a certain type of food for kids and cooking for them is somehow different than cooking for ourselves.

I used to make all of my boys’ baby food. And I recently learned just how easy it is to make applesauce instead of buying overpriced jars of the commercial kind at the store. 

For those with little ones just beginning to transition to solid food, I caution against buying into the kid food culture. I know that what I did with my two kids worked, despite warnings, admonishments and raised eyebrows from others.

I have plenty of parenting failures to share, and have done so over the years. But one of our success stories happens to be how we deal with food at home. 

I’m happy to share those specifics with anyone who asks, but for the purpose of this column, I’ll just say the conscious choices I made required thinking beyond “kid food.” And my kids are healthier for it. 

They are also empowered to make healthy choices going forward, because I have taught them why we need to fuel our bodies in a certain way. For example, even at 5, Sam knows his protein sources like he knows his colors.

We talk in terms of properly fueling our bodies with water and food to avoid making eating about power and control, and therefore a struggle. 

When we’re at the store and the kids ask for something on the shelf, say a box of really tasty looking bright pink frosted cookies, I cheerfully pull it off the shelf and read the ingredients out loud. I don’t usually have to go too far before Sam says it doesn’t sound very good. 

When it comes to food packaged in the form of their favorite characters like Lightning McQueen, I ask them how they feel about being tricked into wanting things that are bad for them. “That’s rude!” Sam says.

This next thing freaks people out, but I’ve also taught them to examine other, um, clues from their bodies about what they need more, or less, of in their diets.

Sure, it’s a little awkward in public bathrooms, when Sam announces he needs to drink more water because his pee is too yellow, or that he needs more fiber because his poop didn’t float. I figure, when you have little kids you end up talking more about poop than you ever dreamed possible, so might as well make it educational. 

One of the first experiences I had in validation of my commitment to the boys’ nutrition was when I gave in to letting Sam have little lollipops and M&Ms as potty training bribes. He nearly always chose his favorite color, red.

About the same time, my mostly sweet boy started throwing terrifying tantrums. As in, maybe we should take him to the emergency room scary.

While some observers suggested a spanking was in order, I knew it wasn’t just a behavioral issue. After doing some research, I came to learn consuming red dye can trigger a physical reaction that manifests itself in a child going completely out of control. 

No, I don’t have an official doctor’s diagnosis. I don’t need one. After all, it’s my kid.

And guess what? Since we pulled red dye out of his diet, he hasn’t had an episode like that.

It’s shocking to see how much red dye a kid can consume, because it’s in so many things, from M&Ms to ketchup to chocolate pudding to children’s medicine. That’s why reading labels is an absolutely critical part of looking out for kids’ nutritional welfare. 

Sam knows he can’t have red dye because it’s not good for him. He gets it. So he monitors himself.

He’s allowed to have as much of “God’s red” as he wants. So if God grew it, we’re good with it.

That covers strawberries, cherries, raspberries, apples, beets and watermelon. But for some reason, that little boy wouldn’t care if God personally handed him a tomato; he wants nothing to do with those.

I’m not smug about any of this. I know eating broccoli and tofu now doesn’t mean my boys won’t try to live on Red Bull and Doritos in college.

But I’ll sleep a bit more soundly knowing I did my best to make sure they know better.

Contact Nathalie Hardy at


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