While walking through my local supermarket this weekend, I strolled by the Pop-Tarts aisle to see what was happening in this section. Over the years, I’ve made fun of Pop-Tarts, not only because of their total lack of nutritional value, but because of the prominence they have gained on breakfast tables across America since 1964. So many individuals, especially parents, will slap down a Pop-Tart as a quick and easy breakfast in an effort to get their kids up out of bed, hair combed, and dressed each morning in a timely fashion. This activity requires absolutely minimal thought or planning and for many, it is “mission accomplished”; Little Johnny and Mary have had their breakfast, and are scooted out the door.
What parents should be saying to themselves, as well as anyone else who’s eating a Pop-Tart, is basically that they’ve eaten a sugar-filled breakfast with effectively no nutritional value, and are setting these kids (and themselves) up for hunger soon afterwards. This trend not only fosters bad eating habitsfor the rest of the day, but also increases the likelihood that they will have suboptimal nutrition for the rest of their lives.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and sadly, Pop-Tarts are doing nothing to help this along. With the ever-growing problem of childhood obesity, we have to stop for a minute and take stock of what we’re feeding kids for breakfast. This has been a passion of mine for over 25 years.
Breakfast is literally what you break your fast with – after going a long period of time without eating, your body needs to be supplied with foods that are nourishing and will provide your gut with the right foundation to kick-start your metabolism and get it on the right track to get you through the day. This means wholesome, nutrient-filled, and unprocessed foods that contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants that have not had a ton of sugar added to them.
What struck me during this stroll down the Pop-Tarts aisle was a rather eye-catching advertisement that was out in plain sight. It caught my attention. Essentially, the message is that a combination of a Pop-Tart with a glass of fat free milk is the perfect way to start a breakfast off, and none of us should feel guilty feeding our kids such a crappy meal. This is marketing 101 at its finest. Any parent or consumer walking down the aisle, looking at this sign, is granted a license to buy Pop-Tarts, and serve them to their kids and family. This subliminal message tells you, “hey it’s OK to feed little Johnny and Mary Pop-Tarts”. Adding a little bit of milk makes whatever reservations you have about Pop-Tarts vanish.
Unfortunately, falling into this advertising trap does nothing for us as individuals, or collectively as an obese nation. I swung back through the fresh produce section, and sadly saw no such advertisement helping to steer consumers to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, or other unprocessed forms of proteins to be served at breakfast tables across America. It just isn’t any fun to eat a scrambled egg, a small bowl of fresh blueberries, with a quarter of an avocado. A small cup of unsweetened yogurt would also be an excellent addition to this power breakfast for your 10-year-old.
So before everyone e-mails me back saying that I am out of line, please take personal stock of how much time and effort you invest in personally crafting meals for yourselves and your families. Cooking real food, which is unprocessed and thus nutritious for you, takes time – time to plan the meals, shop, and cook them. And yes, cooking fresh meals at home is messy. But, in all of my years of practicing medicine, it is far more messy and far much more of a pain in the butt to suffer the consequences of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
You make the choice. Pop-Tarts in the morning, or hemodialysis? Misery is optional.
Thanks to Helen Yuan, Registered Dietitian MS, RD, LD for editorial contributions to this article.