How does your income affect your child’s diet?

The woman who owns a $2 million home, the mom who is raising her children in poverty, and the ladies from all socioeconomic backgrounds all agree on what a nutritious diet for their children should be. Priya Fielding-Singh, a sociologist, spent months living with families of various socioeconomic levels and studying the food choices they made for their children.

What she discovered was shocking. An improper diet is the leading cause of death in the United States, and there is a considerable difference in diet quality between wealthy and poorer Americans — a phenomenon known as nutritional inequality — but the reasons for this are more complicated than most people understand, she added.

“I can’t overstate just how incorrect this misconception is that low-income parents don’t know what a healthy diet is,” Fielding-Singh told TODAY.

“No mother told me that she thought soda and fast food were healthy choices for her children, and almost every mother agreed that fruits and vegetables were the kinds of foods that should be at the center of their children’s dietary intake.”

Despite these common beliefs, the conditions in which women reared their children had a significant influence on their attitudes about junk food, home cooking, and grocery shopping. Fielding-Singh says in her latest book, “How the Other Half Eats: The Untold Story of Food and Inequality in America,” that “food deserts” aren’t as important as formerly imagined. Lower-income mothers have compelling reasons to say “yes” to their children’s requests for candy and chips, whereas higher-income mothers have more food standards and are proud to say “no” to their children’s requests for candy and chips.

Then there’s the contentious issue of Whole Foods, kale, and organic munchies.

The issue isn’t food deserts.

Fielding-Singh: The phrase “food desert” gained a lot of traction in the early 2010s, thanks to Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative to combat kid obesity. People in low-income neighborhoods have poor nutrition quality, according to the report, since they encounter significant challenges to acquiring nutritious food. Because they do not have access to supermarkets, they must shop at gas stations or convenience stores. When you put the food desert theory to the test, however, the statistics simply do not support it. Whether they live in a food desert or not, most people in our nation buy at supermarkets; 90 percent of supermarket excursions are conducted by automobile.

Why do some mothers allow their children to eat junk food?

Fielding-Singh: Being able to make ends meet for moms who are parenting their children in poverty requires them to say “no” all of the time, which is tremendously tough since children continually beg for things, and part of feeling like a good parent is being able to give them what they want. Junk food was one of the few things available to those mothers, and it was one of the few things they could say “yes” to. So, even if they didn’t want their children to consume those items, answering “yes” made a lot of sense in the context of such extreme scarcity. It had such a strong symbolic value. They demonstrated to their children that they were heard and loved, as well as that they were capable of careers.

child's diet-junk-food

In more affluent homes, there are more dietary regulations.

Fielding-Singh: Saying “no” was stressful for lower-income moms, while it was a source of pride for higher-income mothers. They grew up in a society of “yes,” where you could send your children to private school and on family trips, so saying “no” to food wasn’t as difficult. Because they had so many other things to say “yes” to, it was much simpler for higher-income parents to act on the attitudes and beliefs about healthy eating that they shared with low-income parents.

Food that has been processed and prepared buys time and satiation.

Fielding-Singh: While it’s true that home-cooked meals are healthier and less expensive, the advice to cook at home appears to be completely disconnected from parents’ daily experiences and what it’s like to work full-time and care for children. One simple reason a mom might choose pizza over a home-cooked meal is that convenience foods are more enjoyable and tastier, and after a long day at work when you’ve already stood on your feet for 12 hours, the idea of standing over a stove for another hour just doesn’t compare to the alternative of picking something up. Low-income mothers frequently emphasized buying meals that their children would consume. If they attempted to cook a vegetable stir fry, there was a risk that their children might refuse to eat it; however, if they ordered pizza, they could be certain that their children would eat it and go to bed satisfied that night. The capacity to deal with children’s pickiness is a luxury that is made possible by financial means.

Race and class influence food status: kale vs. collard greens

Fielding-Singh: Even though these greens are relatively similar, there are many diverse perspectives on them. Some of this stems from our social idea of what makes a food healthy, which is influenced not just by the dish’s nutritional worth, but also by who has traditionally consumed it. Kale is regarded as a nutritional powerhouse. It has a reputation for being consumed by upper-middle-class, slim white ladies. Collard greens, on the other hand, which are nutritionally equivalent, have not gotten the same attention. They’re an important component of soul food, which is a cuisine associated with Black culture in the United States that, in my opinion, has been generally dismissed as unhealthy.

Fielding-halo Singh’s surrounding Whole Foods:

The supermarket that came up the most in my interactions with mothers was Whole Foods. It’s more than a grocery shop; it’s a symbol of a particular diet, way of life, and socioeconomic status. There’s often an underlying perception among higher-income women who shop at Whole Foods that the things they’re buying are better and healthier. There’s certainly something to it: Whole Foods provides a large selection of organic fruits and vegetables, as well as certain things that aren’t available anywhere else.

Fielding-Singh: Emotional relationships to food go beyond health.

In the end, many of our eating decisions are more about the various functions that food plays in our lives than about health or nutrition. It provides us happiness, companionship, enjoyment, and memories. Anyone who believes it’s only about health and nutrition ignores the larger context in which we make these decisions.

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