Campbell Soup Company, the giant maker of condensed soups and other ready-to-eat products, has a new advertisement out, titled the "Wisest Kid in the Whole World." The just released campaign depicts a young boy (with long facial hair, no less), clad in Tibetan monk-style clothing and seated in a meditative position while sucking on a circular string of noodles that comes out of a bowl placed next to one of Campbell's iconic soup cans. The kid knows what he's doing: "When the mouth slurps, the belly smiles," say the captions below. He's having fun -- and he is doing something good for his nutritional health. There is wisdom in eating this product.
The underlying message, of course, is this: Kids are smart enough to know what's good for them and therefore should take the lead when it comes to stocking the pantry. Parents, towards whom the ad is really directed, are well advised to take the young guru's recommendations to heart and follow suit.
"Who knows more about what kids like than kids?" said Ed Carolan, president for national retail at Campbell, when asked about the campaign in an interview with the New York Times.
"Moms and dads still struggle with what we call the real-time dilemma at mealtime: they want to be happy about what their kids eat, but the kids have to like it," he added, suggesting that Campbell soup can bridge that gap.
I'm not at all opposed to serving children (or adults) soup, although I would always recommend made-from-scratch versions over processed ones. But when there is not enough time for elaborate meal preparations, opening a can of condensed chicken noodle or tomato soup can be a reasonable substitute.
What I have a problem with, however, not only as a dietitian and health counselor but also as a mother and grandmother, is the idea that children can make consciously healthy food choices for and by themselves. Allowing kids to be in charge of their diet, especially in an unsupervised manner, is a recipe for disaster.
The fact is that at an age when their growing bodies and minds need proper nourishment the most, too many youngsters already begin to acquire poor eating habits that often lay the groundwork for lifelong health problems. Bombarded with snack food ads on daytime television and bribed by fast food chains with toys and entertainment, many children believe that the best foods are those endorsed by their favorite cartoon characters and action heroes. Regardless of taste or how they make them feel, those are the ones they choose, those are the ones they nag their parents about.
What irks me the most is the whole concept of playing tricks with young minds. Children, wise ones or not so wise ones, should never be put in a position where they, even on rare occasions, are responsible for their own wellbeing.
Yes, it can be fun to make a grocery list or roam the supermarket aisles together as a family where everyone can make a wish. But parents should never derelict their duty of supervision and guidance, especially in matters of health and nutrition. It is, and will always be, highly objectionable when outsiders like food manufacturers, restaurateurs and advertisers attempt to interfere with that parental role by sending out messages that say: You are old enough to decide for yourself - and here is what we want you to choose.
Children develop healthy as well as unhealthy eating habits early on by following the example of others, at first their parents and older siblings, later their peers and the media. By the time they reach adolescence, parental influence vanishes. If solid foundations have not been laid by then, it will be hard to make corrections for many years to come. That is the reason why parental authority cannot and must not be delegated, not even to the wisest kid on the planet...
If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading "Food Industry: Walk the Talk to Protect Our Kids' Health."
THE GOOD NEWS: Edamame is full of protein and fibre. SNACK TIP: Buy frozen edamame beans and keep them in your office freezer, says registered dietician Diana Steele of Eating For Energy in Vancouver, B.C. Pop them in the microwave and add cherry tomatoes for a quick and wholesome snack.
THE GOOD NEWS: Cucumber is packed with vitamin K (needed for strong bones) and low-fat cheese is full of calcium. SNACK TIP: Steele recommends making mini cucumber sandwiches by taking low-fat cheese and turkey and wedging them in between two slices of cucumbers — the kids will also love this one.
THE GOOD NEWS: Low calories and tons of fresh fruit. SNACK TIP: Start a smoothie club at work. Steele recommends having one person make smoothies at the office for everyone in the club once a week. Keep this role rotating and try flavours like mixed berries and tropical fruit.
THE GOOD NEWS: Apples can boost your immune system and natural peanut butter is full of protein. SNACK TIP: Dip sliced apple pieces in plain Cheerios for a crunchy snack.
THE GOOD NEWS: Eaten in portions, homemade trail mix can be packed with fibre, according to MyFitnessTrainer.com. SNACK TIP: For kids, Steele recommends making a homemade trail mix with seeds and dried fruits (avoid nuts because of allergies) and for yourself, add in popcorn or even whole wheat pretzels.
THE GOOD NEWS: When made at home, muffins are low in fat and packed with healthy oats and dried fruits or vegetables. SNACK TIP: No, we're not talking about the store-bought kind or the sugary ones you pick up from a bakery. If you still want to snack on muffins, Steele suggests making a batch of zucchini pumpkin muffins. Check out a recipe here.
THE GOOD NEWS: If you are buying tortillas from the store, avoid ones with excessive salt, sugar and corn, according LiveStrong.com. For the most part, homemade tortillas are not as bad as the store-bought kind. SNACK TIP: Take a whole wheat tortilla and spread almond butter on top. For an extra nutritional boost, wrap it around an banana. This is the perfect afternoon snack, Steele says.
THE GOOD NEWS: Greek yogurt is a great source of calcium, protein and probiotics (which is good for your digestive system), according to SheKnows.com. SNACK TIP: Mix berries or granola with a cup of sugar-free Greek yogurt, Steele says.
THE GOOD NEWS: Apples in general have been known to prevent types of cancer and sugar-free apple sauce is a great fibre booster in the morning, according to FitDay.com. SNACK TIP: Sprinkle crushed graham crackers over sugar-free apple sauce.
THE GOOD NEWS: Forget butter and salt, making popcorn in an old-fashioned pot over the stove with seasoning and a touch of oil can actually be a healthy snack. SNACK TIP: For a good evening snack, mix over-the-stove popcorn with flax seed oil and a bit of your favourite seasoning.
Follow Timi Gustafson, R.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TimiGustafsonRD