Sally Kuzemchak's story in our March 2013 issue about kids' near constant munching has created some serious buzz. Check out what else the dietician and mommy of two had to say about her passionate crusade for healthy snacking.
What led you to the story idea for "The Snack Epidemic"?
It started a few years ago when my oldest child began playing peewee soccer. As I mentioned in the intro to the story, I was appalled by the snacks and really surprised because when I played soccer growing up, the moms took turns bringing orange slices, and that was it. So there I was as the mom, and parents were bringing chips and cupcakes and doughnuts and sugary drinks. As a dietician, too, I was really shocked, but I didn't say anything because I didn't want to ruffle feathers. But by the last game of the season, when there were giant frosted cupcakes, I knew this had to stop. So I set out to change the snack policy for my son's teams, and as I was doing that, I started noticing snacks everywhere. I noticed that, gosh, kids aren't just getting these kinds of snacks at soccer games, they're getting them at preschool and after school clubs and Sunday school. Every time kids gather we bring out fruit snacks and sugary drinks -- even if it's only for 45 minutes. When I started talking to other parents about it, I found that a lot of them felt the same way I did. Then, when I dug into the research, I learned that indeed snacking has increased tremendously, and indeed, obesity researchers are worried about it. That's when I realized it isn't just a few moms noticing something; it's something big and potentially harmful.
What has been the greatest challenge in changing the way your children snack, and how have you implemented the change?
The greatest challenge is that kids are used to unhealthy snacks. The first couple of games, they were like, "Aw, where are the chips?" and I'd say, "Well, we have apples." And they'd just grab an apple and be done with it. So I think the kids have adapted to it pretty well and it's been surprisingly easy for them.
I've had to really rethink what I was doing at home too. We were snacking quite a lot, and that's an ongoing struggle that I think all parents have reigning in that constant desire to eat. I continue to work on that with my own kids. I have to ask, "Are you hungry or are you just bored?" And grown ups struggle with that too. "Am I hungry or do I just feel like eating something," or "Am I sad and I want to grab something?"
When you have a toddler out in public, the first time you don't have a snack and your child has a meltdown because they're too hungry, that really scars you -- so you think you have to carry something around at all times to avoid it. But then it's really easy for that to get out of hand. When you have a million containers and baggies of food for a one-hour outing to the playground you have to think, "Is this necessary?"
Have you noticed any differences in your children?
Yea, I recently implemented a new policy for my 4-year-old who's home a few days a week that the kitchen is closed during certain hours. We have our snack at 10am and then the kitchen is closed until noon when we have our lunch. That's new for us around here but he's hungrier when lunchtime comes around. And we have a policy that an hour before dinner you can eat vegetables like carrots and broccoli -- crudité type of thing -- but that's it. And so they do come to the table ready to eat their meal, as opposed to snacking and then getting to dinner and not being hungry. Also, in the story, Dr. Katja Rowell mentioned if you want to introduce new foods, your kids have to be hungry in order for them to be receptive to trying something for the first time. If they come with their belly filled with crackers and juice, their motivation to try something new is going to be very low.
In your opinion, what's the ideal snack schedule and what are ideal snacks?
Around 7am my son eats breakfast and then we might have a mid-morning snack around 9:30am or 10am, and then he eats lunch. We have a snack maybe at 3pm and then we eat dinner around 6pm. That's ideal. But fruit is a good measure of whether kids are really hungry. Give them an apple or banana and if they don't want it, then you have to questions whether they're actually hungry or just wanting something crunchy and salty.
And I think that's why the fruit is always a good default after sports. All kids need more fresh fruit -- and the fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins they're getting from it. And if they don't want it, then that's fine, they can go home and have a meal. That's what I try to do at home. If my kids say they're hungry, I'll say, "Do you want me to cut up an apple, or how about a banana?" and if they say, "Nah," I'll say, "Are you actually hungry? Why don't we go play a game or read a book."
And the thing is too, peewee soccer players aren't sweaty when they come off the field. A lot of them stand around and look up at the sky much of the game, so to have them run off the field and hand them a bag of chips and juice is kind of ridiculous.