'We're raising our kids in a confusing food culture. And we are the generation that grew up with an ever-changing rhetoric around healthy eating.'
Ahead of the launch of the YG cookbook later this month, I was asked to write an opinion piece on Millennial parenting and food for leading global trend forecaster, The Future Laboratory. The last piece I wrote for them (on whether women change when they become mothers) was the most-read story of the month, so if you liked that one, here's the next in my series of writings on aspects of modern motherhood: modern parenting and food.
How do you feel about the issues raised? Do you agree, do you relate? Let me know in the comments below, or on Instagram here.
It’s never been harder for a parent to keep a child’s diet on the straight and narrow. Western Millennial mums and dads face daily pressure as they navigate the confusing 21st-century food landscape, trying to make good choices for their children. And while brands are in a position to help, more tend to add to the confusion than dispel it.
While the UK government recently took the unprecedented step of levying a tax on drinks containing more than 5g sugar per 100ml (for context, soft-drink category leader Coca-Cola contains more than double this amount), almost a third of British 2–16-year-olds are overweight or obese, according to government figures. Data emerging this month confirms that the UK has its first neighbourhood where more than half of children are overweight (with nine boroughs close behind). Even celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has launched a new campaign for a 9:00pm watershed on junk food advertising, so children will no longer be exposed to it on tv.
The child-feeding pressures that Millennial parents face are fundamentally different from those faced by previous generations (and by many parents in other modern food cultures): our problem is abundance, not scarcity. Not ‘will my children have enough to eat today?’ but ‘will my children eat badly today?’ And this isn’t a social class issue – the statistics are too widespread for that.
And although, as a generation, Millennial parents may be less concerned about the cost of feeding their kids (today, on average, food shopping bills represent a smaller percentage of the family’s household outgoings than in previous decades) we do have trust issues. Every time we shop we’re deciphering packaging claims, looking at traffic-light symbols and ingredients lists. A wholegrain, organic cereal might have fibre and vitamins, but a closer look reveals more sugar than a chocolate bar.
Millennial parents work longer hours than their parents did, so naturally they are interested in brands that speed up the process of putting nutritious food on the table.
We live in a confusing food culture. Millennials grew up with an ever-changing rhetoric around healthy eating: in the 1990s, fat was the enemy, in the 2000s low-carb diets were all the rage, and ever since we’ve witnessed an evolving, confused conversation about what a healthy diet involves. It might be five-a-day, high-protein, Paleo, plant-based, dairy-free, gluten-free or vegan. We see these words on food packaging every day but they’re increasingly meaningless. To help today’s 20- and 30something parents, the most significant move that brands can make is to demystify and simplify food choices.
Brands doing this are thin on the ground, with far more adding to the confusion than reducing it. But heroes do exist, such as fast food chain Leon with its fun but no-nonsense children’s menu, independent ice lolly brand Lickalix, and fruit-treat brand Bear Nibbles, which cold-presses whole fruit into sweet-like shapes. And to offer clarity for families dining out, the Soil Association’s annual Out to Lunch survey creates an annual league table of high street restaurants, based on the nutritional standards of their children’s menus.
Then there is time-saving. Millennial parents work longer hours than their parents did, and a greater percentage of families have two working parents, so naturally they are interested in brands that speed up the process of putting nutritious food on the table. Leading the charge is Hello Fresh with its direct-to-door family cooking boxes that lean heavily on fresh, whole ingredients.
Such was my own confusion about the task of teaching my children to eat well, I wrote a book about it. Young Gums: Baby Food With Attitude will be published this summer with the aim of inspiring parents to cook interesting, healthy food for their babies quickly and cheaply. Because what parents need is straightforward instructions that help them save time and money, without compromising their children’s health.
Beth Bentley is global vice-president of strategy at Virtue Worldwide, the creative marketing agency of Vice Media. A Millennial mother of two living in East London, her Instagram blog about modern baby weaning is being turned into a book by Penguin Random House - Young Gums: Baby Food With Attitude is now available for pre-order on Amazon.