Careful With That Mother Guilt

Let’s start this off in agreement that fruits and vegetables are good for you.

Now let’s abandon the idea that if your kids aren’t loving the fruits and vegetables, you’re a bad mother.

The media is abuzz with promoting increased fruit and vegetable consumption as a means of disease prevention and weight control. The National Fruit & Vegetable Alliance (NFVA) was launched in 2007 to replace the ‘5 a Day’ campaign “in order to reflect increased fruit and vegetable recommendations and to better resonate with consumers, mothers in particular.” The NFVA claims that “88% of children do not eat their recommended amount of fruit and 92% do not eat their recommended amount of vegetables.”

This is apparently all Mom’s fault. “Only 13% of families with children reach 5 or more servings per day. Both children and parents drive this non-achievement; all family members consume about 10% fewer fruits and vegetables when “Mom” works outside the home, when the need for convenience is even greater.” So someone came up with the brilliant idea to circumvent Mom and market nutritional education directly to the child.

The problem with this proposed solution is the reality that children don’t buy the groceries or decide the menu. Food manufacturers are depending on children to bring the message home and make Mom feel guilty about not putting enough fruit and vegetables on the table.

got guilt

Be careful with the amount of guilt you want to lay on Mom’s shoulders. Research shows that if you make a mom feel a leeeetle bit guilty, she’ll buy your product because you’ve convinced her that guilt reduction is inside the packaging. However, if you make Mom feel very guilty, you’ll just end up making her angry. It’s never a good idea to make Mom mad. When advertisers stirred up the wrath of Mom, their efforts created a very negative attitude – not only toward the advertisement, but also toward the brand, and the company that makes the product. Using too much guilt to sway mom is a guaranteed way to keep your product on the shelf.

Food choices are affected by many factors, but one of the key areas impacting food choice—especially among children—is food marketing. Foods high in calories and low in nutrients are often marketed extensively to children, but there are significantly fewer marketing initiatives that promote healthy food choices like fruits and vegetables. ~NFVA: Produce For Better Health Foundation

There has been some industry self-regulation in terms of marketing less nutritious foods to children, but sorry, you don’t get to have it both ways. The only reason manufacturers want to market anything to children is because children are relentless. This is why the cartoon channels are full of toy commercials. Children lack the cognitive ability to understand the purpose of advertising. As Susan Linn, Director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood explains, “If a young child cannot even understand the purpose of an ad, then marketing anything to that child is both unfair and deceptive. The nutritional content of the product being marketed is irrelevant.”

Using children as a pawn in any marketing scheme is a sure-fire way to get under Mom’s skin, especially when she is worried if there will be a next meal, never mind what that meal might be.

“Mom is the key to fully integrating the Dietary Guidelines into her family’s lifestyle. In order for her to accomplish this, we need to make it easy and seamless for her. The guidelines need to become part of the daily routine, quick and convenient to apply throughout the day, everyday. Since home is the primary source of meals, how can she easily implement the Dietary Guidelines into meal planning for her family?” ~ Food Science Challenge: Translating the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to Bring About Real Behavior Change

The Food Science Challenge discusses making convenience foods more nutrient dense and getting the healthy eating message into schools, daycares and youth camps, perhaps even a “calorie regulated summer camp.” What about cash? You know, that green stuff that everyone needs to buy the food? The US is currently considering serious cuts to programs that assist families who struggle with food insecurity. What about food preferences, allergies, and feeding issues? Trust me. Mom wants to do good by her kids, and if fruit and vegetables aren’t on the table, she doesn’t need reminding by her 8 year old that there are valuable, health-protective nutrients missing from their diet. Myself and the thousands of mothers out there that wish our kids would like just one vegetable don’t need anyone telling us that we are “non-achievers”. (F*** you and the leafy-green grocery cart you rode in on.) We try extremely hard to balance a diet full of nutritional holes with very, very little help.

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If Mom holds the dietary success of America in her hands, you would be wise to be extra-super nice to her. Assuming that North America is trapped in the nuclear ‘Happy Days’ family, I’m not sure why no one thinks Dad couldn’t help with preparing meals. Even without Dad around to operate a bag of salad, there are plenty of reasons why Mom isn’t putting vegetables on the table. Cost, taste, quality, time… or maybe she’s a mother like myself who has children who just don’t like them. Sure, we could be eating more vegetables, but pushing them on my children, my son in particular, is going to do more harm than not eating vegetables ever will. Besides, the whole healthy eating message is starting to get on my nerves.

I’m all for eating nutritious food and being active in the pursuit of health, but I’m not buying into the whole ‘vegetables or bust’ line of thinking. More than dietary guidance, families need access to food (financial, geography…) Healthy is not determined by how many servings of vegetables you eat, how many calories you consume, or what you weigh, especially when it comes to children. Let’s not lose sight of the prize. The goal here is to raise children who have healthy attitudes toward food. Using guilt as a motivator for behavioural change is counter-productive to this end. It’s certainly not convincing me to put any extra vegetables on my plate.

(With all due respect to Dads who are more than competent in the kitchen.)

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