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Why Children Raised in Poverty Eat Poorly

August 7, 2016

Several months ago the NYTimes published an article by Caitlin Daniel titled “A Hidden Cost to Giving Kids Their Vegetables”, an article that could just as easily and accurately had the title “Why Children Raised in Poverty Eat Poorly”. The reason? Introducing new foods costs money… and when you rely on government funding for food money is in short supply. Daniel explains in her article:

The problem isn’t poor children. According to psychologists, most children treat new foods with trepidation. Often, they accept novel offerings only after eight to 15 attempts. But kids across the world learn to like a staggering array of edibles, in large part by tasting foods repeatedly. When children try a variety of options, they approach unfamiliar foods less gingerly. Experiences stick. Preferences learned in childhood often persist.

For the poor parents I met, children’s food rejections cost too much. To avoid risking waste, these parents fall back on their children’s preferences. As the mother of the 3 year old said: “Trying to get him to eat vegetables or anything like that is really hard. I just get stuff that he likes, which isn’t always the best stuff.” Like many children, her son prefers foods that are bland and sweet. Unable to afford the luxury of meals he won’t consume, she opts for mac and cheese.
Unsurprisingly, public schools were seen as a means of providing variety and nutrition. But, Daniels acknowledges that schools, like poor parents, cannot afford the kinds of foods children require, especially if they want to avoid the costs associated with waste:
 Schools can familiarize children with nourishing foods through gardening, experience-based nutrition education and healthy school meals. Because many schools lack the funding to expose children to varied, wholesome foods, it is essential to expand the promising programs that have begun to address this problem.
One issue the article didn’t address is the reality that many working parents are unable to find the time and/or energy needed to provide a nourishing and varied diet. A parent working two jobs or one who works over the dinner period will prefer boxes of mac and cheese or frozen burritos over freshly cooked vegetables.
Poor diets, like poor housing and exposure to violence, contributes to the vicious cycle of poverty… and only a coordinated effort can bring about the opportunities for change that children raised in poverty deserve.
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