A Vocal Advocate's Advice to Help Improve Our Children's Food Environment by Bettina Siegel
This weekend I reached out to Bettina Elias Siegel, author of the new book Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World. For almost a decade, Bettina has been writing about children and food policy on her blog The Lunch Tray and for a variety of other publications, including the New York Times and Civil Eats. She’s also worked as a vocal advocate to help improve our children’s food environment, both in and out of school.
Can you summarize what Kid Food is about, and why you wrote the book?
I think a lot of parents out there are feeling very frustrated. They just want to raise healthy eaters, but it can feel like almost everything in our society is aligned against them, including restaurant children’s menus, child-directed junk food advertising, and the way kids seem to get “treated” with sweets all day long. So I first wanted to validate parents—you’re not crazy, it is really hard—but also explain in each context what’s really going on: how we got here, who benefits from the status quo, and what we can do to improve the situation, whether in our own homes or on a societal scale.
How does children’s notoriously picky eating feed into all of these issues?
Well, the truth is, some children really can be quite resistant to eating healthier foods like fruits and vegetables—I learned this firsthand when my own two children were little! So I wanted to drill down on that issue in Kid Food: Where does that resistance to healthy foods come from? Is it innate or learned? What mistakes do parents make that might compound the problem? But I also show readers how the processed food industry quite intentionally promotes the idea that kids “just won’t eat” healthier food, and then it offers its own products as a solution—even though a heavy reliance on highly processed foods can actually make the problem worse. It’s quite insidious.
What’s your best tip for the mom or dad who’d like to advocate on these issues, whether it’s asking their child’s sports league to require water instead of sugary sports drinks, or asking a teacher to stop handing out candy?
I devote an entire chapter in Kid Food to effective face-to-face advocacy, which I drew from my own experience and that of several other successful parent advocates. And almost everyone had the same advice: whatever the issue, try not to go it alone! If you're the only one speaking up, it's unfortunately just too easy to be written off as "that parent." But if you have other parents by your side, or multiple names on a petition, or any other show of broader support, you'll instantly be in a better position to advocate for your child’s health.
Bettina Elias Siegel is a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School. She practiced intellectual property, advertising, and food law in New York City for almost a decade before turning to a career in freelance writing. In early 2010, she became interested in improving the food in her children’s school district, Houston ISD, and soon after launched The Lunch Tray, a blog about all things related to “kids and food, in school and out.”
Bettina is a mom of two and a nationally recognized writer and advocate on issues relating to children and food policy.
author website: bettinasiegel.com