I hate snacks!
Written by Christa O’Brien
As if being a working parent weren’t hard enough, these days I have to battle for control of my kids stomach with all the other people they come in contact during the day. As a full time working parent I am out of the house for almost 11 hours a day. I try to cram in a day’s worth of love and parenting in the hour I get with them each morning and the two hours I get when I get home.
I have always insisted to our babysitter that I will handle dinner. I have fond memories of sitting down to a candlelit family dinner every night with my parents, and I want my kids to have the same experience. But dinner times are often anything but idyllic. I work all day, come home and race to prepare a healthy dinner I think my babies will actually eat, and then the show starts. My kids sometimes will cry and scream, throw food, run away from the table, the works. My three year old will sometimes only eat when we spoon-feed him. My one year old, who used to be the best eater in the world, only wants to feed himself. Plus, he has turned out to be a very picky eater, definitely preferring some foods to others. I really would like for dinnertime to be a time when we eat (and feed ourselves) and discuss our day and generally relax and start our evening. You might think our struggle has more to do with my kids’ ages, but I think it’s something else. My kids LOVE snacks.
Remember when you were little your parent would tell you ‘don’t snack; you’ll spoil your dinner’ because the conventional diet wisdom of the time was no snacking between meals? My how that has changed. In the last 20 years all day noshing has become socially acceptable. It makes perfect sense! Take away the shame of eating at odd hours and send out the message that you should eat if you are hungry. This way food companies can sell you more food! It is great for business. And about the advice to eat several small meals a day rather than 3 larger meals? Well I think more of us have actually added small meals to our diets rather than consuming a few smaller meals. Worse, we are eating a whole host of new foods–like “low fat” foods–that supposedly allow us to keep eating the AMOUNT we are accustomed to without gaining weight. Do you think that has worked?
And then you become a parent and snacking becomes even more complicated. Today I buy a whole host of foods that I never ate daily as a child, like crackers and pretzels. I mean, can you tell me what meal crackers belong to? And don’t tell me that you crust your fish with cracker crumbs, because we all know that the vast majority of crackers are eaten whole…as a snack. Every parent I know (myself included) keeps a couple different kinds of crackers around, perhaps some pretzels too. Cheerios are no longer a cereal you eat out of a bowl with milk, but are the contents of a bottomless snack-trap.
Here’s the thing. Snack time is fiercely defended by many who feel their children need to be continually fed. And it makes sense, you feed your baby a breast or bottle every 3 hours, you naturally get into the 3 meals and 2 snack routine throughout the day. But when did the small snack in between meals become and all day excuse to pick? When did we Americans become afraid to let the kids be hungry?
I hate snacks. I really do. I work hard to eat when I am hungry and to stop when I am full. And I eat full meals. That way I am less likely to eat between them. But I find that when it comes to my kids, snacks are pushed on them by everyone– from me, the babysitter, friends on the playground and his preschool teachers. It is no wonder that mealtimes are such a struggle! Their little tummies can only house so many pretzels and apple slices. By 6pm they are fooded out and baked butternut squash is the last thing they are interested in.
When did it begin? Have snacks always been part of a greater cycle? Child refuses dinner, caretaker slides him bits of food off to the side just to make sure he doesn’t starve, child gets full hours after the meal and just before the next one starts. At what point do calories from snacks become larger than calories from meals? I wish my kids could spit out a daily report that showed what they ate in a certain day and how much of their calories and nutrition came from a certain food.
Foods eaten on the run are invariably inferior to those home cooked, whether we speak of prepared foods, fast foods or even simple crackers. Even the least nefarious snacks like whole wheat pretzels, raisins or apple juice, just don’t have that much nutrition per calorie. So why are we filling up our kids with so much junk?
Foods eaten on the run are invariably inferior to those home cooked
I think it is because we really don’t understand the breadth of the problem. Recently ABC news reported on a research project conducted by the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD. They studied data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that found nearly 40% of calories consumed by children ages 2 to 18 came from junky foods like soda, sugary fruit drinks, floury desserts like cake, cookies and doughnuts, ice cream, pizza and whole milk. Now I will take offense to the whole milk part which is a great source of protein, vitamins that need to be consumed with fat in order to be absorbed and a whole host of other bits of complex nutrition. But you’ve already heard me talk about that. But the other items? Did they say 40% of calories? And what are those items? They are largely snack foods, my friends.
Somewhere along the line the word “junk” got dropped from the phrase “junk food”. It may not be you, but someone is clearly feeding their kids this lousy stuff. I have said it before, but I am in favor of mandatory nutrition education in schools that goes beyond ‘eat 4 servings of this and 9 servings of that.’ I think we deserve to know what happens to our bodies (and blood sugar and liver) when 15 spoonfuls of sugar are ingested at one time. We need to know what protein is and why it is important for our health. I think we need to be taught about how big of a problem snacking has become.
The only problem with that is the government would have to take a long hard look at it’s food pyramid. *Sigh* Someday…Someday.
Christa O’Brien lives in New York City with her husband and her two very energentic little boys. She believes in real traditional foods, living without modern processed foods and cooking with kids. In addition to working full time she blogs about cooking and eating real food at The Table of Promise: One Family’s Search for a Better Meal.