Marketing to Kids and the Supermarket Dilemma


Earth’s Best, Beaches Family Resorts, American Greetings, McDonald’s.  These are the proud sponsors of Sesame Street.  I know them well.  So does my toddler.  Call me crazy, but I recently started fast-forwarding through the McDonald’s segment.  Oh my God, have I become one of those hyper-vigilant moms?  Marion Nestle made me do it.  Her comprehensive guide on food and nutrition, What to Eat, opened my eyes to the deception of big food companies and the sophisticated marketing tactics they use to target kids.  They are so good that we don’t even notice it.  That’s precisely the problem.

Take breakfast cereals, for example.  What child isn’t attracted to cartoon characters like Tony the Tiger (Frosted Flakes), Toucan Sam (Froot Loops), or the Trix rabbit?  You can’t blame them.  These brands boast fun. Many even send kids to websites with games featuring these characters.  Although I cringe at the idea of chocolate Lucky Charms at 7 a.m., Nestle argues that brand loyalty, not actual taste, is the issue. Darn leprechaun.

Can parents just say no?  Easier said than done, especially for working parents who are wearing multiple hats throughout the day.  Even Nestle confesses caving in to her kids’ nagging: “If, as I was, you are working full time and are away from your kids most of the day, the last thing you want to do is argue with them about cereals and sodas. In the greater scheme of raising children, buying a box of cereal or a snack food seems harmless enough.  So you give in.  I certainly did. Marketers know this, and exploit the time-pressured realities of modern life to the hilt.”

Nestle has some rules for the easiest way to deal with kids’ marketing in supermarkets.  I think that some are a bit unrealistic for many moms (e.g. don’t take small children grocery shopping), but I’m going to try some of these strategies:

  • Set spending limits in advance for snacks or specific aisles.  I don’t expect that my daughter will never eat candy or junk, but I love the idea of setting a dollar spending limit.
  • Don’t buy products with cartoons and games on them.
  • Don’t buy cereals or snacks that say “fun,” which is often equated with unhealthy.
  • Don’t buy foods because they are vitamin-enriched.  They are usually also sugar-enriched.
  • Stick to the periphery of the supermarket, or spend minimal time in the center aisles.
  • Talk to your children about food marketing and target audiences.

When I was in college, the director of my dorm always said, “All things in moderation.”  I’m not ashamed to admit that sometimes I sneak a handful of M&M’s when I need a little fix.  Overall, however, we are a health-conscious family, and my daughter eats peas by the handful.  I guess that’s why I feel compelled to fast forward through McDonald’s.  It’s my way of saying, “We’re not lovin’ it.”  Beaches family resorts? Now that’s another story.

Packing a Waste-Free Lunch: ECOlunchbox Giveaway


Do you remember those McDonald’s styrofoam packages?  The ones that kept the lettuce and tomato cold and the burger and cheese hot on your McDLT?  Though my husband insists they did away with styrofoam in the early 80s, it took McD’s until 1990 to begin phasing out their styrofoam packaging (after activists spent three years bombarding mailboxes at corporate headquarters with used packaging).

During the anti-styrofoam movement, I remember writing letters to this fast food giant, pleading with them to choose biodegradeable packaging.  There was an urgency in my tone; we were destroying the ozone layer, and styrofoam was, in part, to blame.

At the same, I slid into my seat at the lunch table every day with a Hawaiian Punch juice box, an Italian hoagie wrapped in aluminum foil, a Frito-Lay chip snack pack, individually-wrapped Halloween or Easter candy, and maybe a piece of fruit.  My brown lunch bag was so choc full of c-r-a-p that my mom double-bagged it with a plastic baggie and a twist tie. (We should have owned stock in Reynolds and Glad.)  I was the envy of the lunch table. I also generated a shameful amount of trash.  But, at least it wasn’t “bad” trash.

I took me a while before I started to realize that trash is trash.  And in truth, it’s taken me thirty years to feel uneasy about tossing Ziploc baggies.  I truly believe that many Americans have good intentions to protect our earth and go “green,” although I use this term loosely.  If we take an honest inventory of our actions, there’s an incongruity between what we say and believe (or say we believe) and what we actually do.  I’m just as guilty as my neighbor.

Every year, parents send their kids off to school with brown-bag lunches and snack packs, individually-wrapped meals and desserts, juice boxes, disposable silverware, straws, and napkins, baggies, etc. According to the EPA, each child who brings a brown-bag lunch to school every day will generate 67 pounds of waste by the end of the school year – that’s 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for an average-sized school.

We, as parents, have the perfect opportunity to model environmental consciousness by packing waste-free lunches (or at least taking a step in that direction).  According to Sandra Ann Harris, Founder and CEO of ECOlunchbox, an eco-friendly company based in the San Francisco Bay Area, here is what you need to pack a waste-free lunch:

1. A Reusable Fabric Lunch Bag. While most major retail stores carry plastic/vinyl lunchboxes, studies suggest that their manufacturing threatens our health and environment.  ECOlunchbags are a beautiful back-to-basics solution for kids ages 3 to 103 who would like adopt sustainable, healthy, waste-free lunch habits.

ECOlunchbags are 100% cotton, machine washable bags, which can be converted from shoulder bag to sling bag to backpack to hip pack.  Each fully-reversible lunchbag is sewn from fabrics that are hand block printed by artisans in India.  This company is directly connected with the artisans and the sewing shop in Bombay that makes the bags. This is a fair trade project.

2. Cloth Napkins. Each ECOlunchbag comes with 3 matching napkins, measuring 16 inches by 12 inches. They are designed for use as placemats or napkins.

3. Reusable Containers. ECOlunchbox believes that non-leaching, stainless steel food containers are best. They come in two styles and are lead free and dishwasher safe. First, the oval lunchbox measures 6 1/2 inches long by 5 inches wide and 2 inches tall. It fits two halves of a sandwich stacked with room for sides.  It also contains a stainless steel cup (3 1/2″ diameter) with a no-leak, BPA-free plastic lid for wet items.

Second, the retangular 3-in-1 lunchbox is great for packing a child’s lunch, which typically contains three items: a sandwich and two side dishes. Most children prefer their foods served separately, so this 2-layer stainless steel food container with upstairs inner box is a perfect fit. When closed, the lunchbox measures 4 inches wide, 5 1/2 inches long and 2 3/4 inches high. The small inner box, which contains 1/2 cup of wet foods, is good for applesauce, cut fruit and salads. (Please note: ECOlunchbox has chosen not to use any plastic or other gaskets in the pressure-fitting lid of these boxes, so they are not 100% leak proof.)

4. Bamboo Reusable Utensils.  The EcoKidSpork is made out of sustainably grown bamboo and is designed for small hands. The utensil is 5 inches long, sized ideally for children age 5 and younger.  The EcoSpork is a fun and healthy 3.5 inch alternative to disposables.  You can toss it in your lunchbag, backpack, purse, or wherever.

We can’t do everything, but we can all do something to green our world. Sandra has generously offered to give away an ECOlunchbag (with matching napkins) to one turnitupmom reader.  It is 100% plastic free, waste free, lead free, BPA free, PVC free, vinyl free, and sweatshop free.  All you need to do is supply the lunch!

To enter, please leave a comment below with one thing that your family is doing to reduce mealtime waste.

If you’d like to earn extra entries, you can Facebook, twitter, or blog about ECOlunchbox and this giveaway.   Then come back, and in a separate comment, tell me how you’ve spread the word!

Our First Service Experience: Blood, Sweat, and Tears

Today, I wanted to report back on my daughter’s participation in The Great Kindness Challenge.  Since she’s only 21 months old, I had to exercise my creative muscles for this one.  I wanted it to be a challenge.  Well, sort of. I mean, I didn’t want to choose something ordinary; taking our pup to the park was too vanilla. I wanted to think outside the box and, at the same time, make a memory.  That, right there, may sound overzealous to you.  Go ahead, snicker.  I deserve it.

I have always wanted to share the abundant beauty of our garden. So, on Saturday morning, my husband was “on duty,” while I cut my best-looking mums, black-eyed susans, and daisies and arranged sweet little bouquets held together by cloth ribbons from recycled gift wrappings.  I figured that my daughter would love carting these around our neighborhood via her little red wagon.

With the video and still camera ready, we loaded up the wagon with fresh cuttings and  . . .she was off.  My daughter scampered down the driveway, her chin bent towards her chest and her eyes focused straight ahead.  She was in the zone, on a mission, not to be interrupted.  Great Kindness Challenge

After passing a few homes, we made our first stop. “Do you want to bring these to Tony?  Look, he’s outside!”  I pointed, excitedly.

She waved her arms at me and shook her head no, no, no, no.  She had no intention to stop.  The occasional delivery was not a part of her game plan.  Perhaps I should have explained our purpose.

“Come with Mommy,” I urged, reaching out my hand.  She pushed it away and dropped towards the ground, irritated by my ridiculous ways.  When I picked her up, she fought hard to break free, kicking her long limbs and turning on the water works.  I was ruining the mission, which I now understand was all about how far we could push the wagon.  Silly me.

After a skinned knee and lots of tears, we returned home with an empty wagon.  I delivered our small bouquets as my little peanut and her daddy watched from the sidelines.  Hopefully, in the end, we made a few people smile.  It really was never about us.

My 21 month old doesn’t quite get the concept of giving yet, at least not with flowers (Though, I must say she generously blows kisses to even the oddest of characters.)  So the final word is that The Great Kindness Challenge was just that- a challenge.  Oh well, there’s always next year.   That, and golden retriever who loves a leisurely stroll through the park.

Our Children Are Watching


By now, most of us have seen the pictures and listened to the news of unspeakable disaster in Haiti.

We can’t possibly imagine the loss and devastation. And we feel deep sorrow for these people, many of whom will never embrace their mother or father or child again. They are alone in a land of ruin.

Peacekeeping - MINUSTAH

In a week this will be old news. For us.

Our children are watching to see how we react in situations of this nature, even when we feel strapped financially. Do we sympathize but sit back? Do we let someone else take care of it? Do we make excuses? Do we wait for the news to pass?

These are somebody’s children. Dead. Missing.

Peacekeeping - MINUSTAH

I’ve written before about my family’s core values. One of them is Responsibility: We have a responsibility to ourselves, to our community, and to our world. 

If I value the fact that I have a responsibility to be a positive force in the world, then I shouldn’t think twice about donating money to Haiti relief. I don’t say this as someone who has extra cash to spare. I don’t. I say this as someone who feels that this is what I must do.

Peacekeeping - MINUSTAH

It won’t be long before my daughter starts to hold me accountable. Do I act on my word? Or are my words empty?

We must act. Our children are watching.

Please join me in helping to rebuild Haiti: 

Our Chance International (My family is personally supporting this organization. Thanks to the donations, a medical team is responding at this very moment.)

Doctors Without Borders

World Vision

and many more!

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