When you hear the words “children’s menu” what immediately springs to mind? I’ll bet images of fries, chicken fingers, burgers and hotdogs danced in front of your eyes.
And why not, since those are the kinds of food that are almost always present in such menus. Most restaurants that we looked at served the same fried, calorie laden items. The menus we found when we googled “children’s menu” include items such as “chicken fingers with french fries”, “hot dogs with french fries” and “pasta with butter”.
This is alarming, however, because we know that these food are not exactly high on the healthy foods list and we should not be encouraging children to indulge in them. By packaging these food items as appetizing, it sets a dangerous precedence for their future eating habits. Habits acquired by people during their formative years get ingrained in them so deeply that they are hard to shake off.
So we have to admit that those things in the menu are tastier than, say, a bunch of greens. But it’s all about branding. We can use the same strategy that soda and tobacco companies use but for a positive result. As we mentioned in our article about the evils of soda, companies hook kids who are vulnerable, easy targets to take on something that’s not good for them in exchange for false promises of coolness. If they are able to hook someone in his formative years, they’re sure to hook him for life ” good for the company as it ensures them revenue for them as long as said kid lives, and bad for the kid who will find it hard to break out of the bad habit. But what if the habit that we instill in the kid is not bad? What if we trained him to think of healthy food as the cool food? Then it would be a good thing. He’d be healthy for life.
When I was a kid, our school would get an annual visit from Susy and Geno, the mascots for Sustagen, a nutritious supplement drink. I remember our excitement whenever they came, how we rushed towards the stage and cheered as they danced (and some of the naughty ones tried to pull Susy’s pigtails). Then they set up booths where you can exchange Sustagen plastic lids for some really cool items. The more lids you had, the cooler the item you could get. They would also herd us into the audio visual room by class and have us watch a cool cartoon short film that basically preached about the evils of junk food and how we should only eat foods that are good sources of vitamins and minerals. But it was cleverly made so that it didn’t seem preachy at all. I vaguely remember the film featured a kid who was approached by some junk food – the image of a giant chocolate bar with evil-looking eyes and a fanged sneer is kind of stuck in my mind until now – who asked him to eat them because they were delicious. He gave in and ate them but he became weak and didn’t do well in school and games. Then some healthy foods showed up and told him that he needed them in order to be strong, so he ate them and became a whiz kid.
It probably sounds lame to adults but kids are pretty easy to sway. I know this because that afternoon when we got home, both my brother and I asked our mom if we could only eat healthy food from then on because junk food was evil. My mom must have been shocked. Somebody certainly made her job easy for her huh?
I don’t know if they still do this (or if Sustagen even still exists), but we can definitely use their effective marketing strategy to up the cool factor of health food and instill great habits in kids. But first, restaurants need to do away with those children’s menus or revamp them to include healthy food instead. And Ronald McDonald definitely needs to retire. It’s all about packaging and perception, especially if highly susceptible kids are what we are playing for, and especially in these times. If the bad guys can use it to their advantage, the good guys also definitely can. Maybe we can come up with a reality TV series where the kid with the healthiest eating habits will be proclaimed the winner? Maybe create a game that will make kids want to eat healthy? Now can somebody please forward this suggestion to Jamie Oliver?