Junk Food’s Cool Factor: Can Mom Compete?

My mom tells a story about eating lunch at school as a little girl—and being embarrassed by the homemade cookies my grandma had packed for her. The rest of the kids had store-bought cookies. And even though my grandma’s cookies probably tasted 100 times better than those packaged treats, she wanted theirs instead.

I think about this story a lot because I occasionally live a version of it with my 8 year old: Like when he asks if he can pack a Lunchable like the other kids. Or when he suggests we get dinner at McDonald’s.

He gets a “no” (and an explanation) to those two particular requests. Don’t get me wrong, my kids have had junk food. They’ve not only had junk food, they actually like junk food. And I caught flak for admitting that. (Read: “My Kid Likes Junk Food. And That’s Okay.”)

Sure, a part of me wishes my children always felt the same way I do about packaged cookies and fast food. But when I was young, I distinctly remember thinking those mass-produced, heavily marketed foods were just really cool. Exactly like my mom did so many years ago.

That’s why it doesn’t bother me too much when my son makes these occasional requests. It doesn’t mean I give in to all of them. But it also doesn’t mean that I’ve somehow failed because he thinks the snack cake in his buddy’s lunchbox looks awesome. It does look awesome. It would probably taste awesome as well. (During my own childhood, I ate one nearly every day for about a decade.)

But guess what? My son’s favorite cookie is actually one I make myself. He loves the homemade breads and fruit pies I bake. He talks a big game about McDonald’s but happily eats my home-cooked dinners. And he gets excited when I bring fresh berries home from the farmer’s market. Children can think junk food is really cool (thanks to food marketers) and they can also love fresh, whole foods (thanks to you). In my book, there’s no shame in that.

My goal is to give my kids enough positive exposure to real, delicious food–and to talk to them about food marketing and the link between food and health too–that someday, they will be amazed that they ever preferred the Kraft blue box to their mom’s version.

And maybe they’ll tell that story to their own kids. Hopefully over bowls of homemade mac-n-cheese.

Photo by williac via Flickr Creative Commons.

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  1. Wende says

    Bravo! Wonderfully written, Sally. I think that this blog post balances it all out perfectly: flashy marketing/homebaked goodness, fads/traditions. Lovely.

  2. Stacy @ school bites says

    Funny, I wrote a similar post about junk food being cool awhile back. I’ve resolved that I will never be the cool food mom. But I try to compensate in other ways, by letting whit see cool (and sometimes a little inappropriate) movies, getting him cool t-shirts, ski gear, etc. So he has social context and feels like the other kids without me having to cave and buy him doritos. 🙂

      • Stacy @ school bites says

        Yes, great minds! I must relay recent conversation with my 4-year-old twins, tho. Them: “Mom, can we have Goldfish in our lunchbox?” me: “I can try to make Goldfish.” (I’d actually just spotted a recipe). Them: “No, we want the kind you buy at the store.” Me: “Why?” Them:: “They taste better.” Since I’ve never made them before, I don’t know how they could know that!

  3. Robin Jingjit says

    That’s a funny story- I wonder how many of those kids wish they had her homemade cookies instead of theirs. I bet at least a few!

    I’m enjoying these years where my sons don’t want to eat junk food because no one had told them it’s cool yet. I’m sure it’s coming soon, so like you, I just hope the exposure to healthy, delicious food makes them realize junk food isn’t all that appealing.

    • says

      Robin–you’re so right. I’m sure many kids would much rather have a home-baked goodie in their lunch than something packaged! And like you, I also have a younger child home who doesn’t get the “junk food is cool” thing yet. But yep, it’s coming!

  4. says

    I used to DIE of embarrassment at the lunches my mom packed for me in the 70’s. Sandwiches with whole wheat “wheatberry” bread and alfalfa sprouts instead of lettuce, these crazy-healthy oatmeal cookies she made herself (with blackstrap molasses and brewer’s yeast!) , etc. All I wanted was white bread and Twinkies! Of course, now I am so grateful for her care and knowledge, but back then it was a hard sell. 🙂 Thanks for another great post, Sally!

    • says

      Bettina–that is so funny! Proves the point that just because you think junk food is “cool” as a kid doesn’t mean you’ll grow into an adult who loves it too. Thanks for your comment!


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