07/22/02
Junk Food
    by Fiona Barnes (reader)

I didn't think that anyone, except the advertising agencies, would think of making up jingles about all those things we try to get our children not to want to eat all the time. But that's just what Bernard Waber has done, albeit tounge-in-cheekishly, in his recent picture book for younger children, Fast Food Gulp! Gulp! Here's a sample:
Nacho chips. Buffalo wings. Sausage combo. Onion rings.

Cheeseburger. Hash browns. Tall root beer to wash them down.

Hold the fresh vegetables, hold the fruits, hold the whole grained breads, hold the unsugared drinks, and hold onto your family's waist line. That is, until the cook in Waber's book decides to quit in end and opens up a veggie hut that offers pea pod soup, baked mushrooms, and zucchini pie.

As any parent will tell you, though, the items on this menu are acquired tastes, and Waber has actually understated the problem of the battle that is raging for the hearts and minds and stomachs of our youngest food consumers. Witness, for example, the recent crop of children's books that have been commissioned by candy makers to heighten name brand recognition for their products.

A thoughtful place to being dismantling the mythology of our national eating habits may be in books like Food Rules! by Bill Haduch (ha-duck). This witty, informative little volume about nutrition will get even a reluctant middle-schooler's attention, especially in Haduch's shrewdly assembled facts, which can be just a tad gross (but are never distasteful). He is especially good at making the case for expanding our diets beyond the usual, "have it your way," high-fat meals.

One way to continue this awareness into a child's life, of course, is to actually focus on food preparation in the home and to actively involve children in this process. To this end, you might want to try a book like The Jumbo Vegetarian Cookbook by Judi Gillies and Jennifer Glossop. It has recipes for different levels of cooking expertise, and for dishes from around the world. Who knows, in the hands of the young chefs in the family, your summer meals may make a dramatic, and delicious shift to tempeh kabobs, Gaspacho, stuffed pepper boats, and Thai stir-fry.

Copyright 2002 John Cech

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