Why I Ended My Family’s Ketchup Ban

Bowl of ketchup or tomato sauce
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A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post with the headline, “Crossing Ketchup Off My Shopping List.” In it, I described how we ran a taste-test of different tomato sauces with my children and, after identifying their favorite, switched to it instead of using ketchup.

Well, guess what? Yep, there it is, sitting on a shelf in my fridge — a bottle of ketchup.

My husband and I never eat ketchup. He grew up in Spain, I in Russia, and ketchup was not a staple in those countries back then. (It probably is now, thanks to globalization.)

My older daughter prefers a good tomato sauce. But, it turns out, my middle child, the one with a fierce sweet tooth, could never fully embrace tangy tomato sauce on her sausages, potatoes and a number of other random things kids put ketchup on. Although initially enthusiastic about trying new and exciting variations, she ultimately stuck to her guns and requested that ketchup be brought back. I obliged.

I know she will have access to it at school, parties and friends’ houses. I don’t want her to grow up thinking that ketchup is a forbidden food she needs to gorge on while mom is out of sight.

And, yes, I am aware of the sugar content of ketchup. One teaspoon of sugar per tablespoon of food is a lot of sugar. So we are learning to squeeze just a little on our plate first and get seconds if we need them. It helps prevent waste, too. She used to leave uneaten heaps of it on her plate. We also try to cut sugar in other ways.

My point of sharing this is not to discourage you from improving your family’s diet. There are more nutritious tomato sauces than ketchup, of course. But, in ketchup’s defense, I have seen many selective eaters in my practice using it as a familiar “vehicle” for taking bites of new food or getting some of the iron-rich meat they need.

Also, I strongly believe that instead of creating a nutritional bubble around children, it is more beneficial to teach them to handle all kinds of foods they will be surrounded by for the rest of their lives. Keeping things in perspective and considering an overall balance is also the key to my sanity. I prefer to invest time and money in what matters the most to me and my family, and to cut myself some slack when it comes to more trivial stuff.

That’s why I consider myself fortunate to be able to cook fresh meals from scratch most of the time and buy local and organic often. We eat as a family every day of the week because we all like it and it works for our lifestyle. I also spend time planning snacks so that no one is left grazing all day long or goes hungry between meals.

For the same reason, I do not ban soda, keep ketchup in my fridge and happily ordered pizza for dinner last night when we all played outside until late. If you are doing the same and more, I am not going to judge you, despite all the big letters after my name. Raising kids in this crazy food environment is hard and the more guilt and shame we inflict on ourselves or our children, the harder it gets. So let’s keep the big picture in mind and not stress about minor issues, such as keeping ketchup on your shopping list — for now.

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Natalia Stasenko
Natalia Stasenko, MS, RD, is a U.S.-credentialed pediatric dietitian based in London and New York and the owner of Feeding Bytes. She blogs at feedingbytes.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.