I was just reading comments on a forum where somebody had posted the question - when did junk food / sugary desserts become the norm as opposed to special occasion treats food? The replies varied and many people described the meals they ate as children. It really got me thinking.
Children do not purchase their own groceries. They eat the food that is bought or prepared by a parent. I grew up in the late 60's to 70's. I lived in rural southern Ontario. We rarely if ever ate out at restaurants . It was a huge treat if my father brought home Kentucky Fried Chicken on his way from work. My mother made much of our food, and we sat and ate supper together. However, we had an enormous amount of processed / packaged food available to us as well. Here is a list off the top of my head: chips, cheese whiz, sugary cereals, chip dip, candies such as jelly beans, chocolate bars, Tang, kool aid (kool aid popsicles), unlimited flavours of pop, packaged Hostess brand "cakes", cookies, frozen mini pizzas, cinnamon spread, barbecue flavoured peanuts, Carnation Instant Breakfast, ice cream. These were not occasional treats. They were almost always kept in stock in the house.
My father quit drinking when I was about ten years old, maybe a bit older. He substituted sugary junk food for the alcohol. We had a "treat" drawer in the kitchen. It was never empty. My mother cooked and baked a great deal. While she made dinners like roasts and vegetables, she also heated up quick and convenient food like canned alphagetti. Dessert was not for special occasions. There was almost always a cake, pie, homemade cookies, or rice krispie squares available.
I knew no different. I am not "blaming" my mother. She was no doubt tired of making meals by the time I came along (youngest of four). The marketing of convenience foods was strong. There were absolutely no limits placed on me. I spent a great deal of my youth at my uncle's / grandmother's farm. My grandmother baked and made her own food but also placed a weekly order at the bakery whereupon things like donuts, coffee cake, and Chelsey buns were the norm. A dinner always included dessert. If pie or cake or apple dumpling or custard was not available, at the very least, a piece of white bread swimming in real maple syrup was offered. Canned pop or Shop Pop bottled pop was in constant supply.
Needless to say, I was a heavy kid. My sister, closest in age to me, but still five years older, was not heavy as a child. I do not know if she just had better self control, or if the amount of junk food in the house increased as the years went on.
Contrast this with my husband who is only two years older than I am. His mother also made almost all of the family's food. Dessert was a rarity. Fruit was offered if they wanted something sweet. She was the one on the block who gave out apples or little boxes of raisins at Hallowe'en. He did not know what Cheese Whiz was until he married me, then would clandestinely eat it from the jar with a spoon late at night, like it was some sort of edible oil crack. An after school snack he made for himself as a kid was ketchup sandwiches. He considered that a treat. Ketchup was limited in their home. It had too much sugar. I don't think the words "too much sugar" were ever spoken in my home. My husband was not a heavy kid.
Why the difference between the two families? I'm not sure why my family embraced the world of processed food and sugar and his did not. My mother was raised in a hard working farm family that ate its own beef and grew much of its own food. She was of German descent. My father grew up in a small rural village of Scottish descent with little extra cash flow.
My husband's mother is Yugoslavian and had a very difficult childhood, spending some of her youth in a work camp and the rest of her youth in boarding school, or in England. She did not have the experience of having a mother who showed her how to cook and family meals around the table for a lot of her childhood.
Neither one of our fathers did any of the meal preparation, although every once in a while my father got it into his head that he would bake bread. He made loaves of white "potato bread" which he loved but I quite despised as it was not the soft, fluffy crap white bread that I was used to eating.
I had / have a very different relationship with food than my husband. It is comfort for me and I love a variety. It is sustainance for him and he could eat the same meals over and over.
I like to think I found a balance for our own children. Neither one of them binge eats. They would actually have leftover Hallowe'en candy for weeks if not months after. (Note I did not insist that it be thrown out after a certain time period? One does not waste good candy!) I generally made the meals for them growing up and tried to pack healthy lunches with veggies and fruits. They did receive treats, but they were treats, not daily consumption. I chose whole grains for them, cooked homemade soups and stews, offered a variety of vegetables and salads with dinner, and grew many of my own vegetables and raised chickens for eggs.
I still personally struggle with my food issues. I go through phases of "clean" eating and being very diligent versus eating sugar laden food in private and eating way beyond feeling full. Would I have these issues if I had been fed a more nutritious diet as a child? I'll never know, but it is all fodder for thought.