a peek inside the fishbowl

12 Apr, 2011

This is what marketing to moms looks like today

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Recipes and Food|The business of blogging|Yaktivism

I’ve talked a lot about pitches and things here at the Fishbowl. I had to post a pitch policy just to stem the tide of misdirected pitches.

I thought it would be interesting to show you what one looks like today.

If there is ONE THING that gets my goat is when we are constantly reminded how busy we are, and how pathetically and desperately we need “helpful” snacks in order to keep our families fed.

This arrived in my inbox the other day. I have substituted my own text for the brand name, otherwise I’ve left it intact.

“For the everyday, active parent, the real work begins at 4pm. Finding time for dinner between music lessons, soccer practice, homework and dance can be a difficult task!

That’s why “BRAND X” is introducing their new “toastable” snack, ideal for a grab-and-go snack or meal designed to feed your hunger monster (we mean your children!). BRAND X Toasty-MEAT-THINGS” are easy to prepare in just minutes by toasting once and serving. School-aged children can make this snack by themselves.

BRAND X Toasty-MEAT-THINGS come in three varieties, including: MEAT, A DIFFERENT MEAT, and VEGETARIAN FLAVOURING.

Let me know if you are interested in testing a Toasty-MEAT-THING.”

I know that many parents are busy nowadays. Geez, I am too, some days I am running around and can’t seem to pull it together, but we need to ask ourselves; if we, as parents, can’t manage to prepare a few healthy snacks in between all of those music and swim lessons and whatnot, is there a larger problem that we should be worrying about?

There was a press release attached to the email too. I’ve inserted my own comments in the text [like this].

“A new survey* reveals that 80 per cent of parents are interested in quick snack and mealtime solutions that their school-aged children can make themselves. [I found this surprising. Only 80 per cent? Doesn’t every parent want their kids to make themselves a snack? Note the question wasn’t “healthy” snack.] BRAND X Toasty-MEAT-THINGS ™ is a new, “toastable” snack that will answer this need.

“After school and at mealtime, parents are looking for foods that their kids can easily prepare by themselves,” says Mr. President, President of BRAND X. “Toast your Toasty just once and you have
a healthy snack option, that is ideal for families on the go.”

Frozen, fully-cooked, individually-wrapped BRAND X Toasty-MEAT-THINGS ™ come in three varieties, including: [MEAT, A DIFFERENT MEAT, and VEGETARIAN LEFTOVER FLAVOUR.]

“Toasty-MEAT-THINGS ™ are a source of protein and contain less sodium than many comparable convenience foods,” says Mrs. EveryMom, registered dietitian and mother. [Notice how they threw that in there?] “As a result, Toasty-MEAT-THINGS ™ can be part of a balanced diet for active kids and teens. The vegetarian option is ideal for parents who are trying to increase their children’s vegetarian based protein sources.”

[I love how carefully they tread here. It has comparatively less sodium than other comparable convenience foods! Yay!]

“The survey also looked at the top factors that parents consider when they are choosing snacks for their children. In addition to convenience and portability [it saddens me that this might be true because this says volumes about how our perception of meals is changing], 92 per cent of Canadians are looking for healthy snacks and 58 per cent want a variety of snack choices for their children. [No guff!] Toasty-MEAT-THINGS ™ are designed specifically for toasting in a toaster, but can also be reheated in a conventional oven or frying pan.

“Toasty-MEAT-THINGS ™ are available at XXX grocery stores at a suggested retail price of $9.99 and $8.99 for a package of eight Toasty-MEAT-THINGS ™ .

[And this was printed in a handy sidebar. Read this carefully.]

“Brand X stands for innovation, quality and the highest performance in the development and marketing of frozen convenience foods. As a joint venture between Brand X and Canadian Manufacturing Co., Brand X’s products are designed to meet the needs of Canadian consumers.”

This says it all to me. Toasty Meat Things are not food. It is food in disguise. We are being marketed food-type products by companies who are driven by the dollar. And we are buying them because we are feeling rushed. Are we really and truly too busy to buy a bag of apples, wash them and put them out in a big bowl for our kids? Or to rinse off some carrots and celery? Tell me that’s not true, because if we don’t have time to peel a carrot or toss our kids an orange, well, there’s something wrong. I’m sorry, but there it is.

I won’t link to their website, but the message there is equally appalling.

“Tired of BOOOORING food? Need a quick fix? Try a TOASTY MEAT THING: the 1st toastable frozen meat snack! From the toaster to your mouth in minutes. How delish is that!?”


Friends, parents, countrymen: I have a newsflash. You don’t need this crap. Please say no to toasted meat snacks, premade frozen peanut butter and jam sandwiches, and similar kinds of food-type products. If your kids are little, don’t even go there. They will never know what they’re missing. I understand that many of us are busy and that sometimes it can be hard to get a meal on the table, but there are many things that are miles better than eating Toasty Meat Snax after school.

Food is for eating. For sharing. For enjoying.

Can you help me, help us, brainstorm some easy suggestions for healthy alternatives for after school snacks, especially ones that kids can prepare themselves? What about:

  • Multigrain toast and peanut butter/cheese/egg/tuna
  • Cut up veggies, with or without dip
  • Hummus and pita
  • A handful of unsalted nuts
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • A bowl of yogurt, maybe with a sprinkle of granola
  • Eggs and toast soldiers for dipping
  • ?
  • ?

I would love to hear what you think of (a) the materials that were sent and (b) this terrible trend in convenience foods.

I’m off to eat an apple.

48 Responses to "This is what marketing to moms looks like today"

1 | meanie

April 12th, 2011 at 12:30 pm


my older daughter accused me, in not so many words, of being a bad mother because I never pack her “lunchables” (those cracker, cold cut, cheese lunches all packaged up in pretty colours). apparently I am the ONLY one who doesn’t pack this kind of food. I have a hard time believing that.
hits at our house for snack are:
-apple and pb (or soy nut butter)
-tortilla with cream cheese
-chocolate chip banana bread (I quadruple the recipe so I always have one in the freezer.
i would love to read more suggestions.
oh, and of course they would prefer to eat crap, and i do give in on occasion, but i try to keep it pretty healthy for the most part.
i also taught the the oldest how to read ingredients and the nutritional info panel in hopes of her understanding why i seem so strict sometimes.

2 | Danielle

April 12th, 2011 at 12:48 pm


We are lucky that the kids are still young and haven’t seen most of these foods. My daughter did ask for fruity-cheerio-type cereal so we had a chat about how sugar is bad for the teeth and that eating that for breakfast would not be good. It’s hard with all the stuff out there to teach them to pick healthy items so we just keep them out of the house.
As for snacks the kids love edamame beans – they eat them like candy.

3 | Fiona

April 12th, 2011 at 12:58 pm


My son begged me to stop sending “weird” food in his lunch. “Weird” like salmon salad or tuna salad to eat with crackers. “Weird” like homemade soup or baked beans in a thermos. I get the impression that the standard of “normal” lunches is pretty low, although my son does draw the line at Lunchables and Dunkaroo’s which even he declares too gross to contemplate.

My child eats his lunch at school in his class with very little teacher supervision in the room and I think there is a fair bit of making fun of the foods children bring; healthy or otherwise. Another way for kids to bully each other.

4 | Erin

April 12th, 2011 at 1:11 pm


Not even finished kindergarten and I’m already hearing the lament about the packaged snacks, juice boxes and yogurt tubes that I won’t/don’t buy. I do try to make our homemade snacks a little bit special to ease the pain.

Since Brand X is hell-bent on promoting the toastable snacks, I suggest making an extra batch of pancakes or waffles on the weekend…they freeze beautifully and can be reheated in the toaster and served with yogurt and fruit. Many vegi-burgers such as Garden Burgers can be heated in a toaster and are yummy dipped in hummus or tatziki. These are more dinner’ish thank small snack but it all depends on portions.

5 | karengreeners

April 12th, 2011 at 1:52 pm


Gah. My huge comment just got deleted because of javascript or some such nonsense.

What I had to say (in a nutshell) was: kids will eat real food. You just have to feed it to them. If they think that food only comes in neon colours and individual packages and they never see a parent cook, then why would we expect them to eat anything better than MEAT THINGS?

6 | Allison

April 12th, 2011 at 2:15 pm


i do use yogourt tubes (oops!) but i really try to keep it to healthy snacks as much as possible too. my kids love cheese, and what i’ve done lately is find some cute small cookie cutters and cut the cheese into fun different shapes! they really like that.

cucumber, melons, strawberries and grapes are popular.

they do get crackers. i found some good organic ones and that works.

homemade muffins in the freezer are great little snacks. love the idea of freezing pancakes, i’ve been meaning to do that.

the idea of toasty meat snacks just sounds… ugh. and we are a busy household but Andrea I agree that if I can’t take a minute to make a healthy lunch or snack, then we need to slow down.

7 | Kim

April 12th, 2011 at 2:48 pm


While watching a T.V. ad for the product I think you’re referring to, my 9 year old said “Meat doesn’t go in the toaster!”

As for school lunches and snacks, I have also been led to believe that our house was the ONLY one not sending “lunchables” and fruit roll-ups! My girls complain on occasion but they can’t eat those things if I don’t buy them. With the constant battle in the grocery store between boxed food and fresh food it is much more important to me to teach our kids just what “real” food is.

I like all your after school snack ideas, Andrea. By the time anyone can “prepare” a TOASTY MEAT THING(ew) they could have already eaten an apple!

8 | TorontoMom

April 12th, 2011 at 3:37 pm


At our house afternoon snacks include sliced apples and cheese, a bowl of grapes, crackers and hummus, peanut butter and banana on a whole wheat tortilla, whole grain nacho chips with mild salsa, toasted left over pancakes with peanut butter, or jam, cinnamon toast, a scrambled egg in the microwave on a toasted whole wheat bagel and a slice of cheese.
I am SO sick of this crap. It makes me ill that a whole generation of children is being taught that food comes out of a box. I am a busy mom, it is HARD to get it together night after night and feed my family something healthy, but my goodness, if it is not worth the effort to do right by our kids, than what is?

9 | coffee with julie

April 12th, 2011 at 4:10 pm


Great post Andrea!

I got confused if we were talking about snacks or meals though. I don’t get as fussy about snacks as I do about meals … a meal should be a sit-down affair with all the food groups in my little world. If a snack isn’t as healthy as it could be, I don’t get my knickers in a knot because you know us moms are just soooooooo busy (snort!).

Anyhow, in our house, snacks include:
– crackers and cheese and grapes thrown in a bowl
– peanut butter on toast
– apple slices with peanut butter
– cookies (yes, cookies! a kid’s life should include cookies!)
– baby carrots and hummous or babaganoush
– plain yogurt with some maple syrup or jam mixed in

I’d really like to get meanie’s choc chip banana bread recipe! :)

10 | andrea

April 12th, 2011 at 4:11 pm


I am sick of this crap too, at the same time I don’t want to pretend that we’re perfect around here. We eat our share of chips and fries, but there is a line that I won’t ever cross… and that includes toasted meat products. (And Lunchables etc etc.)

I’ve been thinking about this pitch today. It really annoyed me when I received it, and it STILL annoys me. I was absolutely incredulous when I read it. And then looking up the website. Awful.

Marketing is powerful. If it didn’t work it wouldn’t exist. And when marketers start to refer to real FOOD as “boring” in their marketing material it means (a) they’ve done their market research/focus group testing and many people are already thinking about food this way (b) they’re exploiting what many kids are already thinking. It’s pretty bad that there’s this feeling that real food needs to be sexified in some way.

Why can’t chicken just be chicken, and not a dino-shaped nugget? Why can’t pasta be pasta, and not packaged in a can in fun shapes? What happens to kids who grow up thinking that all food needs to be “fun”?

11 | andrea

April 12th, 2011 at 4:55 pm


Julie – You’re right. In the pitch they start to talk about dinner, and then switch over to snacks. I think this is primarily meant as an “anytime” food… a true convenience food you grab n’ go eat in the car on the way to those music lessons or whatever.

And yes, every kid should have cookies! I’m usually picky about the ones I buy though. So cookies aren’t a regular thing in our cupboards.

Am the only one who finds this pitch somewhat condescending? Would love to hear your thoughts on this too! :)

12 | Jacquie Baillie

April 12th, 2011 at 5:28 pm


I will never resort to that pre-packaged garbage. Seriously no matter how busy you are, how long does it take to cut up a piece of fruit or some veggies. I volunteer every week at my daughters SK class. It is so sad to see what some parents consider a nutrisous snack. Out of a class of seventeen kids, I would say about five of them come to class with healthy home made snacks. The rest of them have dinosaurs, pre packaged cheese and crackers, etc. Come on who doesn”t have time to cut up real cheese and crackers??? We have one or two kids in the class that have a snack consisting of chips, gummy bears, chocolate cookies, and juice. I feel bad for those children who are taught at the age of four and five that this is what a snack is.

13 | Julie

April 12th, 2011 at 5:51 pm


I am working hard at creating a ‘food snob’ in my house.

McDonald’s is gross and bad for you (even if it is a very rare ‘treat’. Try figuring out that contradiction).

Dunkaroos, fruit tubes, Lunchables, fruit roll ups etc. are not real food.

We also talk a lot about marketing to kids. What grown ups are trying to do with those commercials and why it is important not to be convinced and to ‘think about’ what they are selling.

I think my 6 year old gets it. He understands healthy food and why I limit sugar and treats to after meals. He understands slowing down and sitting down to eat. Rarely do we eat on the run, and believe me we are BUSY family.

Family meals are sit down 99.9% of the time. I grew up that way and soooo appreciate it now. Family meals are also home made (refer to very BUSY comment above), and we make it happen.

Don’t get sucked into ‘faux food’. It is not worth it. The solution is simple, just don’t bring it into the house.

Vive les ‘food snobs’!!

14 | Carly

April 12th, 2011 at 8:40 pm


I worry sometimes that our Little Man, now four and a half, is too sheltered. While other boys his age are into super heros, shooting/sword games and “goodies”, he still prefers Handy Manny, playing house/construction/cars and making crafts.

In this one regard, I’m happy to not worry. So far, he’s oblivious to the snacks other kids are eating and really only paying attention to his own. Sure he gets the odd fruit and fish cracker combo, or even a cookie or two, but all of his snacks are “real” food.

Fruit, veggies, homemade dip, yogurt, dried fruit (we do it ourselves), whole grain bread, hummus, and cereal that’s low in sugar. And don’t even get me started on the cheese. I’ve long had an aversion to processed cheese of any kind and can’t even bring myself to touch cheese slices.

The other day we offered him a store bought granola bar, which used to be a favourite treat, and he asked me if I could make them at home instead. I just about fell over. And then I started googling recipes.

We eat out and have treats from time to time, but I’ve always been grateful that the Little Man will eat just about anything, is always up for trying something new and for now at least, is quite the food snob.

15 | Carla

April 12th, 2011 at 9:39 pm


I think the pitch is aimed at a certain group of people who do feel that their time is too squashed and the kids will grow anyway, and etc… This is obviously not you but, there are a lot out there, sometimes one can be surprised of who that includes. I think in general, few people actually read labels and know what they mean.

Our kids don’t eat egg or dairy and although we get all sorts of ‘how do you manage?’ concerned questions, I actually find it makes things easier. They accept, without question, that they can’t eat most of the stuff that other kids eat, the cheese sticks or yogurt or whatever. And they’re pretty happy to eat just plain ol’ food for snacks, a lot of what has been mentioned, like hummus/other bean dips, veg, fruit, crackers, but we also do ‘mini-meals’ for snack – a small bowl of rice and beans, or today a bowl of brown rice with vegan ‘butter’ plus orange and a cookie. Our kids have eaten their share of non-food usually when we’re caught out of the house without enough snacks and we have to make do with what is available without egg and dairy at which point it’s just to get enough in the belly to avoid a low bloodsugar meltdown.

And as for kids preparing their own snacks, kids can do this early on from what is available and what they want. No toasty meat-things needed. Kids imitate and follow habits too. My two have conspired since 4y and 2y to serve themselves applesauce, cereal, crackers and hummus, and recently I found them having a picnic in their room with crackers, almonds, an apple (so far so good) and the bag of candy (from where they are allowed one candy a day IF they ask). A 5 year old and a step-stool can get far in life, especially if there is a 2 yr old accomplice!

16 | Cath

April 12th, 2011 at 9:54 pm


I completely agree with your reaction, Andrea, and am completely committed to real food as well (I love Michael Pollan’s rules the best – your grandmother would definitely not recognize toastable meat products!)

At the same time, I am really struggling with how not to go so far in insisting on real food that those processed foods become forbidden ‘fruit’ and therefore much more appealing in the long run. This is definitely what we are experiencing in our aim to resist being overrun by barbie/Disney princesses…

17 | Mel Gallant

April 12th, 2011 at 10:42 pm


The idea of these Toasty Meat Snacks is grossing me out.

We try very hard to limit the packaged food we give our daughter. She does have the odd fish cracker or hot dog but it’s not every week. For snacks we eat tons of fresh fruit/veggies b/c it’s easy, ready-to-eat delicious food.

I don’t find planning healthy, nutritious meals stressful or hard to squeeze into a busy schedule as long as I do make the time to plan. Sundays is grocery shop/food prep day. But if I don’t do it then, our fall back during the week is breakfast for dinner, grilled cheese (real cheese!) and soup or waffles.

Oh, and cookies in our house are homemade (and also delicious). :)

18 | Mary @ Parenthood

April 12th, 2011 at 11:27 pm


I read a study recently that found that kids are more likely to perceive a food as tasty if it had cartoons on the box. At least it was on those lines. Presentation is important; I usually cut my daughter’s sandwiches into shapes as a result. I’m competing with a lot of “junk” modeled by my adult sister who lives with us. A lot of people value convenience even over taste, especially if they are 20something. I’m not sure if this is a cultural shift or if it is a young and invicible / will always be healthy thing.

I think partly it is a rational reaction to the busy lives we value. The message we send is that life is busy and we don’t have time to do unimportant things like prepare food, eat food or rest. People who take the time are lazy or underachievers or trying to show up the neighbours.

In some ways the current garbage debate mirrors this trend. Judging by radio shows and letters to the editor, there are a lot of people who honestly feel that garbage pickup every two weeks is s serious hardship. One woman explained that she didn’t have time to sort her garbage, and forcing her to rinse her bottles was anti-family and oppressive to women. If you’ve bought into the idea that things are so busy you don’t have time to rinse a bottle or two, meat like snacks probably sound attractive. Cutting up apples requires many more steps and dirties extra knives and a cutting board. I’m
guessing that if you buy all the “convenience” foods you
probably do generate a lot more garbage, but it seems to
me that cutting corners on food is going to cost a lot more
in the long run.

Clearly I am not in the target market for the pitched product, because it doesn’t sound at all appealing but I suspect I’m in the minority.

19 | andrea

April 13th, 2011 at 9:36 am


Mary, you brought up a good point. Many DO value convenience over taste. And don’t get me started on garbage pickup. That’s a rant for another day. :)

The eldest came home from school recently and announced that she’s the only one in her class that brings a completely litterless lunch – no wrappers or garbage. A couple of weeks ago I was given a bunch of single serving yogurts at a President’s Choice/Loblaw food-related event I attended, and she found them in the fridge.

Her surprise was evident. “WHAT ARE THESE DOING HERE?” she asked, incredulous. Interestingly, I think she’s a little bit proud that we manage to pull off a healthy lunch every day. She is a little sad to be the only one who doesn’t get cheese strings in her lunch, but she also knows what garbage is, and that it even though we put it out on the curb every week it doesn’t actually disappear. It’s just in a pile pile somewhere out of sight.

I wanted to add that I hope this post doesn’t seem like we’re all pointing fingers. Clearly, many people are buying Lunchables and Toasty Meat Snacks, right? It might not be you (I’m referring to those who commented so far) but some families do include these things in their menus and I certainly don’t want to accuse those people of being bad parents.

So why do they buy them?

Is it because:

– the parents don’t care about what’s in processed convenience foods, and don’t see anything wrong with them. (“I ate this stuff when I was a kid and I turned out ok!”)
– they like the taste
– they don’t know how to read the label, or don’t know that certain things (i.e. sodium) can be unhealthy
– they don’t know how to prepare “real” food
– they believe that “real” food is more expensive than processed fake foods
– they think their kids deserve a fun treat
– or all of the above?

So what’s the solution?

20 | Lana

April 13th, 2011 at 2:38 pm


I don’t even want to know what the ingredients are to make this a shelf/freezer stable product.

My second thought… $9!! Crazy expensive. All of those “convenience” foods are horribly expensive. A

Aside from my disgust factor and the cloying “busy parent” claptrap ad copy, our bodies deserve real food. To me, a healthy meal is just as important as the activities.

21 | coffee with julie

April 13th, 2011 at 2:40 pm


To answer some of the questions:

I would agree that there is a tone of condescension in the pitch. I feel like the constant “Moms are soooo busy” refrain is a joke … like we’re all a bunch of frazzled females that they are patting on the head.

Actually, I do value convenience over taste. If I didn’t have a family and lived alone, I’d eat sandwiches and other easy food every night for dinner. But even if you are like me and value convenience over taste, it doesn’t mean you ditch nutrition out the window. I would rather whip together a ham and cheese sandwich for my kids to eat in a car ride than a “toasty meat treat” which I would guess has crazy amounts of sodium in it and questionable “meat.”

22 | harriet Fancott

April 13th, 2011 at 2:52 pm


I also hate phrases like “quick mealtime solution.” When did solution creep out of software land into family-life? I’m a big fan of real food (not fancy food) and am, fingers crossed, hoping not become an activity junkie with my kid.

23 | Brandie Weikle

April 13th, 2011 at 9:41 pm


You know I’m with you on this one. Abhor the idea of meat in the toaster and all similar gimicky non-foods. It’s really too bad that we’ve allowed ourselves to come to believe that food comes in boxes that we shake out onto trays and put in the oven (or the toaster or the microwave). We all need a shortcut from time to time. (I buy those Dr. Oekter’s (sp?) thin crust mushroom pizzas and tart up my half with arugula and stuff, leaving the plainer side for my kids.) But many people are looking at food preparation as though it’s some kind of rocket science. I wish more people who felt overwhelmed by the weekday food routine (who doesn’t from time to time) would seek a mentor in a friend or relative who seems to enjoy it a little more. As we’ve gotten away from the tradition of passing on cooking skills through the generations, that knowledge is disappearing. Let’s vow to share our weeknight dinner solutions more so that we can copy each other. I’ll start: Today we had my elder son’s spring concert at school right before dinner. The 3-yr-old was cranky as all heck walking home. As a desperation dinner that’s not too terrible, we did breakfast for dinner (thanks for the reminder of that Ceri Marsh!) I served yogurt and raspberries (as a starter to quel the tantrum), pancakes (white flour from a mix – that was the indulgent not-so-great part), french toast from whole wheat, super flax-seedy organic bread, and mango fruit smoothies. Not my best effort, but not not toaster meat either.

24 | Jen

April 13th, 2011 at 11:56 pm


I realize that your response is based on how you feel about these convenience products and the obviously poor/misdirected product pitch, given the philosophy about food espoused on the blog-so please take this comment with a grain of salt (ha?).

This subject (prepared/convenience versus homemade foods) often gets turned into a debate about parental skills and ends up shaming parents, and mothers in particular, for their family food choices. And sadly, people seem to think that a good shaming is all it takes to get people to change how they feed their children. I’m inclined to think the “you’re lazy” finger is pointed at those who rely on convenience foods and not those who take the time to prepare foods from scratch, as Mary stated. Asking why “they” buy them seems a bit condescending and opens up the door to make more presumptions about people and their parenting skills.

25 | Mary @ Parenthood

April 14th, 2011 at 7:25 am


Both groups get the lazy card played, but in my experience (probably because I make most of my food from scratch), convenience food users tend to be so busy doing things that food prep seriously erodes the small amount of time they have left. So the attitude I hear most often is that I must be lazy because clearly I am not as busy since I have time to do meal prep.

I think it is certainly possible to value convenience over taste, while still wanting actual food, but I also think that ultimately that’s a bit of a pipe dream. You simply can’t modify a food to make it last practically indefinitely without adding weird chemicals and fundamentally lowering nutritional values. Many people will choose convenience over nutrition too, feeling they can’t afford to use their valuable time. Not being able to cook is also almost a point of pride. Certainly many people are quite intimidated by preparing meals that don’t involve the microwave or toaster.

I don’t get it, but then I also really don’t see a substantial difference between measuring out pancake mix and adding the flour yourself. My own pancake recipe has three dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and xanthan gum), if it wasn’t gluten free it could be only two. Why are we so conditioned that we believe it’s worth the stale flour + extra additives + extra expense to not add the baking powder separately? I figure it’s probably an extra 30 seconds for me at the most. (PS I’m not saying that the mom above is a bad mom!)

26 | andrea

April 14th, 2011 at 9:35 am


BTW, there’s an interesting article on the NYT about “Rescuing ‘Ghost’ Brands From Grocery Limbo” that may shed some light on the power of advertising.

Kraft is pouring money into advertising to help resuscitate smaller/lesser selling items in their product line up:

“Kraft, the largest American packaged-foods marketer, is on a mission to keep its myriad products from becoming ghost brands — once-prominent pantry staples that fade into obscurity through a lack of consumer interest brought on by a lack of advertising support.”

Read it here.

27 | andrea

April 14th, 2011 at 9:43 am


Jen – I definitely don’t want to get into finger pointing and blame, but I think the question of “why” is still a legitimate one.

I sometimes buy convenience foods because I don’t always feel like cooking and don’t always make it a priority. For Sarah’s birthday recently I made cake from a mix. I could have made it from scratch. I know it’s not that hard, but I didn’t. Perhaps in some people’s view that makes me lazy. I’m ok with the choices we make.

At the same time, I do my best to limit the consumption of foods that have ingredients I can’t identify and/or pronounce. And sometimes I can identify them and don’t buy them i.e. things with glucose/frutose or palm kernel oil.

The decisions we make about the foods we eat are totally personal, but I think it’s still good to take a closer look at those reasons why we eat what we eat.

I guess my point is that it’s relatively simple to give a kid an apple or a PB sandwich after school. It’s just as easy (and better for you!) than popping a toasty meat snack into the toaster.

28 | Christy aka Imfreckles

April 14th, 2011 at 10:16 am


I agree with Meanie ….my kids also complain that they don’t get lunchables like some of the other kids. I also agree with Fiona ….my kids also eat lunch at school in their classroom and they get teased about some of the food that they bring. My youngest daughter isn’t bothered by that but my oldest is. She tells me not to send certain foods ( even though she likes them) because the kids make fun of her.

I try to stay away from the unfoods….but I recognize that I do need help finding healthy snacks that my kids will eat for lunch….it is always a struggle

29 | Nadine

April 14th, 2011 at 4:21 pm


These are sitting in our freezer at work. There are no takers. They were pitched to me as “Want us to send you a tasty frozen treat?” We said yes, thinking it was ice cream. Blurgh.

30 | Sasha

April 14th, 2011 at 8:39 pm


There is so much food for thought here I don’t know where to begin.

I remember being the only kid in school (or so it seemed to me) who didn’t have the fancy snacks in the colourful packages. I didn’t like it. I don’t know how I’m going to manage this with my girls, but my oldest is 2 and I’m already worried.

(Incidentally, I was also the only one with a litterless lunch instead of a brown bag. I’m hoping this is no longer an issue!)

Discussions along these lines do tend to get into judgement territory – actual and perceived. I know I suddenly feel like I have to defend my decision to buy pre-cut-and-peeled carrots and frozen lasagna.

Yes, I know it gets “worse”, for lack of a better term. And toaster meat would certainly qualify as worse. But then, who am I to judge? I do, though feel perfectly entitled to shudder.

And I’m not saying you (Andrea) are judging. You’re offering food for thought, and it definitely has me thinking.

I’m sure I had more to say when I started this comment, but my train of thought has been interrupted by a hungry baby, a hacking toddler, and a call to telehealth.

So that’s my sleep deprived 2-cents. What I need is some protein. Fortunately, I have a toaster.

31 | andrea

April 15th, 2011 at 9:26 am


Nadine – Your comment made me chuckle.

Sasha – I really shouldn’t write when I’m feeling feverish with annoyance. :)

I hear ya. In my frustration I failed to clearly separate the issues I had with that pitch.

1) The fact that it was so utterly misdirected. It’s clear the PR company that sent it doesn’t read my blog. I’m just a name on a list somewhere. I don’t expect PR folks to be rabid fans, but I do hope (for their sake and mine) that they’ve read enough to understand the gist of what I write here. Do you want to know something else? I was resent this pitch yesterday …. despite the fact that this debate was raging on in the comments here.

I don’t have a beef (no pun intended) with parents at all. I’ve been there too – more often than I care to think – feeling ragged and worn out to the core. When our grandmothers felt the same they had tea and toast. No toaster meats. :)

My biggest issue is with Big Food. They’ve largely created the mess we’re in today. We happily buy the crap we’re offered in the hopes that it gives us some kind of value THEY have determined (time, money etc), whereas all the bigwigs who sit around the board room table care about the bottom line.

That’s what marketing IS. The bigwigs are salespeople, trying to sell us things we might not necessarily need. I think if we learn to read and watch commercials knowing this, it puts a different spin on the line they’re trying to feed us.

Is there a solution here? It’s crazy to think that Big Food will change. It won’t. And at the same time there is certainly room in our lives for some convenience. It’s up to us to educate ourselves about food and be mindful of what we’re eating and make the best choices we can at point of purchase. (i.e. choosing a brand of canned tomatoes with lower sodium over a different brand.)

Most importantly, I think we need to teach ourselves, and our kids, how to eat and cook with real food. Big Food has tricked us into believing we don’t have time/energy/skills to do so and that their options are fast and healthy substitutes for the real thing.

We CAN make our own breaded pork cutlets, ones that can be quickly reheated in a toaster oven if required …. and make a whole batch and put them in a freezer.

Hmm. I think I just planned our dinner. :)

32 | Lana

April 15th, 2011 at 10:16 am


Oh, the “why” question is the million dollar question. There are so many possible answers, but I don’t think anyone wants to be blaming anyone’s parenting skills.

I think it’s more about recognizing why many people (of all backgrounds!) now lack interest in cooking and cooking skills and figure out how to change that attitude.

Sadly, this often boils down to the lunchables vs. homemade lunch argument. But in reality, it’s the symptom of the bigger issue.

33 | Karen

April 15th, 2011 at 10:31 am


I think, Andrea, that you’ve hit it with this last comment in response to Sasha. Parents are busy and harried and go for convenience foods (not for price, IMO – they are expensive), but for ease. I mean, why not? I can pop chicken nuggets into my toaster oven for 8 minutes and dinner is done. No weekend prep time – I get to spend that time with my family.

But what does that teach my son and how does that help my family’s health? Trust me, I’m preaching to myself and not others about this. I have grand plans to cook meals for my family that fall by the wayside for the simple fact that I don’t like to cook and don’t want to give up that time to cook. (Don’t like to cook is really the key item on that list, though.) I do my best to compromise and meet somewhere in the middle of the ideal of fresh cooked foods all the time and store-bought things.

I guess for me it just doesn’t feel like a natural process. It feels forced and like extra work. I blame that on a lifetime of habits that I’m not proud of. Now I just wish I could somehow magically learn to love cooking so it doesn’t feel like such a chore.

Am I defending this pitch? NO! Don’t get my meaning wrong. I do think that the big food companies play on the convenience factor for people who aren’t in the habit of choosing healthier options. Is it their fault? No, but they do perpetuate a problem that is literally killing people. Diabetes and a host of other diet-related diseases are the evidence of this. Am I overstating this issue? I don’t think so, but maybe. When, like a previous commenter mentioned, McDonald’s is an occasional treat – ick! – maybe my view isn’t so extreme after all. (BTW, I’m not criticizing giving it as a treat, but expressing my own dislike for McD’s. I can’t understand why kids and so many adults like it so much!)

34 | Mel Gallant

April 15th, 2011 at 11:38 am


I certainly don’t want to be seen as pointing my finger at families who go the convenience food route. We do it sometimes too (thus the hot dog and fish cracker reference in my earlier comment). I even gave my daughter some potato chips this week – gasp!

But! Another aspect to this is whether parents who go the convenience food route even like cooking at all. (I don’t know it that’s the case – simply throwing this out there as food for thought – sorry for the pun).

I like cooking. I like being in the kitchen baking, etc. So maybe to me that is why prepping food from scratch isn’t such a big deal. I take great satisfaction from cooking (even before becoming a parent). It’s more of a hobby, interest than a chore. That said, we aren’t the perfect granola-eating family either. We cave to convenience now and then.

35 | Karen

April 15th, 2011 at 11:46 am


Mel, I think that’s at least part of the reason for it. I know it’s my primary motivation when I go the convenience route. And frankly, I would really prefer my own food. It tastes better and it’s healthier. I just don’t like cooking.

I’ve actually spent the money to buy Supperworks meals because it’s way better than the grocery store “equivalents” and I don’t have to prep the food. But it’s really not realistic in my budget as a continuous option. And, like anything you don’t prepare yourself, you still have to watch what’s in it carefully.

I wonder if I can get hypnosis and learn to like cooking. :-/

36 | andrea

April 15th, 2011 at 11:49 am


Mel – I think you make a great point. Karen, you touched on this too. Many of us don’t like to cook. Where does this come from? :)

I don’t always like cooking either, but I do it. I enjoy cooking more when I know that my meal is going to make someone happy on the receiving end.

This is why I always make a banana cream pie for Mark on Father’s Day. It’s his request, and it takes a whole lot of time to make it, but I do it because I love him… and it’s a great pie. :)

It’s about making priorities, isn’t it? Finding that time because we know – even though it can be hard, and time consuming – that it’s the right thing to do?

37 | andrea

April 15th, 2011 at 12:20 pm


Karen, I am not the kind of person who cooks up a roast and serves it with multiple side dishes either.

You know when I hate cooking the most? When I’m tired and as a consequence, feeling crabby. When that happens I know I need to be getting more sleep. When I’m rested I’m a much happier and more motivated person. (I’m not suggesting this is your issue… but it definitely is mine!)

But there are lots of great, healthy meals that you can still prepare with a minimum of muss and fuss. IMO the easiest time of year to eat well is in the summer! Get the BBQ going and serve grilled goods with big salads full o ffruit and veg! Yum! And it’s really just about assembling, not so much cooking.

Last night I didn’t feel like making much so I defrosted a batch of spaghetti sauce (super easy to make!) and served it with Ace bakery garlic bread and a salad. Done.
(And here’s the recipe for the sauce!)

38 | kev

April 15th, 2011 at 1:08 pm


Since our outing on national tv in January, we’ve made a tonne of changes to what we eat (and buy). We’ve cut the amount of processed food down to close to zero (with the exception of some of the, um… “better” granola bars), and make almost all our meals, sauces, lunches, and desserts from scratch – I even have still have most of a pack of Oreos I bought in Jan.

Processed foods aren’t going away, and the material you received is just one company’s attempts at broadening its market penetration. They’re not in it for our health, they’re in it to make money, and that’s ok. Until demand changes, or regulations change to make it easier for people to see just how crappy these foods are as nutritional building blocks, they’re going to sell ’em.

We consume some processed foods still, but they are the exception to the rule, and account for a very small percentage of our overall intake. We track what’s in the foods we buy, and avoid the pre-made as much as possible. We’re eating better, and one of the benefits we’ve noticed is our grocery bill is about 30% less.

I totally get the “life is busy” angle, and one of the biggest changes we’ve made to get over that is meal planning. On Sundays we take the list of activities and when they start, and plan meals around them. We stick to meals with short prep time for the busy days, and get a little more involved on the days we can take it easy. Then we shop, and get pretty much everything we need for the week, minus some of the consumables and low-life perishables, which we’ll grab on Wed as we need them.

This lets us know how much time we need to set aside for meals, and exactly what we’re preparing well in advance. If we’re tired, it’s not a hassle to try to figure out what we have and what we can make with it, that’s already done, and that’s what I find the most onerous about meal prep. Most of the meals we serve take 10-20min of prep, and we’ve had a surprising amount of success with introducing the family finicky eater to new tastes.

We’ve found it’s not a whole lot of work, and the biggest issue with giving the kids healthy snacks after school is that it does require a little effort in convincing them they don’t need something in a wrapper. It’s by no means an overnight process, but we’ve had some pretty amazing success with it over the last 90 days.

39 | Josée

April 15th, 2011 at 2:06 pm


Andrea, I’m curious as to why you’re not calling the Toasty Meat company by name. I’m shocked that they sent you the same pitch again; maybe if you call them out by name, they and other companies like them would take more care in who they send their pitches to, and maybe they would be shamed into coming up with actual healthy “convenience” snacks…

I definitely feel a bit of finger pointing going on here (not by you, just generally) and maybe we should all start by pointing the finger at the company that actually produces this stuff. Just my 2 cents.

40 | AMotherhoodBlog

April 15th, 2011 at 3:00 pm


Pitches like these are sent by the dozen, let’s hope nobody bites and helps them promote. Toaster meat? Really? That sounds gross I wouldn’t endorse anything like that either…

41 | Loukia

April 15th, 2011 at 4:15 pm


Toasty meat things? That’s um, GROSS. I don’t even want to know what a toasty meat thing looks like. While for the most part my children eat healthy, thanks in large part to the fact that my parents and inlaws and grandparents babysit them when I’m at work, they do eat easy snacks, too. Like cheesy crackers and granola bars and sometimes chips and chocolate. And I’m okay with this, because I know they’re eating a balanced, healthy meal, three times a day, too. I’m tired of certain pitches, too, and this one sounded especially gross.

42 | kev

April 15th, 2011 at 5:06 pm


oh, jeez. I just found the toasty site. nasty. made in CANADA. awesome.

43 | Jen_nifer

April 15th, 2011 at 11:33 pm


I had seen the ad on television for this item a couple of weeks ago and had hoped the product would fade away quickly. I found Yoni Freedhoff’s blog entry on it and love that he calls them “pork Pop-Tarts”!

44 | andrea

April 16th, 2011 at 12:44 pm


Josée – I didn’t want to promote their product by giving them free advertising. :)

Kev – Fun stuff eh? By the way, you guys rock! I wonder if the National is planning a follow up. They should!

45 | Lana

April 18th, 2011 at 9:15 am


As an aside, I too looked up the brand and “tried” to send them an email… which to date is undeliverable. Accountability!

46 | Reduced-sodium taco recipe, er, assembly >> a peek inside the fishbowl

April 18th, 2011 at 1:18 pm


[…] Kev (who chimed in on a recent post) reminded me that I’ve had a desire to write about tacos for some time. Remember that CBC […]

47 | Lara

April 19th, 2011 at 5:53 pm


I agree with you Andrea about the role that Big Food plays in marketing to kids (which really is marketing to parents too isn’t it). Unfortunately there is very little will to regulate the food industry – aside from ‘voluntary’ regulatory efforts. front of package labelling however, feeds into all of the misconceptions and misinformation about what is a ‘healthier’ option (in many cases, healthier still not being healthy at all). it’s unfortunate that these types of discussions can sometimes be perceived as finger wagging or a judgment of parenting skills….because personally i think that lifestyle change requires a more systemic shift.

i wonder about the role of schools in all this. i have researched school board level policy and at the provincial level (healthy schools act) regarding food in schools. there is little that can be done other then encouraging parents to send healthy snacks – and there are rules around food and fundraising (although i can tell you my daughter’s school certainly has a history of ignoring it – mcdonald’s nights anyone?).

teaching about healthy eating is part of the curriculum though and i have to say that i was VERY pleased that my daughter’s SK teacher is actually teaching the JK/SK class about food marketing to kids!!! because I have already ‘indoctrinated’ her to my thinking on this issue, she really got it. and i think cognitively that is not always easy for a child of 5. imagine my delight when she came home from school a few months ago and said, mommy, did you know that the people who make the boxed food in the grocery store put cartoon characters on it and bright colours and they put it on the low shelves just so little kids will see it and want it because it looks fun?

YES! there is hope. i remember in the 90s the trend was towards teaching kids how to be media savvy regarding gender/racial stereotypes. i hope that the schools do take on more of a role with respect to media literacy around what we put in our bodies too. sometimes parents have a very challenging battle….it’s not just about individuals making different choices alone.

we get it everywhere. not just at the grocery store. look at your local recreation complex (well maybe not dovercourt…i know that they recently won a healthy food award)….I live in Stittsville and we have invested a lot of money into our recreation complex here. it is right next door to the catholic high school. where do you think all the high school kids go at lunch? to the rec complex. where they can buy poutine. and other non-food items. i have even witnessed many throw their bagged lunches in the garbage and go right up to the concession.

my daughter asked, mommy why would they buy junk when they could get apples or bananas that are there. good question! i don’t want to raise my daughter to be a food snob, but i’m not going to change my approach. because i want her to make the better choice when she’s that 15 yr old leaving school at lunchtime!

now if only we could convince the school not to give out kool-aid jammers at jump rope for heart.


48 | Tomkins’ Toastee Meat Snax™ >> a peek inside the fishbowl

April 20th, 2011 at 11:27 am


[…] to you and/or you have dug up in the frozen food aisle.  If I can convince ONE PERSON not to buy toaster meat I would consider this post A JOB WELL […]

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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