Michael F. Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the man who has angered so many Italian, Chinese and Mexican restaurateurs, has published a new study, "What Are We Feeding Our Kids?"
This book confirms the prick my conscience feels every time I open a package of fish sticks: I am killing my children.
The fat and cholesterol from all those grilled cheeses, the salt from all the Lipton Soup, the unspeakable contents of all those hot dogs -- all of it is lining my children's arteries while they sleep. I might not live to see it because of all the Italian, Chinese and Mexican food I have eaten, but my children are going to die of heart disease and curse Mother's cooking as they go.
I knew it the minute I read Dr. Jacobson's list of the 10 worst children's foods -- including hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, American cheese, french fries and Tater Tots -- and recognized my grocery list.
"Our children are lulled into inactivity by TV and then seduced by ads for fast food," Dr. Jacobson says.
We think they will improve their eating habits when they are older and less picky, but Dr. Jacobson argues that eating habits are as hard to break as any other and those begun in childhood even more so.
He suggests that we wean our children first from television, where 50 percent of the ads are for food loaded with sugar, salt and fat. And then wean them from their worst food instincts, gradually substituting healthy snacks and low-fat versions of their favorites.
But he is preaching to weary women, mothers who have been battling with fussy eaters since they first slapped a bottle away in anger.
Though he has a child of his own, he appears not to have learned that if you give a child a choice between eating what you want him to eat and eating nothing at all, he will eat nothing at all.
Or worse. "Paul will gag at the table," says my friend, Susan, of her son.
Each child is picky in his own special way. Paul, for example, will not eat white bread, and his sister, Joanna, will not eat whole wheat. "And neither of them will eat stale bread," says their mother. "And there is always plenty of that when you have to buy two different loaves."
Paul will not eat pancakes. Joanna will not eat waffles. "And it's the same batter," says Susan.
My daughter uses separate bowls so her food will not "touch." A friend's niece will only eat brown things -- rice, baked potatoes, applesauce, oatmeal, peanut butter.
My niece eats pizza by first picking it apart and putting each ingredient in a separate pile on her plate. Then she wipes the sauce off with her napkin. "She's done this every Saturday night for 11 years," says her mother, Liz.
Children are such picky eaters that they are picky in a different way each day. My niece ate an English muffin every morning for months. "Then one morning, she starts shrieking at me, 'Mother! Where did you ever get the idea I liked English muffins?' " says her mother.
Many mothers are so beaten down by children who will live on air rather than eat a salad that they not only make their children foods they know they will eat, but these women also join them at the table. You can make a lovely stir-fry for yourself, or you can save yourself a lot of trouble and just eat chicken nuggets. They aren't too bad with about a quart of barbecue sauce and some fries.
My sister Cynthia, like her children, lives on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread. She tried to quit once but complained that she got these terrible headaches.
"My own philosophy has deteriorated from 'Feed them what they should eat' to 'If they will eat it, feed it to them,' " says my friend Betsy. "Kate had no fast food until she was 3. Jack had his first french fry while he was still nursing.
"By the time they have heart disease, I will probably be dead," she says. "So I just give them what they want and say, 'You know this isn't good for you.' "
"I used to worry more than I do now," says my friend, Nan. "I have no illusions that they will grow up any better than we did. Eating a healthy diet is something we do because we think we should, not because we like it. They will, too."
Like any woman for whom lunch is the crusts she cuts off her children's sandwiches, my food ideals have all rotted like the contents of my vegetable bin. I have just one now.
"No eating near the computer."