Another Perspective

How Little Boys Eat

And how much.

By 5.23.08

In "Roly-Poly," his loving description in song of his little boy, Willie Nelson says, "He likes everything from soup to hay...Ham and eggs for breakfast...Bread and jelly twenty times a day."

That must have been back in the fifties, because it sounds kind of like me, nicknamed "Pudge" by my mates. Nowadays, under the relentless influence of television and marketing, little boys eat differently. Not any worse, I don't think, the main idea being to yonk down as many calories as possible. But different.

My shopping list, assembled by our housekeeper, looks like this:

Soft taco mix
Hamburg
Chk (chicken)
Marinade
Chicken tenders
Hot dogs
Mac & cheese
Juice boxes
Ramen
Ketchup
French fries
Juice boxes
Tuna fish
Jif
Jelly
Snacks for Joe's lunch

To be fair, that's two weeks' worth. That all-purpose category, "snacks for Joe's lunch," gives me the most trouble, and causes me the most pangs to my conscience.

We pack a lunch for Joe, now in second grade, to take to school. We could give him money for a school lunch, but we found out with older son Bud that those lunches tend to the greasy, and upset his stomach.

Plus, we can never be sure what he's going to buy. Bud, who turned into a health nut by the fifth grade, would, when we gave him money, buy salads and non-fat milk.

Joe, given his head, would buy potato chips and snack crackers. The supermarket gives over entire aisles to that troublesome category known in the industry as "salty snacks." Joe loves them.

Cheez-its. Doritos. Pringles. Peanut butter cracker snack packs. Cheese cracker snack packs (cheese, right). Cool ranch crackers. Pretzels. Fishies.

Each of these snacks illustrates a modern tendency I call "brand sprawl." Fishies, the little fish-shaped crackers, now come in various cheese flavors, pretzel flavors, and heavens knows what else. That helps such foods take up as much shelf space as possible. You have to look hard to find "original" Fishies.

AT SOME POINT, parents just gave up on trying to feed little boys anything "healthy." Just jam the calories into them and hope for the best. Joe, like many boys, alternates between eating enormous amounts and eating almost nothing. Take him to his favorite doughnut shop in the morning and he'll yonk down two bagels with cream cheese, accompanied by "blue Powerade."

(I ask you, is anything blue fit for human consumption?)

At other times, he refuses anything but bowl after bowl of Ramen, the Japanese packaged noodle soup, flavored with salty chicken or beef powder, which sells for about a quarter, and is worth just about that much. He likes to flavor it with hot sauce.

Yet again, some mornings Joe will get up and refuse to eat anything.

Such a diet, you'd think, would create "Daddy's little fatty," as Willie Nelson wrote. But no. Joe, along, with most of his friends, is lean and muscular, with defined abs.

I have no idea how he gets away with it. "Bet he's gonna be a man someday."

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.