I've got nothing against snacks. I can't get through the day without them, and my six year old would much prefer that his day be comprised of approximately 75 small snacks and that we forget about sit-down meals altogether. As a dietitian, I also know that between-meal bites have a purpose (like keeping blood sugar stable) and can be perfectly nutritious.
But snacks have gotten a little out of hand these days where kids are concerned. Children can't really gather in a group, complete a task, or break into a sweat anymore without somebody passing out a snack– and typically one that includes a juice pouch, gummy fruit snacks, cheese-flavored crackers, or tiny packaged cookies. I wrote about this phenomenon for Parents in The Snack Epidemic, where I figured out that a typical preschooler's snacks could easily add up to more than 1,000 calories and a half-cup of sugar in just one day. Too many snacks can also mean that a child isn't hungry for a nutritious lunch or dinner.
In an ideal world, snacks are used to nourish kids between meals. But in reality, they're used for many other purposes, like filling time at camp or in a Sunday school class, distracting children when they're restless, or bribing them to play pee-wee soccer at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. It's time we question some of that snacking. It's time to reconsider whether children actually need to be eating at those times– and if they do, what we should actually be feeding them. Because we can't raise kids who love fresh, healthy food if they're continually given packaged, processed treats. And we can't expect them to eat the dinners we make when they're nibbling all day and never really feel hungry.
But parents do have the power to change this over-snacking culture. It's something I call Snacktivism on my blog. Here's how:
Out and About:
- If you're not happy with what your kids are snacking on at preschool, camp, or church, talk (politely!) to the powers-that-be. Volunteer to brainstorm ideas or offer to bring the munchies yourself one week (and arrive with apples or bananas). Ask whether snacking is even necessary. If parents are in charge of bringing them, they may actually welcome a reprieve.
- If your child's sports practices or games are loaded with junk food, talk to the coach about the issue. Here are four tips. You can also use the resources I have on my blog, including sample coach and team emails that you can cut, paste, and customize (check out my Sports Snacktivism Handbook).
- Try to keep to a rough snacking schedule (such as one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon) and communicate it to your child. Like grown-ups, children can nibble out of boredom. So if you think that's the case, redirect your child to a book or game until snacktime. In our house, I solved the before-dinner-snack conundrum by establishing a "veggies only" rule in the hour before dinner. If my kids are hungry, they can munch on any veggies we've got. It takes the edge off their hunger but they've still got an appetite for the meal.
- Offer fruits and veggies at snacktime as much as possible. I stopped buying most packaged snack foods altogether since my kids were being offered them at so many other places. Show your child that "snack" doesn't equal "treat"–but instead, that it includes healthy, whole foods, just like meals do.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.
Make an Octapple
Image: Girl snacking on banana via Shutterstock