Snack Attacks

by Sally on September 7, 2011

Besides being full of potassium, bananas also make excellent pretend guns.

I know I said I would shut up about snacks for a while.

I also know that I’m developing somewhat of a reputation around town for being That Mom Who Won’t Shut Up About Snacks. But like any monomaniacal  impassioned mother worth her weight in playground rants, I’ll keep talking about this as long as somebody’s listening.

Not that everyone agrees with me, of course.

In a fabulously-titled post, “Snack Moms Gone Wild“, my friend Marta Segal (who pens the blog Advice From Marta) wrote about my crusade. And she offered an interesting counterpoint to my argument. Here’s an excerpt:

I love fruit and I agree that kids don’t really need Gatorade or pretzels after the approximately 15 minutes they spend actually engaging in exercise while playing a team sport. But I also think it’s generally a really bad idea to tell other people what to feed their kids.

For most of us, food is rarely just about food. Anyone who has nursed a heartache with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or brought a meal to a sick or grieving friend knows this. Anyone who has struggled with breast vs bottle, or trying to get their toddler to eat vegetables, or even lied to a friend about what their child does or does not eat knows this. Food is how we take care of ourselves, each other, and our kids.

When you tell a mother what to feed her kid, when you tell her that her choice of snack is not appropriate or healthful, you’re telling her that she doesn’t know how to take care of her kid.

Along these lines, my recommendation for a healthy snack policy was recently presented to the city’s baseball/t-ball league. Where it crashed and burned.

The board hated it. They hated it so much they didn’t even bother voting on it. Their sentiments echoed Marta’s–that nobody has the right to tell parents what to feed their kids.

But here’s the thing: Our kids–the ones washing down cupcakes with blue #2 fruit punch at 9am every Saturday–belong to the first generation in modern history not expected to live as long as their parents because of their weight. Because of the way we’re feeding them. Because our society has invented millions of artificial reasons to celebrate with “special” foods. Because we’ve programmed them to expect dessert every time they gather in a group or break into a slow jog.

Yes, parents have the right to make bad food choices for their own kids. But why are we so bent on protecting their rights to make bad food choices for everyone else’s kids too?

Marta writes, “I can’t do it. I can’t be the one to tell another mom that she isn’t capable of deciding what is and isn’t a good snack for her kid.”

I will. I’ll be that mom. Because marketers have tricked parents into thinking that juice pouches are better than water because they have vitamin C (they’re not) and that fruit snacks are the same thing as fruit (they’re not). Our kids deserve better.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Maryann September 8, 2011 at 10:45 am

Great post!

My daughter just started soccer and I was happy when the couch told everyone to bring healthy snacks. Her first game is this Saturday so we’ll see. Why can’t parents bring their own snacks for their kids? This is how it was for me when I grew up. That way everyone is responsible for their own child.

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Carrie Grome September 8, 2011 at 10:45 am

“Because we’ve programmed them to expect dessert every time they gather in a group or break into a slow jog.” Seriously – thank you for this mornings first (and probably only) lol moment.
Soccer season just started and the snack chaos is about begin. I actually just spoke with a good Mom friend who’s son is on our team & we have agreed together to be ‘Those Moms’. Although we are certainly not attempting to ‘educate’ or make others feel poorly about the food choices that they make for their families – we are not opposed to taking a stand and saying that children don’t need a treat for every ‘event’ and that Gogurt, Fruit Snacks & Sweetened Water are in fact treats.

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Marta September 8, 2011 at 10:59 am

First, thanks for the compliment about my title – I liked it too, even though I don’t really think you’ve gone “wild” about this.

I absolutely understand your point, and actually thought of another argument in your favor – allergies. It’s so complicated to find snack food not made in a facility with peanuts, so why not just bring fruit?

But, the obesity argument bothers me. Yes, nationally this generation is obese, but our kids, our middle class, soccer-playing kids? Not so much.

The obesity epidemic is just one more horrible cost of being poor. Yes marketing and individual food choices play a part in this, but it has less to do with individual food choices and more to do with societal problems (unsafe playgrounds, lack of available food, lack of time to prepare food, the cheapness of processed food, schedules and distances that don’t let kids walk to school, lack of equipment/space for exercise at school, lack of adult supervision to get kids moving at home, lack of healthful food choices AT school, presence of advertising and vending machines AT school, etc).

Focusing on whether middle class kids eat a slice of watermelon or a bag of Cheetos for a snack doesn’t do anything to fix the real problem, and may in fact distract from it.

At my kids’ school they have a PTO “wellness committee.” This committee is very big on issuing suggestions about snacks that parents can send for their kids. But they don’t talk at all about the fact that there’s no water fountain or other source of water in the lunch room. Or, that during bad weather kids spend recess watching movies in the auditorium because there’s no indoor space in which they can play (you know, because the weather is NEVER bad in Chicago, so no reason to plan for that). These are the REAL health problems the kids in our school face.

I’d love to be in your soccer league. I’d gladly bring fruit instead of the Goldfish crackers I usually bring. But I just don’t think we’ll solve the obesity problem one apple at a time.

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Sally September 8, 2011 at 7:54 pm

I’m certainly not trying to solve the obesity problem. And I understand that the obesity problem is a multi-factorial cluterf*#@ of inactivity, food desserts, lobbyists and corporations, farm subsidies, cultural shifts, genetics, possibly even an obesity virus, etc. etc. etc. But what I AM trying to do is encourage families in my community to develop healthier habits–and yes, I’m trying to protect my kid form developing bad habits too (like the Pavlovian expectation of a Capri Sun after any sports event).

A few points in response to your comment, Marta:

1. Thank you for reigniting this debate on my blog with your post. I’m really happy it has sparked this much interest here and on Facebook. The more we talk about this stuff, the more we can eventually come to an understanding that will hopefully, in one way or another, help kids.

2. Yes, many of the children in my community are middle class (not all–my son’s public school is 40 percent free and reduced lunch, so there are certainly children in the neighborhood who aren’t eating organic Greek yogurt for breakfast). This does not shield them from obesity. The stats show that obesity rates are rising across ALL socio-economic groups, races, and both genders. And yes, the poor are up against many obstacles to healthy living that the rest of us are not. But talk to any obesity expert, and they’ll agree that the ubiquity of low-nutrient, highly-processed/refined, high-sugar, high-fat food–literally EVERYWHERE, at every turn–is one underlying cause of obesity. A recent study found that children are eating almost 200 calories a day more than kids did in the 1970s and they’re getting almost 600 calories a day just from snacks.

3. My son’s school also has a wellness committee, which I serve on. Like all PTOs/PTAs, we’re volunteers who are trying to do positive things in the school in the little free time that we have. I hope that you’ve taken your (very valid) concerns about drinking fountains and outdoor play to your PTO’s committee, because I would want parents in our school to do the same. These may not be things that ever occurred to them–but, if changed, could make a big difference for students.

4. As some others have said in these comments, I do believe these small steps of changing habits, of changing expectations, can positively impact our kids. One parent on Henry’s t-ball team told me hat after our fruit-only t-ball season, her son started eating strawberries, something he’d never done before. To me, that’s huge. He discovered strawberries! And maybe, just maybe, he decided he liked fruit more than he thought he did, that he was actually okay with an apple instead of a donut. If we can change that thinking in our kids, little by little, they will hopefully grow up liking and eating healthier foods, which will lower their risk for not only obesity but also for chronic conditions that are costing millions of dollars and lives (heart disease, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, diabetes…)

Again Marta, thank you for presenting your point of view and bringing up a lot of interesting counterarguments. Let’s keep talking about this.

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Kat (Eating The Week) September 8, 2011 at 11:21 am

1 zillion percent support your point of view. People trained in the art of healthy eating, and schooled in the adverse effects of poor diet, have a duty to help the lemmings off the path over the cliff. Sometimes that happens in a public-policy drafting room, but more often that happens closer to home.

To your point, the food industry and our misaligned food system structure are *already* telling parents what to feed their kids; most parents just don’t realize it. The difference is that you’re telling parents what to feed their kids to help them live longer, healthier lives.

Stepping off my MPH soapbox, cute picture of your boys!

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Sally September 10, 2011 at 6:43 am

Kat, thanks for your comment. I love your line, “Sometimes that happens in a public-policy drafting room, but more often that happens closer to home.” :)

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Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen) September 8, 2011 at 11:30 am

Great post!

One of the reasons I’ve hesitated to enroll my child in sports is because of the snack issue. At the last t-ball game I attended, my spectator kid was offered sugary juice boxes and snacks from both teams. I refused and plied her with my homemade cookies.

I agree with Marta that there are very real communal aspects to food. But teaching our children to reward themselves with sweets every time they exercise is a value I would rather not instill.

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Sally September 10, 2011 at 6:46 am

Thanks Rachel. I really wish this snack issue wasn’t an issue at all–perhaps Shannon is right and we should focus on doing away with the snack altogether. Then there wouldn’t be anything to argue about!

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Wende September 8, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Bravo, Sally! I was going to highlight the same quote that Carrie did. Ha! Here’s a Snickers, you jogged this morning :)

Although large things affect change sometimes, I DO think that baby steps like an apple instead of Cheeto’s, can change the world. At least the world of one child at a time, which really does matter.

I think it’s hilarious that we’re letting corporations tell us what to feed our kids, but we won’t listen to another mom that we value and respect? For the other blogger to say that parents can’t be mature enough to have a conversation about what’s healthy, without offending one another? Rubbish. Let’s get over that and just agree that a handful of grapes is better than gummy fruit snacks.

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Sally September 10, 2011 at 6:47 am

Wende, I LOVE this: “I DO think that baby steps like an apple instead of Cheeto’s, can change the world. At least the world of one child at a time, which really does matter.”

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Carleen September 8, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Love this post! I honestly don’t see how requiring snacks to be healthy is telling a parent how to feed their child. It is simply a request that everyone be kept to the same standard. And our children deserve snacks that actually benefit them and support the healthy habit of staying active through sport. Stay strong and keep being “that mom”!

To Marta’s point that the obesity epidemic hits more low socioeconomic classes and “Focusing on whether middle class kids eat a slice of watermelon or a bag of Cheetos for a snack doesn’t do anything to fix the real problem, and may in fact distract from it.”
We can all make a difference wherever our circle of influence is. Our child’s sports team is within our reach, and every dollar spent towards unhealthy snacks continues to support the companies that produce these foods and the food industry that is set up to make them so cheap through subsidies. When we buy food, any food, it is a vote, a vote to show what kind of food we want available in our grocery stores. And sadly many who don’t have the money can not make the healthy vote but those of us who can should make it, and make it loud and clear. Big food companies and agricultural policy follow what the people want, and the easiest way to tell what that is and to get the point across is to hit them in the pocket books. Every dollar counts and effects those at the greatest risk of childhood obesity.

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Shannon Sheridan September 8, 2011 at 10:02 pm

This is an interesting topic, and I think both arguments are interesting. Your snack crusade along with my lack of interest in having to buy more crap for other people’s kids inspired me to ask my girls’ soccer coaches this season that parents at least not be required to supply drinks. My request seemed to be met with confusion, but I was not going to take no for an answer. If every child has a water bottle, it makes no sense that we have to bring juice boxes. The answer I got from both coaches was that juice could be optional since every girl does have a water bottle.

I personally think the whole snack mom thing needs to be done away with, but I’m not passionate enough to argue about it. I don’t need my kids eating rice krispy treats or cheez-its at 9 o’clock in the morning, but I recognize that it won’t affect them because that is not how they are regularly fed. I don’t want to dictate what snacks other moms bring; I want to tell them not to bring snacks. We are going home after games, and we can eat at our own discretion when we arrive there in five minutes. More importantly, I don’t want to have to run out to Target on Saturday morning before the game to buy Chips Ahoy or bananas or anything else for all these other kids and their siblings and cousins attending the game. You feed your kids however you want to, and I’ll feed mine how I want to. I think that kind of speaks to both sides of the argument, right?

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Sally September 10, 2011 at 6:21 am

Shannon, I totally agree that kids really don’t need a snack–cookies or fruit–after a 45-minute soccer game. I’d rather my kids simply drink from their water bottle and then come home to a good lunch.

I was griping about this to another mom in a neighboring community earlier this year, and she pointed out something I hadn’t thought of: that many families have multiple kids who have back-to-back-to-back games, so they may be at the soccer field for a couple of hours or more. When I said, “Why can’t they just bring their own snacks?” she said there were families on her sons’ teams who wouldn’t do that for their kids–or parents who simply dropped off their kids at the fields and came back in a few hours. To her, the team snacks were serving an important purpose for some kids.

I would love if we could just do away with the snack completely–and I applaud you pressing the coach about not doing drinks, which are totally unnecessary since everyone brings water–but fruit became my middle ground. I remembered the orange slices I ate on the soccer sidelines–they were such a welcome “treat” especially when the weather was hot. With the crazy prices of citrus these days, I didn’t want to suggest parents bring oranges so I settled on any fruit. I figured running in and grabbing a few bunches of bananas or a bag of apples was as easy as grabbing a case of individually-sized Goldfish.

You’re right–I would love to eliminate that last-minute dash into Target or the grocery store or anywhere ten minutes before the game, and I’m sure other parents would too. Perhaps in the spring, I’ll suggest a no-snacks-policy to my team and see what they think.

Thanks for your comment and for reading my blog!

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Dominic September 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I understand the concern for not wanting to have fat kids. But the purpose of a snack after a game is not to replenish calories or electrolytes or anything like that. The snack is a reward for playing a good game and trying hard to do their best. Rewards are suppose to be good things that the children get excited about. I don’t know of any kid that’s going to get excited about a bowl of hummus after a game. Parents should be able to bring whatever they want for snacks, healthy or unhealthy, without worrying about what another parents think.

Kids are fat due to the lack of exercise not just what they eat. Get them away from the t.v. and computer and the worry for obese children will decrease significantly

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Sally September 10, 2011 at 6:41 am

Dominic, thanks for your comment! I can definitely see your point about a reward for a job well done–perhaps your child actually take the game more seriously than mine does! :) Especially when my son was 5 and 6, he was just sort of lightly trotting around the field, sort of paying attention but sort of picking at the grass and looking at the sky. It seemed ludicrous to me that he should be given a 350-calorie snack when he hadn’t even broken out into a sweat (or in many games, even kicked the ball). You’re right that inactivity is a big part of the childhood obesity problem. And I agree that that parents should be able to bring what they want for snack–I just don’t want them to bring whatever they want for the entire team.

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Hannah Eigerman September 10, 2011 at 5:16 am

I’m definitely dumbing down the discourse, here, and ratcheting up the pop-psychological load. I came back from the store this evening– we’re snack-parents for tomorrow’s soccer game– with Juicy-juice and little packages of whole-wheat crackers-and-cheese, and, yes, I felt dirty. I had intended to slice up oranges, but I gave in to– what? Even as I wondered, my husband laughed at the crackers and said, “They’re not going to eat that; you might as well give them celery sticks!”

Clearly, it is understood that fun events require fun food, and it seems you’ll know it’s fun food because you’re not supposed to have it. Most kids don’t know that the Capri-Suns and the Sun-chips are bad for you, because the moms in their circle have given it to them and because the packaging alludes to actual food. A few kids do know that these snacks are unhealthy but they are also taught that there is a category of “sometimes foods” that they are allowed to eat on select occasions.

I know I don’t define these occasions clearly. Their number and type grow and grow. If something is fun– soccer! sleepover! movie!– or a special occasion– birthday! holiday! school-party!– or a job well done– doctor’s visit! haircut!– or slightly out of the ordinary– it’s hot (let’s get ice cream)! it’s cold (let’s make hot chocolate)!– then it merits fun, special, rewarding, extraordinary food. Many parents are strangely loath to let their kids have ordinary, possibly no-fun days– we almost superstitiously arrange for or interpret special occasions. It’s practically a corollary that we’re eager to give our kids crappy food.

Why must extraordinary food be junk? If we declare (in truth or just as policy) that our ordinary meals are nutritious, then the exceptions may be otherwise. The more drastically otherwise they are, the more we know we’re having fun. More drastically unhealthy foods become “sometimes” foods, and more regular time becomes “sometimes.” And I decided, as I tossed the is-this-really-cheese snack-crackers into my cart, that tomorrow’s game was a “sometime.”

Why am I, and so many parents, ready to cave? What is this discomfort with ordinary, unsweetened experience? In my case, I worry that I can’t give my daughter a fun morning (which means what? satisfaction? happiness?) without essentially buying it with a bribe. And, of course, that’s true: I can’t give her a fun morning. She’ll make of it what she will. I buy junky or unnecessary snacks as a talisman for all the things I want for her.

Trite? Yes. Neurotic? Sadly so. But all the parents are doing it! (Except the healthy, rational ones, and those who just truly, truly love ring dings and want to share.)

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Laura September 14, 2011 at 7:49 am

You did mention this, but more and more kids are allergic to strange things. I have a cousin allergic to a food dye. My daughter has a rare condition that she may only eat fruit and vegetables, in limited amount. I am very concerned about her feeling left out at these types of functions because she cannot medically eat these foods. Even the fruit I have to see how much she eats. And she cannot have all vegetables. There are many reasons people should not be feeding other people’s children. I cannot tell you how many times people give my 2 year old daughter food without asking me. I do not feel I should have to explain that she has a medical condition to everybody. I want her to be the normal kid that she is.

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Sally September 14, 2011 at 8:08 am

“There are many reasons people should not be feeding other people’s children”–that’s a really excellent point. Fruit seems safe, but there are kids who can’t have all kinds of fruit either (especially strawberries). Thanks for your comment!

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Kim Remeta September 15, 2011 at 3:36 pm

CHEERS to you, Sally; I am a registered dietitian, 100% supportive of holistic nutrition (vs SAD and the Food Guide Pyramid) and support you and your thoughts. Foodd is to NOURISH not to FILL. I strongly believe that the majority of the diseases and (new) diagnosis Americans ‘suffer’ from today are completely preventable. (many, if I can be so bold to say, are ‘invented’ so that an appropriate pharmaceutical can be prescribed to fix the symtoms while the root cause continues to fester untreated).
I do not have children, nor do I ever plan to, but I strongly believe that in general, many people have become lazy in their awareness of what they put into their bodies. Excuse after excuse instead of taking some extra time to read an ingredient list and question what is in the snack, meal or drink. It seems some people take more time and do more research to purchase a laptop than to purchase snacks for their family.
Yes, I may sound harsh and unkind, truely I am not. I am very passionate about nutrition and about empowering people to understand more about the power of REAL FOOD!

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Sally September 15, 2011 at 7:41 pm

This is hilarious: “It seems some people take more time and do more research to purchase a laptop than to purchase snacks for their family.”

Thanks so much for your comment!

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Amy September 15, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Right on Kim!! Love this discussion!!

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bernadette Hanson August 24, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Found you while searching for soccer snacks, as I am team mom this year (yuck). I agree with you wholeheartedly and wish snacks would just go away. I am going to try to broach the subject with my parents as I send out the emails. fingers crossed, they might be receptive, but I aint holding my breath, knowing the kinds of “snacks” I usually see.

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Sally August 24, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Good luck Bernadette! Please check out my Snacktivism Handbook (link on the blog’s home page) for an email you can use, FAQ, and a video. Please keep me posted!

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