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June 5, 2013

What will it be in kid books: cupcakes or carrots?

Leslie Patricelli didn’t keep junk food in the house when her three kids were toddlers, but the goofy, bald baby in her board book “Yummy Yucky” grins from ear to ear over chocolate sauce and cookies.

The prolific picture book writer also included pepperoni pizza as a positive, acknowledging in a recent interview that some of her empty-calorie imagery for kids too young to seek out sugary and fatty foods on their own have earned her a kvetch or two from parents.

“If I were to do it again, I would probably make a few different choices, but I don’t think I would leave everything out,” said Patricelli, in Hailey, Idaho. “All you have to do is watch a kid eat a piece of cake to know that they’re in heaven.”

Heaven, indeed, especially when it comes to an abundance of frothy pink cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies and candy in books aimed squarely at babies, toddlers and preschoolers who may not be intimate with the meaning of moderation.

But some authors and publishers are focused on creating alternatives to c-is-for-cupcake picture books for parents struggling to promote broccoli. Even Cookie Monster sometimes eats smarter, chowing down on celery and demonstrating smaller portions of his namesake treats in “Ding Dong, Elmo’s Here!” and other books from the folks on “Sesame Street.”

“Food is everywhere kids turn,” said Betsy Loredo, executive editor for Sesame Workshop’s publishing group. “So it’s natural for us to want to think of ways we can integrate that and make choices that are healthier. We try to go for at least equity.”

Sesame Street, with an appearance by obesity fighter and first lady Michelle Obama, took on nutrition and exercise as an initiative back in 2004. The effort expanded to other divisions and special projects that included distribution of kits to 6 million families and child care centers offering ways to eat healthy on a budget and educate parents on the difference between “sometime food” and “anytime food.”

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