Monday, June 25, 2012

Putting a Squeeze on a Family Ritual: Starting Bad Habits Early

Sure, it was messy but it was so good!
How sweet! Cute little pouches of pureed food—not for infants but for toddlers to slurp up. Designed for eating on the run, they also help to appease the difficult feeder. You know, when you fear your picky eater might starve by not eating her peas. 

And, they’re convenient for the challenged parent, juggling work and the demands of raising kids. Perfect for soothing the fussy little one while watching TV or simply while riding in the car. Allows for hands-free feeding so you can easily be typing on your ipad or dealing with work issues by phone while productively feeding your little one, too!

Professor Brian Wansink, the fabulous researcher known for his work on environment and eating behaviors may be ambivalent about these, but my opinions are solid. I would never feed these newly popular foods in a pouch (described in the NY Times article Putting a Squeeze on a Family Ritual) to my kids. Never mind that my sons are in their twenties (years, not months, that is). Still, if I did have toddlers, these would be the last things I'd purchase to feed my children.

Now before you leave this page thinking this is irrelevant to you—that you, too, have no young kids to feed, nor care to learn about approaches to feeding toddlers—let me make a point: this has everything to do with you and with managing your weight. You’ll likely learn as much about feeding yourself and self-regulating your own intake as you might your kids.

So what’s my problem, you’re thinking? Let me highlight a few of my concerns.

Distracted eating

Yes, that's a grapefruit he's eating. With a spoon. Not pureed.
Mindful eating enables us to fully appreciate our food with all our senses. And it slows us down. In doing so, we can better appreciate when we’ve had enough, helping to prevent overeating. Distracted eating—eating while on the phone, while watching TV, or even while jumping on the trampoline (an example pulled from this NY Times article) is anything but mindful.  Eating while distracted may lead to overeating. (Although, for those anorexic patients I see, it may enable eating food that wasn’t intended—and that could be a good thing). It is challenging enough to change behaviors in adulthood that perhaps only started recently. I could only imagine what it would be like to shift these behaviors in adults raised mindlessly sucking down pureed food goo.

Regulation of juices, sodas and mush? Not so easy.

It’s well established that we don’t do a very good job regulating our intake of caloric beverages such as juices and sodas. It’s challenging for our body to recognize when it has had enough calories from such beverages, so we certainly need to be aware of our portions. Again, for some needing to increase their intake, this form of nourishment is quite helpful. Less has been explored about the impact on feeding a less-than-solid but greater than liquid calorie diet, such as the slush-from-a-pouch.

Mealtime a thing of the past? Are we really too busy to parent? To nourish our kids with attention, with positive interaction, and with calories and other nutrients?

Even when camping, there's time for meals.
Maybe I’m an idealist, but I cherished the family dinner with my young family. It was a time to connect, to hear about their day, to be present. Sure, when the little ones would toss their food off their tray it would come to an abrupt end. But it was good while it lasted. And it established a tradition that lasted throughout the years (the family eating, not the throwing of food!) It was a time we were all theirs—we were not blogging, texting or talking on the phone. We were simply present—if only just for the mealtime.

If we don’t have time for what may be our most important job—parenting—it’s really a sad state we’re in. An acquaintance recently stated that he had no time to deal with exploring college options for his daughter with special needs—he had some very important business deals that needed his full-time attention! Seems like parents choosing feeding pouches may feel similarly.

Gone is the motivation for change.

Feeding our kids is often what motivates parents to shape up their own diet and eating behaviors. They want their children’s experiences to be positive—to feel good about their body, to be healthy and fit. They care about their little ones’ intake, but had previously not given much thought to their own eating. Having kids can change that, unless of course, family meals are eliminated. Gone is the need for role modeling and healthier eating for parents.

What’s normal and appropriate anyway?

Perhaps because we view smoothies and meal replacement shakes as eating, pouches fit the bill for our little ones. But what about the experience of eating? It’s enough that movies go with popcorn, and we need hot dogs at baseball games. Must we solidify the link from the youngest age, between eating and other activities? Must riding in a car be accompanied by fueling your body? Will they not expect to be eating, mindlessly, once they start to drive? I mean, isn’t that what they’ll have learned to associate with doing whenever they’re in the car?

Neil Grimmer, chief executive of Plum Organics, sees it as empowering children. “It’s on-the-go snacking, on-the-go nourishment,” he said. “It moves with kids and puts the control in their hands.” Seems to me that these days kids have more control in their hands than they need or want—perhaps limit setting would be a more appropriate parenting approach.

He further endorses feeding in response to hunger, and I’m all for that! In my mind, that necessitates parents connecting with their children and being aware of their cues. You know, taking note of when they start pushing their food away, when they have had enough. Or providing them with an additional few bites of cheese when they have finished what you served—just to see how much they truly need.  When they’re done, they will make it clear! This is quite different than serving a predetermined 100-calorie portioned food pouch. But the convenience of these foods and their inappropriate use in so many situations far from tunes in to a child’s hunger. See how this might be relevant for you, too?

Grimmer also states “Regular mealtimes just add one more item to the schedule”. Bummer. Now you have to deal with those kids you decided to have! Hain Celestial Group, the company that makes Earth’s Best baby food, sees it as the solution for the child who wants to be independent and self-feed. How about teaching them to use a fork or starting them on finger foods? Toddlers are developmentally ready for more than slush from a pouch!

This old momma thinks it’s time to shift our thoughts about feeding—our kids, and ourselves.


  1. Excellent post as per usual Lori!...I am loving your statement "Bummer...Now you have to deal with those kids you decided to have"...So spot-on, so true. It does seem in today's society that children have become "a distraction" for supposedly adult parents...with something as necessary and bonding as the teaching of how to cut one's veggies or meat properly "discarded" as time-wasting...True too that we, as adults can turn to the very same form of expedited eating if somehow nourishing ourselves is a "waste" of time and energy that could be better used by exercising/working...certainly not cooking or having any sort of visceral connection with the food itself. It is all too easy, as a recovering anorexic, to fall into the "smoothie" or quick protein-low-cal liquid...whirring everything in a blender in 10 seconds...and calling it a meal. As a meal it fails on so many bonding with family/ "chatch" whilst "chewing the fat"..(or any other macro-nutrient for that matter!)..I often wonder if parents aren't unintentionally using such "portion-controlled/calories clearly marked" convenience-albeit-"mush" foods as a way to control/verify the caloric intake of their children? Eating disordered individuals use a similar technique in choosing pouch/liquid foods that "reassure" by clearly marking calories per portion..Clearly, the number tallying needs to stop...and watching our children "work" at a grapefruit (love that photo)or actually shelling nuts (again..takes thought/time)instead of ripping open a bag of pre-shelled varieties allows the time and respect of the eating process and hunger/fullness cues...Thanks Lori!

  2. Those food pouches were only around for my third child - and I did try them out with her on the recommendation of a friend. They were hopeless. And not just for all the valid reasons you state her. But think about it - anyone who hands a toddler a tube of bright green pureed spinach and expects them not to squeeze the pouch with all their might and then fingerpaint it all over the car window is naive at best :-D
    We have the rule in our house now that everything has to be portioned out and put on a plate - especially for snack time when the rice crackers, popcorn and chips are more likely to make an appearance. No one is allowed to take an entire pack of anything from the kitchen. Put some on a plate and then sit down to eat it. It works extremely well.

  3. I will say that on road trips with a baby, the pouches were fabulous - much easier than a jar and spoon (I do realize that isn't what you're talking about though). At home we pureed our own baby foods. Once he hit about 8 mos, we started giving him pieces of food that he could feed himself. At a year old, he completely feeds himself, except for things like yogurt and soup. I love having our family mealtimes!

  4. What I find disturbing is that these baby food pouches are replacing jarred baby foods in the stores. These pouches offer you less food for the price (I too bought them for road trips and on -the - go meals) Makes me thankfully my toddlers are eating only "table " foods now. Most of these pured combos taste like the fruit they are blended with, ie the spinach apple had a barely discernible spinach taste and looked like applesauce with green flecks.

    I also agree that having kids can improve your diet, particularly when they want / demand a bite of whatever you are eating. I snack on more fruit now and this was a great way to convince my twins to eat fruits they spit out at the table.