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I’m Sierra. I live in the Boston area with my family.

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Endless Snacks

by Sierra on March 4, 2010 · 18 comments

in Uncategorized

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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  • GimliGirl

    It sounds to me that your family has a great handle on what to eat and how, and it works for you. Allowing your kids to eat what they want when they want it will give them a healthy, positive relationship with food. Yes, this means cookies and candy too. If it's not forbidden or seen as bad/junk, they wont obsess about it. Treat those kinds of food just like other foods; everything in moderation.

    As for childhood obesity? It's the 'epidemic' that wasn't: http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.com/2008/05/epi

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  • moominmolly

    Natalie is on a schedule while at school: midmorning snack, lunch, teeny midafternoon snack, and often a second little snack in the car on the way home. Her snacks are fruit, cheese, crackers/bread, yogurt, maybe a granola bar if I'm feeling indulgent (though finding a granola bar that has fiber in it and no corn syrup is a trick). Lunch is usually her biggest meal of the day. On the weekends, we follow this pattern fairly roughly.

    I tried to let her fend for herself, more or less, for a while, letting her choose when and how much she wanted to eat. It seemed fairly regular, and now I try to keep her on this rough schedule. I personally like small mealtines and small healthy snacks, since in general it tends to lead to a better ability to self-regulate. Her father, a grazer, is much better at self-regulation than I am, so I'm trying everything I can to nudge her in his slightly-more-healthy direction.

    I like that apple rule a lot, and it lines up with the way I want to do eating and snacking myself. I might have to adopt it, or something like it.

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  • http://twitter.com/rebeccaweger rebeccaweger

    You ask if folks should eat whenever they're hungry. I would answer that with “yes,” as long as folks understand what hungry is. It is not “She has a cupcake I want one too,” nor is hungry “it's lunchtime.” I have actually fallen off the deep end in the other direction – not getting hungry when I should – but for most of my life and the lives I see around me, this seems to work well at supporting self-regulation.

    When I was growing up, I had a drawer of candy at kid height that I could access whenever I wanted. For me, it was there whenever I wanted it, so the appeal of “sneaking” sugar was non-existent. Whether that would work for other kids who have more of a sweet tooth than I do is another question altogether.

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  • http://twitter.com/ambershah Amber Shah

    I remember when I used to stay home with Jack and we'd go to a playdate and see all the kids with snacks (Cheddar Bunnies, cheese sticks, raisins, etc). Since I've been nursing him, I wasn't even brining a drink (after all, he's got me on tap). Well, Jack does love to eat and it became a problem for him to see the other kids having food and him not… so I did start bringing snacks with us. We still probably don't do it as often as -some- people (who seem to be eating everywhere!) but it's a little much for my tastes.

    I think we keep a pretty healthy kitchen, and if he has a little junk food when we go out, I'm ok with that. What I really want to teach Jack is not “no snacking” but to follow his stomach. As in, only eat when you are hungry, and stop eating once you're full. Then again, how can I teach him that when I haven't figured it out myself?!?

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  • bernadettenoll

    Ah! You wrote that! My husband and I were just talking about this issue when we found your story. It reiterated our feeling that the snacking was going overboard. Even a simple couple hour outing ended up needing prep as if we were going on some overnight excursion. Partly it was us not wanting to get caught with a van full of low blood sugared kids. We're changing though and plan to just have nuts with us all the time – maybe a piece of fruit to share. But not the all out giant feast we usually have. At home, the banana is our go-to all the time snack. When someone says, “I'm hungry” (usually served with a little whine) we offer a banana. Don't want it? Well, you must not be hungry after all. Just this morning my 3 year old woke at 5:45 am. 30 minutes too early for me. “I'm hungry.” he said. “No it's sleep time” says I. “My body tells me it's hungry!” How do you argue with that as a parent? So I got up. Offered the banana and he was already off playing. Blasted! Again I say thanks for the food for thought.

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  • Sara Amis

    My son has always eaten whenever he wished, unless he wished to have a snack right before a regular meal. I was raised with at-will access to the food (and even if I hadn't been, I was the kind of kid who knew where the blackberries were growing). I don't think children will eat out of boredom or for comfort unless they are attention-deprived or extremely stressed.

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  • a_phoenix

    I'm a pastry chef, or, at least, have been. My kids eat sugar. They also get fizzy water w/ juice pretty regularly and are total fruit hounds. I try not to let any of that bother me, because I believe pretty adamantly that the best thing I can do for them food-wise is to keep them from obsessing over it (including what's right, what's wrong, and when they can or should have it) and that the best way to do that is to not obsess over it myself. They get snacks if they ask for them at home, and we bring snacks when we're adventuring out of the house for more than an hour or two. I get spooked, a bit, by the childhood obesity mania, because both my boys are quite big, though the elder is thinning out as he moves toward preschool age. Nonetheless, I think avoiding obsession (and eating good, real food) is the best path.

    What I do try (and sometimes fail) to avoid is actively offering snacks if I think they're bored or want to keep them occupied (e.g. stop whining; have some raisins) or want to cheer them up. There's a slippery slope there. It may just begin with the great bakery that's around the corner from the pediatrician's office and the mom who really wants a treat after enduring well-child visits.

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  • megan

    Living in the desert, our kids rarely drink enough water. So we offer water to the kids whenever they claim to be hungry. It seems to work pretty well.
    For our older son we keep a slide out basket “drawer” in the pantry stocked with snacks he's allowed to have. He's limited to one “fruit snack” ie. gummies in the morning and one in the afternoon. He has to ask first but unless we're within a half hour of dinner he's told yes. In that basket are the above mentioned fruit snacks as well as 100 cal packs of cookies, chips, etc. We also portion out nuts and other items in single serving ziploc snack bags. That way he doesn't distractedly eat more than he really needs.

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  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    That hunger/thirst thing is a great trick! I use it myself; it's often the case that what we mistake for hunger is really thirst. So many of us don't drink enough water.

    That's clever, to keep a box of pre-portioned snacks within kid reach for him to self-serve the right amount. Maybe when I grow up I'll be that organized – I love the idea.

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  • se1959

    I really struggle with this. Ten years ago when my daughter was a petite toddler and I was homeschooling my 4 boys I was pretty relaxed about this and would have said, if they say they're hungry feed them. As for cookies and stuff like that, don't buy them, kids can't steal packaged cookies if they aren't in the house:) Now, I would say it depends on the kid. My 13 year old has neurological issues and developmental delays and I am beginning to realize that I don't think she can tell when she is hungry or when she is full:(
    In general I would agree with Sara posted and would say that snacking on healthy food is fine except when it is clearly being used as a delay tactic for avoiding tasks or bedtime:)

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  • amy

    I have a seven year old who really needs to eat every hour and a half or so. We keep a snack drawer low within her reach and she has full access to it. She is a serious grazer. Even with all of the grazing she eats good amounts of food during meal times. She also drinks water all day long. Probably at least a gallon a day. She doesn't drink milk (allergy) or juices of any kind. She likes water. She also gravitates toward salty snacks so I have to be sure to encourage fruit.

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  • http://www.thecuppajo.blogspot.com/ Joline

    So recently I was given a water cooler from a friend who wasn't using it. I dropped coin and decided to invest in water delivery once a month, as the water in our town is crapola. Now, when then kids whine about being hungry, I tell 'em to get a glass and fill up.

    I also leave a bowl of fruit out at all times. If they want to munch, they can have water, and an apple, pear, cutie – whatever. I am the most boring house to visit . . . all the kids say so.

    I do bake. At times. But there again, I hide veggies and flax seed in everything. I also make my own popsicles full of what could be deemed as “non-fun”, but I told my kids I can't afford the endless bags of snacks. Just can't.

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  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    I'm a huge fan of hiding veggies in baked goods. There are some good sneaky green recipes over here: http://childwild.com/2009/03/06/eatin-your-greens/

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  • http://fastforwardacademy.com/index-page-irs-enrolled-agent-exam-course.htm Ricca

    This is a good article and thank you for sharing your insights about healthy eating habits. Family meals are the main thing in our home too.

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  • Chaucer

    My boss's kids (I'm the housekeeper—-three hours in afternoon, five days per week) and while she is in the hospital I've been keeping an eye on her kids. They constantly sneak candy, they cannot even sit at the dinner table for a meal, one wants one thing, the other another. Never vegetables–potatoes cooked only a certain way and popcorn chicken. But they hardly ever eat dinner because they eat so much junk from right after school until dinner time, then are not hungry. I tell them not to but they sneak it when I'm not looking—-evidence crumbs all over the house and I just cleaned.

    And they did that when my boss was home too–she just didn't want to see it.

    I personally think their behavior is hurting their health. I also personally think they are spoiled American brats.

    I used to love children——–but now I want nothing to do with them.

    I raised a boy, he is now 14 and he eats healthy breakfast lunch and dinner and may have a snack or to. Deserts are limited to a few times per week. He has never behaved the way these kids have behaved towards food and is very grateful for what is put in front of him.

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  • http://fastforwardacademy.com/ enrolled agent exams

    This is a good article and thank you for sharing your insights about healthy eating habits. Family meals are the main thing in our home too.

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  • Chaucer

    My boss's kids (I'm the housekeeper—-three hours in afternoon, five days per week) and while she is in the hospital I've been keeping an eye on her kids. They constantly sneak candy, they cannot even sit at the dinner table for a meal, one wants one thing, the other another. Never vegetables–potatoes cooked only a certain way and popcorn chicken. But they hardly ever eat dinner because they eat so much junk from right after school until dinner time, then are not hungry. I tell them not to but they sneak it when I'm not looking—-evidence crumbs all over the house and I just cleaned.

    And they did that when my boss was home too–she just didn't want to see it.

    I personally think their behavior is hurting their health. I also personally think they are spoiled American brats.

    I used to love children——–but now I want nothing to do with them.

    I raised a boy, he is now 14 and he eats healthy breakfast lunch and dinner and may have a snack or to. Deserts are limited to a few times per week. He has never behaved the way these kids have behaved towards food and is very grateful for what is put in front of him.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ADWNPV5SJP6VXTNJSTC7QEPLQY Kristine Serna

    It is really true that kid loves to eat most of the time. I am always looking forward to prepare something delicious and healthy kids snacks for my children. I am conscious of what I am preparing for my kids, healthy eating habit is what I am leading them to.

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