One unfortunate by-product of the proliferation of packaged and ready-to-eat foods is that children—and many adults—lack an understanding of ingredients, don’t know where varied flavorings come from and can’t properly season food.
Since our food boxes and packages contain everything, our senses have become comatose. Instead of learning how to season to satisfy our personal palates, we just open and pour.
Take, for example, Quaker Instant Oatmeal and its “maple & brown sugar” variety. The idea sounds great, except there is no “maple” and no “brown sugar” in the ingredients. My guess is that “sugar,” “natural flavor” and “caramel color” are the cheap stand-ins for what PepsiCo, which owns the Quaker Oats Company, wants us to taste and, eventually, to believe are the flavors of maple (syrup?) and brown sugar.
The real loss, though, is that our kids never learn the sensory and tactile skills of seasoning to taste. More salt? A little pepper? Another dash of cinnamon? A squeeze of lemon juice? No chance; whatever is in the box is the total package.
If you aren’t ready yet to make your own oatmeal, fine. (However, it takes only about four minutes, roughly two minutes more than the instant packaged variety needs in the microwave.)
But instead of buying any of the flavored varieties, purchase the instant oatmeal in its plain form. Put out some cinnamon, real maple syrup, raisins and walnuts and allow everyone to shake, pour, sprinkle and stir themselves silly.