When did ketchup become a veggie?

October 16, 1998|By Claudia Smith Brinson

EVERY NOW and then a bit of information just leaps out at you as commentary on "the way we live." So I've been thinking about cereal this week and cringing.

It seems the snap-crackle-pop of vitamin-fortified cereals may be all that stands between some of our children and malnutrition. Breakfast cereal is the No. 1 source for children of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron and folate, according to a study published this month in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"It appears that breakfast cereals are acting as a dietary supplement as well as a food," reported Amy Subar. She was lead author of the study conducted by the National Cancer Institute, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Information Management Services.

It gets worse. What else were children counting on for "energy intake"? How about yeast breads, cakes, cookies, quick breads, doughnuts, soft drinks, sodas, cheese, potato chips, corn chips, popcorn, sugars, syrups, jams (and poultry, beef and milk).

According to the study, children got their fiber mostly from cereal, followed by white potatoes and tomatoes. Oh good, you're thinking, some vegetables with that cereal! Not exactly. Potatoes and tomatoes occurred in their diets because they came in the guise of (greasy) fries, tomato sauces and that bottled delight, ketchup!

Spaghetti night

I can muster up some sympathy here. I have spent far too much time in front of the stove concocting macaroni and cheese, spaghetti and lasagna just so I wouldn't have to watch my children's chins quiver as they whimpered, "Do we have to eat ZTC this?"

And when my daughter and I found ourselves last year with some class every night of the week, we also found ourselves eating subs one night, burgers the next in the car on the way to the next destination. It's easy to find yourself living chronically in the land of pasty, monochromatic, high-fat food.

But we are what we eat. And we're bringing up white-bread/french fry kids, children who are gnawing not on carrots but Snickers bars.

I suspect this has happened because we've abandoned cooking and dining together as a family function or a parental duty. But then it's so very easy to get confused about what's important.

We get so many false messages through advertising, through the materialism of our culture, through our culture's cult of the hurried and harried, as if frantic distraction were proof of importance and validity.

Couch potato mentality

So we think it's the natural order of things to work late, grab everyone burgers on the way to a child's soccer game or dance class, then collapse in front of the TV for an hour or so before bedtime.

We're really messing things up, and that's not just because ketchup is the only vegetable on the table. Connecting food and love is an absolutely basic association in the human mind.

And this love-food connection is a process that includes the glorious colors and smells of fresh foods, the dicing and slicing and stirring of preparation, the presenting of it in plates and bowls, the conversation that takes place across a tabletop as the food is consumed.

I'm sorry for all of us busy adults, but tearing open a paper envelope of instant oats and adding boiling water is nowhere near as loving as adding a little more oregano to the stew and inviting someone to taste and offer suggestions.

Ms. Subar said the study of 4,008 children, 2 to 18 years old, shows children are eating very few foods that have naturally occurring nutrients. We know it's better to get our nutrients from a wide variety of fresh foods, instead of depending on vitamin supplements or fortified foods. We know foods are enormously complex and there are all sorts of things provided by Mother Nature we haven't figured out how to manufacture in the lab.

Yet here are our children getting most of their nutrients from cereal. We shouldn't kid ourselves that children are getting all that they need from that bowl of cereal, warns Ms. Suber.

No, we shouldn't. And we shouldn't kid ourselves that any of us, young or old, are getting what we need when we wolf down the boxed or bagged preparations that pass for meals these days.

Cooking is an act of love, and we all need to love ourselves, and our children, better.

Claudia Smith Brinson is associate editor of The State in Columbia, S.C. Her e-mail address: csbriyberstate.infi.net.

Pub Date: 10/16/98

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