Our Oversnacking Culture

More from Sally Kuzemchak

What's the most important lesson you've learned and what has surprised you along the way?

The most important lesson I've learned is that it's really important how you approach people about this. You can go in with your guns blazing and feeling all self-righteous about what you're doing, but you're going to end up alienating or offending people. They'll think, "So the snack I brought last week wasn't good enough? I'm not a good enough mom? I don't care about my kids, is that what you're saying?" There are a lot of emotions with this subject so the approach is very important. Whether it's at school, or on the soccer field, or at church, make sure to take great care approaching whoever is in charge. Say "Here are some concerns I have. I'd love to talk to you about them and give you my help." Nobody likes when someone comes to them complaining about something, but if you go with ideas it's a whole different story. So when I go to the coaches I say, "Hey, I have this idea for the snack policy and I would love to coordinate the snack schedule for you so you don't have you worry about it," or "I would love to bring the snacks for our preschool class." Whatever it is, if you can bring your help and be kind and understanding, it goes so much farther than sending off an angry email about the junk food that's being given. It's all in the approach.

What are the best ways that you've found to convince parents to get on board?

One way is to actually suggest to get rid of snacks altogether and a lot of parents are very receptive to that because it takes something off their to-do list. So sometimes you can put that out there as an option and say, "I know we are so busy and we all have so much going on. Why don't we eliminate the snack entirely and just bring water bottles for our kids and feed them lunch at home afterwards." Some parents respond really well to that. There's also the argument of fruit, especially bananas, being cheaper than buying a case of packaged cookies. You can suggest that everybody bring their own water bottle so no one has to bring juice. It's less expense for everybody and it's less to carry to the field. So you can present it as "Here's a cheaper and easier way of doing it." That's always a good approach -- not, "I don't like what you've been bringing, and I want you to bring healthier things."

With sports, I go to the coach before the season has started, and I send him or her and email with my concerns ("Here's what I'd like to do. What do you think?"). And I've always gotten positive reactions. Then I can go to the parents and say, "Hey, the coach and I have this idea for the snacks." And so it's presented as coming from both of us or with the coach's blessing, instead of just looking like this know-it-all parent who's trying to take over. I went to the soccer and tee-ball leagues in our town and they weren't interested in doing any kind of league-wide snack policy so I decided I'll just do it team-by-team, and the coaches have been really nice about it.

Have you tried reaching out to teachers about classroom eating habits?

Yes, I'm co-chair on our school wellness committee, and luckily our school has adopted pretty strict guidelines on outside food this year because of food allergies. That's another really important point to make in all this: With all of the food allergies, either eliminating snacks or bringing fruits or vegetables is so much better for the kids who have allergies because most of them can actually participate in the snack that way and not feel left out.

I always try to either organize or help plan the classroom celebrations. I stress this on my blog: If you care about this stuff, you need to jump in and help make the change happen. Instead of just saying you don't like the junk at the party, get on the party committee. I organized a green smoothie day at my son's school and we went in and made the kids spinach, banana, and pineapple smoothies one day at lunch time, so I'm trying to find ways to provide positive associations with healthy foods like fruits and vegetables because some kids don't experience that at home. You want to make it as fun and delicious as possible.

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