Regulations and advice about proper nutrition for babies are all around us, together with common sense. Right? Not really. I was hoping, at least, that would be the case – because, who in their right mind would launch a product that contains chocolate, sugar and cow’s milk for babies that are 6 months old? I believed those products would be set for failure even before our son was born.
Boy, was I wrong on this one!
Today, as I was walking around a store, I noticed something funny while I was searching for non-sugary, non-dairy baby food. Almost all of the rice cereal with added fruit, or oat cereal with some other things in it (like chocolate, or biscuit) had either full-fat cow’s milk or added sugar in them. Or both.
Now, if you did your homework at any point during your preparation for feeding your kid(s), you came across information about cow’s milk not being recommended for babies under the age of one. At first, I thought the amount of milk in these products must be really small – so small that it poses no significant risk to the babies. Then I bought one, and my baby got a rash all over his face and arms that didn’t go away for hours. After taking him to the pediatrician specializing in allergies – the allergy test has shown that he, in fact, is allergic to cow’s milk (which is why I’m always on the lookout for dairy-free products).
During your homework time, you probably stumbled upon some advice about artificial sugar, too. It is widely known that babies should not have any amount of it, as it’s not beneficial for them in any way. Babies don’t have a concept of “good” or “bad” taste of food, as the only food they know is the one you serve them. If you start giving your little one chocolate-chip cookies and cake, guess what? It’s bye-bye to broccoli, beans, peas, even sweet vegetables like carrots and sweet potato. Your baby will discover the “better” taste of food and will most likely never develop the preference to the stuff that’s actually beneficial health wise.
Considering all of this, why are there so many products that vastly dominate the market, that contain all these things? Is it because parents don’t care? I don’t really think so.
I believe there are so many of them simply because it isn’t illegal. After all, what I’ve previously mentioned are nothing more than nutritional and safety recommendations – not rules. Although it’s a much more exaggerated issue, the same goes with production and selling of tobacco. It’s only there because it’s not illegal and because someone is making a lot of money when people buy cigarettes.
Apart from the legal issue, my opinion is that parents will buy these products simply because there are so many of them on the market. If they’re so popular, they must be full of benefits for your child, right?
They’ve overpopulated the market shelves with prices that are affordable (try to think about why that is!), while literally any product that is labeled “organic”, “sugar-free” or “no added milk” will cost double, or triple, the amount. This is not because they are that much better. It’s because they can afford the luxury of being this expensive – any parent who is actively looking for such product will probably go to great lengths and pay more money to get it. That parent was me today. I reached for the top shelf, grabbed the fancy organic box of cereal with dried plums and probiotic bacteria in it (not that I was looking for it; it comes with the extravagant price since they’re obliged to sell you something fancy for that amount of money).
What’s honestly aggravating is the fact that we still live in a world where healthy food is considered a status symbol. Money usually goes hand-to-hand with status, hence if you have it, you can afford to participate in all the marketing tricks and it won’t be a financial burden for you. For some, it may be borderline affordable (I find myself in this category a lot): it’s a luxury, but I’m willing to play the money game if it means my child won’t get a rash every time he has cereal for breakfast. Then, there’s the majority: the people who cannot afford this kind of product and will go for anything that’s on sale. They know that, even though it’s not the best thing out there, their child will survive and eventually grow into a person.
With this kind of attitude, the “I have to feed my children something, so I’ll give them what I can afford” we are inevitably creating a society of obese, unhealthy, diabetic adults with plethora of cardiovascular issues and cavities later in life. Not because their parents have bought a cheap rice cereal package with some added sugar in it out of their best intentions, but because of the unhealthy mindset that any food is better than no food. For someone who really has nothing (and I mean nothing at all) this is probably true. However, most people who make unhealthy decisions like this usually have something (even though it may not be much).
With something, some things can be done differently. Instead of buying a ready-made product in a box, you have the choice of buying a 1kg of oatmeal with no added products, cooking it and adding fresh fruit into your child’s meal. That package of oatmeal and 1kg of fruit probably cost as much as 250g of rice or oat cereal with apple bits and added cow’s milk in it. Yes, it requires more effort – but it is the right thing to do. I do this, too – that’s how I know.
Being a parent comes with a lot of tough choices. Suspicious, unhealthy and non-recommended products are all around us. Don’t play their game, even if it means spending a bit more time in the kitchen. Your healthy child will thank you for it one day.