For those of you who haven’t yet seen the campaign, Kraft is running a contest with the hashtag #LieLikeAParent aimed at getting parents to share the best lies they tell their kids. They have created a video showing a mother who gets her kids to enthusiastically eat their veggies by telling them Kraft ranch dressing is “frosting” for their salad. They’ve even gone so far as to make dressing pouches with a Salad “Frosting” label, and contest winners will receive a bottle of this “frosting” they can use to deceive their own children.
Oh Kraft – it’s hard to even know where to begin with this one
This new “Lie Like a Parent” marketing gimmick is just so bad in so many ways. You seem to be attempting to show that you care about kids eating healthy food like salad, and that you are being so very helpful by giving parents an “easy button” to get kids eating healthier foods. But in reality all you are doing is promoting the damaging stereotypes that children can’t or won’t eat food that is good for them unless coerced, and that parents are so inept and desperate that the only tool they can resort to in shaping their child’s eating habits is deception.
As a clinical psychologist and nutritionist specializing in children and families, I’m going to help you out by explaining all the ways you went wrong with this most recent promotion.
First of all, the implication that children inherently don’t like vegetables (or healthy food in general) is flat out wrong
Children are as capable of eating lettuce and cauliflower as they are hot dogs and potato chips. The issue for many children is that they become conditioned by things like media, family modeling, and exposure to prefer cake over carrots. However, there is nothing about children’s brains or bodies that inherently makes them unwilling to eat, or even prefer, healthy foods like veggies. Their tastes and preferences are shaped by the foods that are presented to them, the number of exposures they have to those foods, the eating behavior parents and other adults model for them (research shows that parents who eat more vegetables have children who eat more vegetables), and the food-related attitudes of the people around them.
Children are like little sponges; constantly soaking up the visual and auditory messages around them. They see what adults and other people in their lives are doing in regards to food, and they take in all the things that are said about food and eating as well. Media also plays a major role in shaping kids’ thoughts and feelings about food in the form of commercials, billboards, story-lines in kid-focused shows, and more.
Ads play a big role in how kids learn about food
That’s why marketing campaigns like this are so concerning and problematic. Kraft’s video and ad campaign endorse the idea that children don’t like nutritious foods, such as vegetables, and won’t eat them when given the chance. Showing kids gleefully eating a salad drenched in sugary “frosting” sends kids the message that vegetables taste bad, aren’t something they would want to eat, and need to be made into “dessert” in order to enjoy them.
This is exactly the message we don’t want to send kids in an era where childhood obesity is skyrocketing, diabetes is on the rise, and over 50% of the population of children has some type of chronic health issue.
We have created a culture in the US where we believe kids can’t or won’t eat healthy foods if given the choice. This assumption leads to – you guessed it – kids who don’t eat healthy foods on their own! In fact, this is so engrained in our culture that most restaurants have separate “kids menus” containing things like processed chicken nuggets, fries, pizza, and mac and cheese. We just assume that kids won’t eat other kinds of foods, so we offer them what we’ve decided they will easily accept instead.
Kraft assumes that this negative bias toward nutritious foods is so firmly entrenched in children that it is beyond a parent’s capacity to do anything about it. We have no choice but to lie. The only recourse a parent could possibly have to help their children eat healthier foods is to trick them into thinking they are eating junk food. It is exactly this kind of media messaging that causes children to become biased against the foods that are good for them, and parents to throw up their hands and not even try to encourage healthier food preferences!
Let me be clear…
The reality is that children, like adults, are fully capable of eating and enjoying things like lettuce, broccoli, carrots, and any other salad item without being bribed, forced, or lied to…and certainly without a drizzle of “frosting” on top. It may take some time, patience, exposure, and developing new habits. But it is entirely possible, and I would argue necessary, for children to learn how to eat and enjoy a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and other nutritious foods without the drama and deception.
The second major issue here concerns Kraft’s recommended strategy of lying to children in order to get them to do something
The assumption they make in their ad is that all parents lie to kids, and that this is normal, appropriate, and expected. The undertone is that lying isn’t a problem if it’s a “little lie” and you have your child’s best interests at heart – in this case eating more vegetables. They also insinuate that lying to kids about things like food makes life easier for parents, and that makes it okay. In other words, they believe parents are so inept and frustrated with their parenting role that they have no other options at their disposal to positively influence their children and reduce their own stress but to blatantly lie…about something like vegetables. Yikes!
While it’s probably true that every parent lies to their children occasionally, and for a variety of reasons, it is not the case that most parents use lying as a primary strategy in their parenting arsenal. I’ve been a parent for 19 years, and worked with families for over 20, and can definitively say that lying is not the norm for parents when raising their children – and for good reason.
If we lie to our kids, even about things like eating vegetables, then we can’t expect them to tell us the truth. Most parents want to raise children who value the truth, even when it’s inconvenient. In order to do this, we need to model honesty, and not use “white lies” on a regular basis to coerce them into doing things we want them to do. Lying to children teaches them that being dishonest is an acceptable and beneficial way to get the outcome they desire. Yet one of the biggest concerns and complaints I hear from parents is related to their children lying! We simply can’t have it both ways.
If we model lying as an appropriate way to avoid stress and get others to do things, we cannot be surprised or complain when our children display the same behavior.
A breakdown in trust
Lying to children is also problematic because at some point they find out the truth. This leads to a breakdown of trust – and what parent doesn’t want their children to trust them? While we might not think that “little lies” cause trust to erode between parents and kids, they absolutely lead children to question what we tell them about both small and big things in life. This makes them more likely to wonder whether we are telling them the truth, makes them more wary of what we say, and can lead them to disregard what we tell them all together. These are definitely not the outcomes most parents are looking for.
Ads like this also promote the idea that parents are helpless in the face of resistance from their children, and that we have no options but to resort to things like deception in order to help our kids develop positive behaviors. Nothing could be further from the truth. While Kraft seems to believe that parents are incapable of learning or unwilling to use approaches other than lying to help their children engage in healthy behaviors, I don’t agree.
In my experience it is absolutely the case that parents want to use supportive and appropriate parenting strategies, even when faced with the many challenges and frustrations kids throw at them. Modeling healthy eating behaviors, exposing kids to vegetables regularly, offering a variety of healthy food choices, and educating children about the nutrient quality of foods all go a long way to moving kids out of the realm of resistance and onto the path of eating and enjoying nutritious foods.
One more thing to note …
The unintended consequences of lying to children – it sends them the message that we don’t think they are capable of handling the truth. In the case of vegetables and healthy eating, Kraft is sending the message that kids can’t understand the benefits of eating vegetables, can’t handle trying new or non-preferred things, and are incapable of making healthy choices for themselves. Therefore, they need adults to trick them into doing these things. For so many reasons, this is absolutely not the message we want to send children.
The reality is that kids are smart and capable
They can understand information about how food impacts their brain and body. They are able to comprehend the difference between foods that provide quality nutrients versus junk foods that simply provide calories. Kids can grasp the idea of liking some things better than others, and also that preferences can shift over time the more they are exposed to something. I’ve worked with kids who have very rigid eating preferences (including feeding disorders), and they are all capable of shifting their eating behaviors when given developmentally-appropriate information, supportive exposure, and the consistent message that we know they can do it.
Finally, let’s talk about what’s actually in that dressing – or should I say “frosting” – pouch
Let me first say that putting dressing on vegetables or a salad is not a bad thing. It can add flavor and nutrients that increase the benefits and enjoyment we get from eating these foods. However, quality makes all the difference when it comes to any food – dressing included.
Take a look at what’s on the ingredient label for a bottle of Kraft Classic Ranch Salad Dressing:
Soybean oil, water, vinegar, sugar, egg yolks, salt, buttermilk, contains less than 2% of modified food starch, garlic*, monosodium glutamate, xanthan gum, whey, natural flavor, onions*, phosphoric acid, spice, parsley*, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, yeast extract, potassium sorbate and calcium disodium edta (to protect freshness).
I don’t know about you, but many of these ingredients aren’t things I’d use to make salad dressing in my kitchen at home. While some items like eggs and vinegar are pretty standard for a creamy dressing, chemicals like monosodium glutamate (MSG) and potassium sorbate are not. This salad dressing is filled with chemicals that have been linked to various health problems, and sadly cancel out at least some of the nutrient value a child would get from eating vegetables in the first place.
While I appreciate that Kraft doesn’t use high fructose corn syrup or artificial colors to make this product, the reality is that their ranch dressing does not constitute a health-supportive food.
Ranch dressing is a condiment many kids enjoy, including my own. I’ve even been known to use ranch on lots of foods besides salad! It is entirely possible to make and enjoy delicious ranch dressing without the questionable chemicals and poor quality ingredients. There are many tasty, high quality, nutritious ranch dressing options you can purchase or make yourself. Recipes abound online for just about any preference or dietary need A dressing like this can be made inexpensively, far healthier and with minimal effort. Here’s a Kid-Friendly Paleo Ranch Dressing Recipe that I’ve posted on the blog before. Here’s another Paleo Ranch Dressing Recipe that I like.
Basically it comes down to this…
After all the negative assumptions, deception, and bad messaging for kids and parents, we get an outcome of eating vegetables drenched in a dressing that doesn’t support health or wellness in the first place!
Kraft, it’s time to go back to the drawing board with this ad campaign.
Instead of promoting unhelpful assumptions and poor parenting strategies, how about you instead focus on cleaning up the ingredients in your ranch dressing so it’s a health-supportive condiment that adds to the nutritional value of vegetables instead of detracting from it. Get rid of MSG and chemical preservatives for a start, and aim to provide more health-supportive products and messaging for parents who are invested in serving their kids veggies on a regular basis.
Put your ad dollars into a campaign aimed at helping kids get excited about the benefits things like salad can offer their brains and bodies, instead of trying to trick them. Kids are smart, and parents are too. I trust most of them will see through this marketing misstep and avoid the assumptions, lies, and unhealthy behaviors you are promoting here.
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