veggie toddler - a young child learning how to walk and eat vegetables, not necessarily a wobbly vegetarian.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Candy or Mini-Meal?

Nutrition bars and granola bars are marketed for kids as healthy snack options, or even mini-meal substitutes. But are they? I typically don’t stock my pantry with either for the simple fact that I think they are bad for my kids’ teeth. No matter how healthy the bar may claim to be, they are still either sticky or gooey more than anything else. Of course, I let my kids eat them now and then, but more as a treat rather than a staple. When something has that much sugar in it, whether it is organic or nutrient-rich, in my book it constitutes dessert not a meal.

But that’s me – the parent. What do kids think? They don’t read the ingredients on nutrition bars. So how do they tell dessert from meal food? Kids rely on taste and past experiences. The story goes something like this. My 4 year old and I are walking to the bus stop to meet my kindergartener at the school bus. When the bus arrives, and my daughter hops down from big steps, she is holding a bag of treats. She had been on a field trip that day and received a “goodie” bag with pencils, erasers, rulers, raisins and a health bar inside. All good stuff, I think compared to the typical bag of “goodies” I have seen get off the bus with her before. She asks if she can eat the health bar on the walk home from the bus stop. I say yes, but that she has to give her brother a piece.

I hear a few “yums” and “oohs” as we walk home, the two of them savoring every bite of the health bar.

“I want MORE candy!” demands my 4-year-old all of sudden.

“I don’t have any candy,” I explain to him, confused by his sudden outburst. “How could I give you more candy when I haven’t given you candy in the first place?”

“MORE CANDY, PLEASE!!!!” he wails, ignoring my reasoning.

I am confused. I try to retrace our steps over the last fifteen minutes until it dawns on me. He thinks the nutrition bar is CANDY! Here I am, the parent, suspicious of the “health” bar market because I am not so sure of the actual health benefits. Then my son takes one bite and files what he has consumed under candy, not food.

What’s my conclusion? Is it a good thing that health bars border candy in sugar content and gooeyness? I suppose it is much better to reach for a health bar rather than a Snickers. But on the other hand, health bars should be served as treats, a healthy desert, shall we say, rather than a mini-meal substitute. Just ask your kids.

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