Snacks – the monster in the pantry?

Last month, we covered the problem of sugar. This month, we’re taking on snacks.

snack time imageWhen I was little, we didn’t have snacks. If you were hungry between meals, my mother told you to go get a glass of water or a stick of celery. Anything else was going to spoil your appetite for the next meal. Occasionally she had cookies in the house, but they were small and not very sweet. I later discovered that my mother didn’t like sweets so it never occurred to her that anyone else would want sweets. Even so, no one else I knew got snacks. We did get something to eat midmorning in school, usually a piece of cheese or fruit, but that was it.

I have become fascinated by the feeding habits of children. So many children, especially infants, seem to have a bottle or something to eat all the time. The parents weren’t eating at the time, so I was fascinated by why they felt that their baby needed to eat almost constantly. Once my son was born, I got the point. If you have a baby with you, it needs your attention. When a baby fusses, what it generally wants is to be held, but many parents simply give their children something to eat instead – and then we wonder why children are overweight.

I never had the guts to say anything about this – mothers in general being notoriously touchy about any complaints of their parenting practices. And then I saw this article by Susanna Sung and I wanted to share it with you. Sung has it totally right, and I agree with her. Snacks are simply evidence of the fact that we think we are bad parents if our children want for anything.

What I really like about this article is that Sung points out that satiating our children does not stop with snacks. We seem to be terrified if our children do not get every toy they want, or have any time when they are not totally occupied. Children are not learning how to manage their lives because parents are managing their lives for them. If they are hungry at a non-meal time, they need to learn to find their own snacks and do so within the family guidelines. If I took more than several cookies, my mother would ask me why I was so hungry, but she was not there to hand the cookies to me. It was my responsibility to take the right number of cookies and to put the container back, properly sealed. At no point are children allowed to cope with their own needs and the result is that they are generally helpless. My son’s friends are fascinated by how much he can cook – he started making his lunch for school when he was in 3rd grade and has been getting his own food ever since. I made the family meals, of course, but snacks are individual. If you give a child a cookie, he will eat it. If he has to get it himself, he may not do so because he is otherwise occupied.

Sung focuses particularly on the practice of parents bringing snacks after sports. Some of that practice comes from parents who are way too involved with their children’s lives. This really is a case of the parents showing off for each other – see how involved I am with my child? In fact, what children need is to be picked up and then have a conversation with their parent on the way home about the practice or game. They need to wind down and get ready for dinner – which should follow an afternoon event. Instead, what usually happens is the parents talk while the kids are having snacks – that is the real event for the parents.

Put items in your refrigerator or pantry which are appropriate for snacks – little carrots, string cheese, tangerines, small boxes of raisins, and the like. Point them out to your children and tell them how much they may have at one time and then stay out of their lives. You might be astounded that they don’t actually eat many snacks. If your son is on a team, ask the coach what he prefers. At no time should the children be given energy drinks – remember the blog about that several months ago. All they need is water, or better yet, orange sections. No added sugar, no added salt, no added artificial colors and the like.

Watch what your child actually eats. Is he eating snacks instead of meals? Is he getting adequate amounts of vegetables and fruits? If it comes in a package, it has added sugar (except for uncoated raisins) and your child does not need that. Snacks lead your child down the path of poor nutrition.