Parents Must Take Responsibility For What Their Kids Eat

Take responsibility before blaming corporations and seeking government interference.


Yoni Freedhoff, M.D., a Canadian obesity doctor and academic, writes a regular column on food and health for U.S. News & World Report's website.

In his latest column, Freedhoff wonders, "Why Is Everyone Always Giving My Kids Junk Food?"

His basic premise? Everywhere his kids go, writes Freedhoff, "they're being smothered with junk."

From the examples Freedhoff gives—in his daughters' schools, after one's skating practice, in another's book reading club—it would appear he's made a good case. Others have made the same case before.

People are giving kids lots of foods that many parents say they wouldn't give to their own children.

In Freedhoff's case, his kids sometimes get those foods right in front of his nose ("Saturday skating lessons often include lollipops"). Other times, though Freedhoff is not present, he's been given advance notice (as in the case of "[a]n email sent to parents" by pre-school administrators announcing upcoming treats for kids).

So what does Freedhoff do about this junk people are feeding his kids?

He says he often "couldn't decline if [h]e wanted to" because he's sometimes not around when these adults give his kids foods he doesn't approve of, and so he'll "keep pointing out how crazy our new normal has become."

Freedhoff is welcome to raise his kids however he'd like. But the "new normal" Freedhoff refers to isn't that junk food is prevalent—it's that some parents appear less inclined to put their feet down than were parents in days of yore (like when I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s).

Freedhoff's right that parents can't watch their children all day every day. But does that mean they lack the ability to ensure their kids don't eat certain foods? Of course not.

In fact, it's part of a parent's job to communicate to each and every caregiver any preferences they have for what their child should or should not eat.

Does your kid have allergies? Because teachers and others in similar positions can't possibly know what you want (or don't want) your child to eat unless you tell them. Parents are ultimately responsible for communicating this information to schools and other temporary caretakers; so speak up, parents—and be vigilant.

If yours is a no-candy (or no-soda, or no-pork, or no-dairy) family, then it's your job as a parent to make sure your child and every potential caretaker knows this—especially, by all means, if like Freedhoff you're present in the flesh or know in advance that your child will be served such food.

Tell your school not to serve your child any food—or any foods you don't approve of. (Even some who claim to disagree at least in part with my stance here say pretty much the same thing.) Tell your child to avoid food provided by teachers or others at school. Send your child to school every day (but especially on party days) with foods you buy or prepare at home.

One need not be a parent to call this what it is: parenting.

That said, putting the onus on parents doesn't mean I think parenting is easy. Even though I've worked as an educator, tutor, caretaker, and glorified chauffeur to various kids over the years—including while I was earning a Master's degree from Northwestern University's School of Education and Social Policy more than a decade ago, have worked and been published in the field of education reform, and take an active interest in what school-aged kids eat, I can't imagine how difficult it is to be a parent.

But not wanting any part of that great responsibility is the primary reason I chose not to be a parent. If you choose to be a parent, then be a parent.

Doing so sometimes means speaking up to your own kids and speaking out on behalf of your kids to other kids and adults.

No parent can have a greater impact in their own child's life and development than by doing just that.

If you're a parent and your inclination is to yell through a megaphone at food corporations while tiptoeing around your kids and other adults—teachers, coaches, and the like who feed your kids foods you actively oppose—I contend that your priorities are askew at best.

Parents of all stripes who I spoke to for this column agree with me.

"As the mother of three young and perpetually hungry boys," says Julie Gunlock, who works on food issues at the Independent Women's Forum. "I understand Yoni Freedhoff's frustrations but am somewhat baffled by his outrage.

"Is it so hard to express his wishes to the hosts of the many activities in which his children are involved? Is it so hard to pack his kid a snack to take along with them to these many events?" asks Gunlock.

"Regular meals eaten together at home are at least half the battle," says Walter Olson, a parent and senior fellow at the Cato Institute, "so one should also consider cutting back on all the kid socializing if it's interfering with that."

"Parents are ultimately responsible for what their children eat and only have themselves to blame if their wishes aren't made known," says Susan Malizia, a mother of three and self-described liberal Democrat who lives in Silver Spring, Md. "Honestly, Mr. Freedhoff comes across as another whiny parent who can't seem to take responsibility for what his children eat[.]"

Malizia calls limiting her own kids' candy intake one "of the perks that come with being a PARENT!!!"

Sure, one woman's perk may be another man's displeasure. But love it or hate it, it's your job as a parent.

Want more? Head on over to Keep Food Legal's Facebook page (and like us while you're there) for more discussion—including comments from me (posting as Keep Food Legal), Freedhoff, and others.