How much sugar do your kids eat? And does that question make you want to hit the back button immediately? It's such a prickly subject. I'm a family food blogger and I still feel defensive just thinking about it, like my crazy button has been punched with a big, judgy finger. It's annoying, this cloying and accusatory question, because it just might call many of us out on our most basic parenting job of all: feeding our young. That's why I'm curious about how parents will react to the new movie from the makers of An Inconvenient Truth. This time the target is Big Food -- and possibly our own cupboards.
Fed Up is produced by Laurie David (who won an Oscar for Truth) and narrated by Katie Couric. The point of their documentary is to expose what its makers consider the real reason behind our country's obesity epidemic: sugar. Found in everything from the obvious, say a Big Gulp, to sneakier places such as sliced bread and salad dressing. Even chicken lunchmeat is often brined in sugar, to say nothing of the Go-Gurts, Fruit Snacks and boxes of Cap'n Crunch making their way into our kids' lives.
The idea that a calorie is a calorie, that everybody should just eat less and exercise more and that if you're overweight it's simply a matter of willpower -- all the stuff we've all come to accept as medial fact over the last few years -- is thrown out by their panel of experts. "Forget it," says Dr. Mark Hyman. Many scary stats are mentioned in the film; these morsels came from just the trailer alone:
"There are 600,000 foods items in America," explains Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics at University of California San Francisco. "Eighty percent of them have added sugar." Dr. David Kessler, a former FDA commissioner, describes the sugary American diet as "one of the great public health epidemics of our time." And you also hear Katie Couric's voice, the one you grew up with on The Today Show, sharing a chilling thought. "By 2050, one out of every three Americans will have diabetes." And it's all driven by sugar, she says.
But we know that, don't we?
Most parents know that soda isn't good for kids. We're aware that most juice has about as much sugar as a Sprite. And it's not a revelation that chicken nuggets don't involve much chicken and fries should be an occasional thing.
So why don't more of us care? Why aren't we all cooking more at home and doing our best to turn the tides, especially when we hear things like our kids are the first ever generation to have a shorter life expectancy than our own?
Like the message behind An Inconvenient Truth, I wonder if it's just too overwhelming. The problem is so big, our habits so ingrained that sure, we might stop for a minute to think about things like this, but ultimately move on, back to the Goldfish aisle. By the way, yesterday I heard that the polar ice caps are certain to melt -- that there's no way to reverse it now -- and our oceans will rise 4 to 15 feet in the coming years. I don't know what to DO with that information, other than worry.
But food? That's something I can get a grip on.
First we have to agree on something though. Typically when I start talking about feeding kids healthier foods, many replies involve the words "Food Police." Without getting all Whitney Houston on you, with our children being the future and all, can we just put that aside for now? Because I don't want to police you. I like cooking, I think it's important for my family and I want my kids to like it too. I also think most of us have been hoodwinked into thinking that cooking sucks, cleaning up is even worse (though this may be true) and kids will only eat a few things, so why try?
Because we can do it. We got this! We are parents who have seen the movie Frozen, in a theater, more than once. We are the ones who stay up at night with sick babies, "I'm not tired" toddlers and "can't get to sleep" preschoolers. We're baby doll wranglers, searching for lost plush toys as the nightlight burns -- long after we'd like to be sitting down with a glass (bottle?) of wine ourselves. We're car seat ninjas, strapping in reluctant passengers with one hand while bracing those little tummies (not to mention flying fists) with the other. But food? That's something we can totally do.
And unlike the feeling I had leaving the theater after An Inconvenient Truth, more solutions are offered. (Wasn't that frustrating? I remember watching the film and thinking, You had me at the hungry swimming polar bear! Tell us what we can do!) Laurie David also has a beautiful new cookbook out, dovetailing with the release of the film, called The Family Cooks: 100+ Recipes to Get Your Family Craving Food That's Simple, Tasty and Incredibly Good for You. I'm lucky enough to have received a review copy and I've cooked many things from the book so far. They're delicious. These are my three small kids' favorite dishes and if you want to start a little home cooking for your kids, these are both excellent recipes -- one doesn't even involve cooking:
- Banana Muffins. Yes, I make more muffins than anyone I know, but these muffins? They're amazing. Delicious. And nope, they don't involve any sugar other than honey.
- Fresh, Fruity Summer Porridge. Combine yogurt, whole oats, any fruit you like (fresh or frozen) along with a secret ingredient and let sit overnight to get a breakfast our kids cheer for.
So will a movie like this one change the way we feed our kids? Or a new cookbook for that matter? Are either likely to do for the food movement what "Truth" did for the environment? (That's to say, it illuminated things rather than fixed them?) I don't know but I'm not sure what will.
Someday I'm certain we'll look back at this time just like we're looking at cigarettes now. Like, how could we have been so wrong? In the meantime, I say let's make muffins. Seems like a good place to start.
This post also appears on Foodlets.com.