How to avoid ‘pester power’ when food shopping

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The BBC is under attack, and not just over claims relating to the sexing up of dossiers either. The Food Commission – an independent watchdog body campaigning for healthier food for all – has recently complained to the Beeb about its licensing of the Tweenies good name and image to companies marketing foodstuffs directly to children. The Tweenies’ guest appearances on a range of food products including McDonald’s Happy Meals, chocolate bars and sugary cereals has led to the charge that the BBC is aiding and abetting the promotion of poor nutrition in children. There has also been some considerable backlash from parents who feel their attempts to feed their kids right are being undermined by the madcap antics of some characters at the BBC.

Personally, I very much welcome the moving of this issue into the spotlight. The Food Commission’s efforts also serve to remind us of the widespread use of wholesome children’s characters to sell distinctly unwholesome fare. Parents are likely to be only too aware of the power this brand of marketing has to captivate kids and increase their desire for fast and processed foods. Shopping with children can be an endurance exercise in itself. However, it most certainly is not made any easier by a child’s persistent demands for foods that are so clearly undesirable from a nutritional perspective.

Many parents wishing to exert some control in shopping situations are understandably tempted to get tough with their kids and just say ‘no’. However, studies have found that a hard-line approach generally increases a child’s desire for forbidden foods, something that is likely to inflame hostilities in the longer term. Another tactic that might work better is to agree a set number of treats (I suggest one or two) that a child can choose on each outing. Children usually respond well to the element of choice afforded to them in this scheme. Crucially, however, this approach puts a predetermined ceiling on the amount of rubbish that ends up in the shopping trolley.

The most common arena for the food feuds the can go on between children and their parents is the supermarket, as these are notorious for having temptation all over the shop. If possible, I suggest avoiding taking kids into this environment at all. The absence of children clearly dissolves much of the potential for the battle of wills that the supermarket setting tends to induce. Not all parents have the luxury of being able to extricate themselves from their kids when the shopping needs doing. However, if two grown-ups are on hand, an option might be for one to take on the mantle of child-minding duties while the other makes a solo supermarket sweep.

An even better tactic, though, might be to junk the supermarket altogether. Making use of the farm shops, farmers markets or the high street butcher, fishmonger, baker and greengrocer may be preferable for a variety of reasons, including support of local businesses, and possibly some local producers too. Importantly, however, the closest thing to a character-branded food likely to be found in markets and speciality shops is some gingerbread men. For some, the idea of multi-stop shopping may seem unnecessarily arduous compared to convenience of the supermarket. However, many find this more traditional way of purchasing food an altogether more wholesome experience, and one that can make countering unhealthy influences on their children as easy as taking candy from a baby.

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