How Petitions, Parents and Puppets Can Help Kids Eat Better

Despite the widespread availability and excessive marketing of highly palatable, nutrient-poor food in America, there are some signs that the times are, indeed, changing. And that help from consumer-driven petitions, parents (including the First Mom) and even puppets are leading the charge towards healthier options and better eating habits for our children.

Recently, the Associated Press reported that Kraft announced its plan to unveil in early 2014 several macaroni and cheese varieties made without controversial artificial dyes. Instead of having Yellow 5 and 6 as ingredients, the revamped Kraft products (minus the popular elbow-shaped “original” macaroni and cheese) will instead get their characteristic orange-yellow color from paprika and other spices. And to boost the nutrition of their macaroni and cheese products, Kraft will also add some whole grains and slash some sodium and fat in each serving. Although not conceded by the company, it’s likely this change is in part the result of a petition created by Vani Hari (also known as The Food Babe). In her petition, Hari asked the company to remove artificial food dyes from their macaroni and cheese products. Posted on Change.org, the petition garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures and most likely nudged the company to make the change.

In another recent move, the White House announced a two-year partnership between the Sesame Workshop (led by Elmo and Rosita), the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) (for which First Lady Michelle Obama is the honorary chair). The campaign which has been written about in another Parents blog, Sesame Street Brings Fun to the Produce Aisle, is designed to promote fresh food choices and make more nutritious selections a little easier for busy parents and families to make.

I know that while these food developments aren’t solely going to magically improve the health and wellbeing of children, they’re a step in the right direction. Even Michael Moss, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist and author of the highly acclaimed book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, is encouraged. When asked about the removal of food dyes from some Kraft products, Moss said, “There’s no question that the food giants will respond to public pressure, especially if that pressure causes even the slightest drop in sales.” And while Moss does not view food companies as evil empires setting out to make us sick but as “companies doing what companies do to make money by selling products that meet people’s needs,” he says it’s important for people to act on their food-related concerns to facilitate healthful change in the food supply and eating habits.

And when it comes to pushing produce, Moss, a father of two sons aged 9 and 14, is excited by the prospect of Elmo being a driver and habit changer. In his recent New York Times article, Broccoli’s Extreme Makeover, he argues that promoting fruits and vegetables based on their health virtues alone hasn’t—and most likely won’t ever—encourage people (including children) to eat them. The article also suggests that changing the way we market produce may be what’s needed to move the needle. In his article, he sums this up beautifully with a quote by Jeffrey Dunn, a former president of Coca-Cola who now works for Boathouse Farms, a baby-carrot producer:

“We must change the game. We can help solve the obesity crisis by stealing junk food’s playbook, by creating passion for produce, by becoming demand creators, not just growers and processors.”

What do you think it will take to move the needle to help out kids eat better and enjoy a more healthful lifestyle?

Image of child with group fruit and vegetable via shutterstock.

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