Last year, one of my students brought a jar of baby food for lunch. It was some sort of vegetable medley, and he claimed it tasted ok. I found it very strange at first, but then remembered that he had a 1-year-old brother, so I figured maybe somehow daycare lunch and elementary school lunch got swapped. It’s possible.
Much more concerning to me is the quantity of baby food being intentionally given to my students. It’s not labeled as baby food, but that’s what I am going to call food that is pureed so as to require no chewing. And no hands. Babies have adults to scoop the food into their mouths. And what do you do if your child will be at school without someone to scoop that food on in? Buy it in a squeeze pouch of course!
The first I remember of the trend was Go-Gurt. Yogurt without the horrible, terrible, hassle of needing spoons, hand-eye coordination, and motor skills has been around for a solid decade at least. If that was the last of the squeezeable conveniences, I wouldn’t be so bothered. After all, what could be better for an in-the-car-in-between-soccer-and-baseball-practice snack? But the fad has gotten out of control. My students bring lunches filled with squeezable apple sauce, squeezable mixed berries, squeezable peanut butter, and squeezable cheese. I haven’t seen squeezable chicken yet, but it’s probably coming. Everything comes in pouches and requires nothing more of its consumers than a decent grip.
The result: these kids don’t know how to use utensils. They don’t have the motor control to scoop an appropriate amount of food out of a container and get it directly to their mouth. They don’t have the patience to accurately dig the prongs of a fork into anything. They swallow their entire lunch in 8 minutes and then have the rest of the lunch period to be antsy, bored, or raucous. Everyday at lunch time I think about the scenes from WALL-E in which the future is filled with blob-like people who drink unidentifiable nutrients. If food marketed for children’s lunches is reflective of the direction in which society is moving, then WALL-E may be impressively and unfortunately exact in their depictions of tomorrow.
Yes, a lot of the squeezable food is healthy. I love yogurt and apple sauce and cheese and I have no problem with any of those foods being eaten for anyone’s lunch. But, children need to learn to eat slowly, calmly, and with utensils. They need to think of lunch as a peaceful time to socialize and enjoy nourishing your body. They need to struggle a bit to open packages, scoop, fork, and cut so that they develop necessary muscles in their hands and important culinary skills that they’ll hopefully use for the rest of their lives. Lunch and convenience are not synonyms; let’s keep it that way.