Ever since I wrote that article for Strollerderby about how it’s Snack Time All The Time for America’s kids, I’ve been seeing snacks everywhere.
I thought, before that, that my own kids were not big snackers. We have two set “snacktimes” a day, at mid-morning and mid-afternoon. The kids usually get slices of fruit and some whole wheat toast or crackers, maybe cheese or popcorn if I’m feeling crazy.
But since calmly asserting that those snacks are the only ones I feed them, I’ve become painfully aware of how untrue that really is.
They munch all day long. So do I.
Most of what we eat is healthy stuff: unadorned homemade popcorn, fresh fruit, homemade bread, hummus and veggie sticks. I don’t eat any refined sugar, and while the kids have a little, it’s not overboard.
Or is it? Somehow, in spite of my aversion to packaged snack foods, there always seems to be a box of cookies in the pantry, or a bag of loot from a birthday party, or a pack of Cheez-its (where did those come from?). The kids eat fistfuls of cereal, steal cookies when they think I’m not looking, wheedle for second helpings of dessert (that’s never worked yet, but they keep trying).
It’s not like either of my kids is at any kind of risk for childhood obesity. Rio is a walking beanpole, and Serena is delicious but rapidly losing her extra chins and rolls as she leaves babyhood behind.
That’s no excuse for not teaching them healthy eating habits, though.
So what are healthy eating habits?
This is a point on which I am somewhat confused. A few things I’m very consistent on:
- Family meals are a huge priority for us. We eat breakfast, lunch and dinner together as a family almost every day. This includes my husband, who walks home from work to have lunch with me and the kids.
- We’re vegetarians, and we eat local and organic foods as much as we reasonably can. I care a lot about the sustainability of our diet, and about toxins being used in food production, both for my kids’ immediate health and for the long-term health of our planet.
- Food should be fun. We play in the kitchen all the time. We have a large collection of great kids’ cookbooks and both girls are avid about doing kitchen crafts, baking and making their own meals (with supervision, usually).
I’m less clear, it seems, on the snacking rules. Should everyone be allowed to eat whenever they’re hungry? Should there be limits to when the kids can have food, to prevent them eating just because they are bored or want comfort? What should they eat between meals?
An apple seems like an innocuous bottom line, and I have a good friend whose house rule is that you can have an apple anytime you want, but other foods are only served at “official” eating times. OK, fine.
I’m not sure we need to change anything in our family eating habits. I’m just uncomfortably aware that they’re very different from what I thought they were, and I don’t have a clear idea of what the right thing to do is. There’s a lot of scary press out there these days about kids and food and health concerns.
What do you do? Do your kids have free-range access to the pantry, or do you dole out snacks on a schedule? Who decides what your children eat, and when?
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