Flipping through a magazine recently I came across a full page layout for a new Green Giant product. The front of the box featured the popular character from Nickelodeon, Spongebob Squarepants. This triggered a thought in me, and I opened my pantry, to find Spongebob Squarepants fruit snacks,and Disney Princess Cereal resided on my shelves. In the children’s room, the Disney characters of Winnie the Pooh were featured on my Huggies Wipes and Huggies Diapers. While doing my grocery shopping my young daughter constantly points out this figure or that featured on both products we normally purchase and products I know my family won’t enjoy, however, that one popular children’s icon on the box or label can cause an emotional scene with demands for Elmo, Elmo, ELLLLLLMMMMMOOO, or whatever character gets her attention as we cruise through the aisles. Fruit snacks boxes show Disney Princesses, Curious George, Spongebob Squarepants, and Scooby Doo. What’s a parent to do with all this advertising geared towards our children? Apparently several times, I give in to her demands which may be exactly what the manufacturers are hoping for.
According to a recent article in USA Today, Nickelodeon plans to increase the visibility of their corporate branding to include featuring of Dora the Explorer and Spongebob Squarepants on apples, pears, cherries and soybeans. Popular cartoon characters can be seen just about everywhere. TESCO Corporation, a grocery retailer has reached an agreement with Disney to decorate their produce with stickers of Winnie the Pooh characters. The Ready Snax Pack, single serving packages of apples, grapes and carrots are featuring Warner Bros. cartoon characters of Bugs Bunny, Tweety and the Tasmanian Devil. Del Monte has entered into a licensing agreement with Sesame Street for the use of their popular characters; Elmo will appear on green beans, Grover on sweet pea labels and Cookie Monster on corn. (How funny. I don’t see the connection, maybe cookie monster should be on – oh I don’t know a cookie package?)
Is this really about getting children to eat their fruits and veggies? Critics of the practice feel that Nickelodeon is now branching out to fruits and vegetables in response to criticism over branding of their most popular characters on sugary cereals, ice cream, and fast food products. This week the Institute for Medicine, an independent organization designed to advise to US decision makers to improve our healthy, recently reported on the problem of obesity in children in the US. It’s no surprise that the report encouraged a healthy lifestyle, exercise, and the use of foods and beverages that contribute to a healthy diet.
If parents do not put a stop to allowing their food choices to be made based on branding, we are losing in the battle to keep our children healthy. Not only are popular cartoon characters involved, but here are a few other marketing campaigns targeted at our children that encourage consumption of low-nutrition foods: Krispy Kremes Good Grades program which offers elementary age school children a donut for every “A” they get on their report card, Campbell’s Soup Can Labels campaign – where families collect soup can labels from many soups high in sodium and low in nutritional content so that their school may purchase supplies, Cap’n Crunch Berries Cereal as it was advertised in Nickelodeon magazine had absolutely no berries at all, but encourages children to overeat with its statement to “put more in their mouth.”
What is the most effective way to encourage our children to eat healthier? Does the use of favorite children’s American cartoons encourage children to eat healthy? I don’t think so. Yes, the use of the branding may end up encouraging the purchase of these products, because as parents we think that maybe children will be more likely to eat them if they see their favorite cartoon characters. But it does not set the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating habits. In order to do that, parents should do the following:
Remember the food pyramid? Make sure that your children are exposed to five fruits and vegetables a day. It really doesn’t matter if they eat them the first time, or even the fifth. If you keep exposing them to these items they will became accepted as part of the meal and a child’s routine. Some studies have stated that a child needs to try something as few as 15 times before they become accustomed to the new taste, flavors and textures.
Introduce your child to as many different foods as possible when they are young. When you first start to introduce “real” food to your young toddler take advantage of seasonal fruits and vegetables. You may be surprised at your toddler’s response to spaghetti squash with sauce on it. It’s a lot more healthy, less calories and carbohydrates and full of antioxidants.
Be consistent. Even though your child refuses the new foods, don’t give up. Keep introducing them. If there is a certain food that your child continues to ask for in the store, maybe purchase just one package/box/container and let them carry it while you do your shopping. But don’t give in to repeated demands.
Set an example. How can we teach our children to eat healthy if we are “chowing” down on a Big Mac, while demanding that they eat the apple slices instead of fries? If you want a healthier child, you need to be a healthier parent.
Let your child make some choices. It is really not possible to keep your child from asking for all the goodies in the store aisles that they desire based on the loveable cartoon character on the packaging. Go ahead; let your child make a choice of one special treat. Also, toddlers and older can be grocery store helpers, you can direct them to what items are healthy and have them help you choose them and put them in the cart. My children love to help pick out the fruits especially because they can explore the different textures, smells and colors.
You can’t eliminate all the corporate branding from your purchases, and you don’t need to purchase items simply because of it. Although parents and organizations have attempted to, for example, when they filed suit this year against Kellogg Cereal and Nickelodeon for what they felt to be nothing more than “junk food” advertisements.
Keep your children involved in the choices that are made and you can teach them which foods are healthy and fun foods for them to eat. Not only that, you can save some money on the branded items, and use it to purchase your child stickers, crayons or other fun toys, or arts and craft items that do feature their favorite characters.