Every parent of a child old enough to speak has been there. In the grocery store, they've turned down the wrong aisle and instantly their child spots a beloved cartoon character. The child gleefully points to their TV pal on the box filled with sugar and artificial colors.
If it's early in the day, mom (or dad) has had a good night's sleep, is amply caffeinated, and understands how unhealthy the contents of the box are, she might escape the store without caving to the child's request. But, that's not without a huge scene, kicking and screaming, and the intended grocery shopping likely incomplete, if not altogether abandoned. And, this is the best that might happen.
The story might end differently for the mom who is shopping after working all day, or (as I've experienced) the morning after working beyond midnight and still waking before 7 a.m. Despite our shopping needs, we want to enjoy a little time with our children. We want smiles, hugs and happy children. We don't have the energy for a fight. So even those of us who know better may turn a blind eye to the health risks, toss the sugar and artificial coloring in our cart, and accept our hugs.
It's really not a fair fight. The food industry knows how this scene will play out. They know that after mom and dad lose this battle over and over, the child will grow up addicted to sugary easy-to-eat food in brightly colored packages. Then, the adult will be easily swayed by advertising for grown up junk food.
The fight might not be fair, but it's not futile. I walked down said “wrong aisle” last week. Our list was less than a dozen items long, but one of them – coffee, I think – shares an aisle with the fake fruit snacks. Down on the bottom shelf my son spotted his favorite turquoise platypus and I got the request. I gave him a look followed by, “Do you think I'm going to say 'yes?' ” to which he quietly responded, “Oh, man!” and on we went.
It was a small victory. He still asked, but he knew no amount of arguing would win his case. We've been the object of many turning heads before. We've done the kicking and screaming. We've abandoned a couple shopping trips. And, yes, I've even caved a few times. But, over the past four years, I've said no – even through my haze of too little sleep and too much caffeine – enough times, he knows the answer.
Stay strong, parents! Big food is not going to give up targeting our children, but they don't have to strike. We can be the shields that keep our kids from heading down the path of obesity and diabetes. Shop the farmers market as much as you can, but when you have to head down that grocery store aisle, stay strong. Remember, when your child's pleading starts, and the heads turn, all those bystanders are your cheerleaders; most of them have been in your shoes.