As a parent of two children, aged 6 and 10, I can say this without hesitation: My kids are always hungry. Whether they ate 10 minutes ago or two hours ago, their bodies seem to physically ache for food.
And that means I am always feeding them. When I pick them up from school, I try to bring healthy snacks — a banana, sliced apples, some pretzels and hummus. But I’m not always near a fruit market or a kitchen to make something. So I grab some Pirate’s Booty (not a real food), Veggie Stix (there are few veggies in there), or a granola bar that I know is mostly sugar. They’re fed and happy; I am guilt-wrecked.
At restaurants, when my son wants the grilled cheese off the kids’ menu with fries and a sugary drink, I relent. I don’t want drama, and I don’t want to spend money on food he will waste. So he gets the kids meal, and I shovel a little more guilt onto my plate.
Bettina Elias Siegel gets it. The author of the essential and thoughtful new book, “Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World,” Siegel is a former lawyer and mother of two who became a journalist and took an unlikely turn into school food advocacy in 2010 over what I will describe as the animal cracker incident.
Siegel and her husband had just moved their two kids to Houston from Manhattan when a friend invited her to a meeting of the Houston Independent School District, where they were discussing ways to improve school lunch. Siegel balked. “No thanks. I send lunch from home,” she told her friend. “But what if you could give that up?” countered her friend. “Wouldn’t you rather skip making lunch every morning if school food were better?” Siegel agreed.
At that first school food meeting, she was given a primer on school lunch, learning how little money the government gave each school to spend on it. But one of the more bizarre things she learned that day was that every child was forced to take a package of animal crackers with school breakfast every morning, in addition to the artificially flavored maple pancakes and glazed honey buns —…