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Carrots are Carrots… Right?

Posted Apr 10 2010 3:34pm

I had completely forgotten about an article I had read a few years ago until Mike, the boys and I were watching Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution last night (last week’s episode, as the only “Live” TV we watch anymore are sporting events. I am making a conscious effort to minimize how many ads Sam and Luke are exposed to, and I have to say, the results have been surprising!). Mike was actually the one who remembered the article and after jogging my memory for a minute or two, we both ran to the computer to query the almighty Google.

We found the article, on Scientific American , and I really want to share it with you, especially since I just posted my version of a mama made gluten-free Happy Meal . While I make them on occasion for my celiac son who cannot have a “drive thru” Happy Meal (one bonus for dietary restrictions!), there is apparently something more to this than me simply making GF Chicken Nuggets and Fries and sticking them in the McDonald’s wrapping so Sam feels “normal” among his peers… (the following is taken from the Scientific American article, with my emphasis added):

Take a food item—a couple of carrots, for example—and put one in an unmarked bag. Put the other one in a McDonald’s bag. Then have the little genius taste both and ask which carrot was better. Or save yourself all this trouble by reading the August issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, in which researchers found that the $10 billion dished out every year in the U.S. by food and beverage companies to market to small children is money well spent. Because 54 percent of preschool kids surveyed preferred the alleged McDonald’s carrot, whereas only 23 percent liked the carrot in plain wrapping better. The effect was magnified when the test food was french fries: 77 percent said McDonald’s-looking potatoes, only 13 percent said the other potatoes, and 10 percent said let’s call the whole thing off.

Wow, now that is some “food for thought!”

So yes, I had to try it… I took some baby carrots and placed a few in a McDonald’s fry sleeve and placed some more on a plain white plate then called the boys over to the table. I simply asked them if they would like a snack, then sat back with my camera and watched!

I was really pleased to see that Luke went straight for the plain plate of carrots! I thought that was surprising considering the Scientific American article, but watch as this little “experiment” unfolds. But first, a little more info:

Luke, is 2 1/2 and gluten-free by default (since we are a gluten-free family). He does not watch live TV so he has not been overly exposed to TV ads that target children. He doesn’t watch much television, but when he does, he loves Word World (PBS) and Jungle Junction (Disney); which he watches on the DVR). Luke is also in preschool and hasn’t discovered “peer pressure yet.”

Sam,  is 6 1/2 and has celiac disease so he cannot have McDonald’s (this experiment is also why I choose NOT to take the risk with McDonald’s french fries… I do not want him to develop a taste for those things). Sam also no longer watches any TV during the school week, unless it is for something special like the basketball championship game. I do let him watch a little bit on the weekends, and he likes Spongebob and iCarly (both on Nickelodeon), as well as Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Cartoon Network). Since I only recently started fast forwarding through the commercials, Sam remembers all of the commercials from watching those shows.

Click here for an enlightening article regarding TV ads on PBS, Disney and Nickelodeon.

Sam went straight for the carrots in the McDonald’s packaging. I asked him to try the carrots on the plate too, which he did. I then asked him which carrots tasted better, and guess what he chose and why:

He just pointed and said “M.”

Sam even tried to convince Luke that the “McDonald’s carrots” are better and that he should eat those instead!!

Don’t fall for it Luke, stand strong!

Whoa. Talk about a punch in the gut.

I cannot help but wonder if I start to change how I assemble our homemade Happy Meals and instead of using gluten-free “clones” of the McDonald’s food, but rather carrot sticks instead of the fries and cut-up grilled chicken instead of “baked” chicken nuggets (that were probably originally fried anyway, before being flash-frozen and placed in the box)… if other parents might see our healthier version and get a seed planted into their head. Isn’t that how real change happens? ;-)

Now that I think of it, I did the cut-up grilled chicken thing last week when we were at Chick-Fil-A after Sam’s T-Ball game, and the boys didn’t give it a second thought:

Have you ever had Chick-Fil-A’s Chargrilled Chicken Breast? YUMMY!

And FRUIT!

Now that is a GREAT “toy!”

To be fair, I am not trying to pick on McDonald’s, because it is not just McDonald’s, they all do it. Processed food manufacturers do it too.

I will even go a step further and point the finger at someone else… me.

A couple of months ago, we started getting a weekly CSA box delivered to our door each week with fresh, organic produce. It has been a lot of fun for us to try new foods that I would normally not buy at the store because it just wouldn’t have occurred to me. One week, there were “really” real carrots in the box, ya know, the kind you have to peel and trim the tops off of?

Sam and Luke didn’t know what they were, LOL! I didn’t even realize that the baby carrots I usually buy, to save time in the kitchen, look NOTHING like a real carrot!!


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