Why is Healthy Food Such a Joke?

This is a guest blog post by Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, and originally appeared here.

I saw a little boy wearing this t-shirt at the airport recently. I know this shirt is supposed to be funny. I get the joke. But on this young boy, who was also very overweight, it seemed almost cruel. And I couldn’t help but wonder: Who bought this shirt for the boy–and what kind of message did it teach him when they bought it? It made me sad.

It also made me angry.

I’m so tired of healthy food being a punchline. And I’m tired of our kids being taught–in obvious and subtle ways–that eating healthy food isn’t cool.

I’m tired of reading children’s books to my kids and finding the inevitable reference to a character who hates broccoli and the uptight mom who feeds it to him. My kids didn’t know they were supposed to hate broccoli.

I’m tired of food marketing that’s bent on convincing kids that they’re only cool if they’ve got a soda in one hand and a Lunchable in the other. And that their friends will think they’re lame if they bring vegetables to a party instead of a box of tacos.

I’m tired of even healthy foods marketed as “tasting as good as junk food!”, as in Oikos yogurt’s new tagline “Too delicious to be nutritious.” Because why would anyone possibly like the taste of nutritious foods?

These messages, jabs, and digs are so pervasive in our culture, a culture in which the top three sources of calories in a child’s diet are desserts, soda, and pizza and where only 1 in 5 kids eats the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.

Yet we also have one of the highest obesity rates in the world. More than a third of our population is obese. Half of Americans will have diabetes or prediabetes by the year 2020. And children are now getting medication for grown-up conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Guess the joke’s actually on us.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She writes frequently about health and nutrition for consumer magazines such as ParentsFitness, and Family Circle.

  • brianne

    All 3 of my kids eat fruits and veggies daily. Many in fact. And none of that drowning them in ranch stuff either. Typical day is oatmeal made with peaches, nectarines, strawberries, blueberries and mango instead of sugar. I make it creamy with unsweetened almond milk. Lunch is toasted kale and a trader joes whole wheat tortilla with msg, nitrate free turkey or real chicken. Dinner is usually salad or roasted chicken and sweet potato, cauliflower, carrots , and celery. Or lentil soup. Alternative choices during the week are green smoothies or apples with real almond or peanut butter sometimes made at home. I also make a lot of vegan recipes like spicy creamy kale and the above mentioned lentil soup.My kids have terribly picky kids but they know that won’t fly at our house

    • brianne

      I meant to write my kids have picky friends. My kids don’t have kids;) they are the kids

  • Megan

    Oh my goodness. I’m right there with you, I’ve been wondering about this whole idea of turning eating healthy into a joke for quite some time, now. It just seems really… sad. When and how can we turn it around, to make eating junk food the punch line??

  • Christi

    This is perfect example of a contributor to the obesity problem. We need to get the message out that healthy food is the way to go.

  • Katy Hearne

    love this article. I’mma sample it in my blog more than likely. just btdubs (and of course I’ll link here)

  • Nita Ostroff

    Yet who recommends those servings of fruits and vegetables? The latest research shows very strongly we should be concentrating on proteins and vegetables. Fruits are essentially nothing but sugar and fiber.

    • Andrew

      Although some folks (mostly in the Slow Carb movement) have put forward the idea of fruit causing people to become overweight from fructose (of which there is little in fruit), I’d hazard a guess that the number of people who have become overweight from eating fruit is close to zero.

      As you stated, fruit is full of fiber. That slows the digestion of any sugar plus it fills you up which makes it difficult to overeat.

      Only a bodybuilder looking to get 4% body fat has such a perfect eating plan and workout that they are at a point where fruit is causing plateau’s.

    • brianne

      I ate a raw vegan diet for a very long time. In that time I lost 30 lbs , and my internal clock reset itself so I needed no alarm clock and no caffeine. I had a ton of energy and yet was never hyper. I felt amazing. I ate a ton of fruit daily. Snacked all day long and never experienced negative effects of sugar the way I do with processed foods. The only reason why I didn’t maintain that diet was expense. I literally could not afford to feed my family of 5 that way all the time anymore. So no we try very hard to find a balance we can afford which means including small amounts of lean meats and whole grains. I felt better on my fruit diet. But I really don’t believe everyone’s body’s are wired the exact same in terms of nutritional needs. I think my body runs better on a raw diet but know plenty of people who feel better with animal protein. I’m not here to judge them.

  • Tracey Miller

    So true and so sad. It’s an uphill battle and the sad thing is that these poor kids are carry boulders in their back packs. Some of them don’t have a chance to thrive….will keep plugging away.

  • janna

    Tired now? Unless you can retire from raising the children you chose to have, you’d better hang on for dear life as the real wear has yet to be revealed! LOL!

  • Dr. Kathleen Fuller

    Yes, when can we turn this around and make unhealthy eating a joke? I welcome some of your ideas.

  • Chelsea


  • Tj Duncan

    Great post. We need to attack people’s obstinance. I just read this to my friend who has been obese his whole life,due to his eating habits. His answer was “I don’t care. I don’t like healthy food.” Stunning!

  • Cactus_Wren

    I wonder if it all started, or at least got a boost, back in the 1970s with the classic Life Cereal “Mikey” commercial? The one that opened with two kids looking askance at a bowl of cereal and agreeing that of course they weren’t even going to *try* something that might be “good for” them …

  • http://www.SexyInYour60s.com/ Joan Bunney

    I totally and absolutely agree. Born in the 40s when food was relatively ‘clean’ compared to today’s toxic choices, I go ballistic when they promote the ignorance that gets in the way or distracts people from the enormous problems that stem from toxic food. Bravo!

  • Renetta Olson

    My granddaughter just turned four, since she was two I have been preparing her how to deal with teasing from picky eaters. I do not want her to go home crying because she likes apples! We need a lot of changes and I’m so glad that awareness is being made. For now let’s give them the tools to handle the pressure. :) Have a happy and healthy day!

  • Anna

    Especially as a teen, such as myself, it is so frusturating to eat healthily. I am on a natural diet, while I do not know a single person my age who also is. My peers are so confused and even cynical when they see my food choices, saying things like “What, are you anorexic?” and “Stop being stuck up and enjoy good food, like pizza and gummies.” The social pressure is so awful and often hurts my feelings…

  • http://www.santabarbarasoulfood.com WowLookWhosCooking

    When I began teaching kids how to cook (14 years ago) parents would stop me after school and ask, how did you get my child to eat vegetables? We made a lot of vegetable soups and other real food from scratch using herbs and spices. Due to the budget and cooking in a classroom it was mostly vegetarian. Years later while teaching teen-agers how to cook before leaving for college, one self-proclaimed picky eater admitted she normally wouldn’t have eaten this (tortilla soup with bell peppers and cilantro). Yet, here she was asking for seconds. I asked why and she replied, “because I know whats in it.” If families would commit to cooking together just one day a week they would remember “how to eat” Then, rather than needing to diet someday they could focus on creating a life style that’s sustainable, one based on connection. Cooking TOGETHER is the key to “eating right” in this century.

  • Jennifer

    I have wanted to say this sooooo many times!! I actually had an argument with my sister, who called me a BULLY for wanting her to eat healthier! My entire family thinks I am on a “Diet Kick”. No, I just became more educated and did more research on what the heck our Government is literally showing down our throats with all the GMO’s and processed foods. People need to wake up…the old adage of we are what we eat is so true!! I agree with you completely and would have been disgusted with the parents of that child for the message they are promoting.

    I used to be on their side. I used to say the same excuses as them…”It Costs too much…or not enough choices in healthy food…or it all tastes bad…” This was all based simply on propaganda and the way I was raised and not at all on any tyoe of experience. People need to wake up!

    I thought this was a great video and explained it all so simply!… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIAltUyFo5o