Two years ago, I had a “light bulb moment” about snacking when I saw a mom and her child on the playground one day (read: “Snacking Insanity“).
Since that moment, I’ve become much more aware of the snacks my kids are getting–and what I see isn’t good. It’s a problem, and not just in my house. When I started researching the idea of “oversnacked” kids for Parents magazine last year, I was struck by what I was learning: Kids are eating more snacks than ever before, mostly processed foods high in sugar, fat, salt, and refined flour. And it’s hurting their health.
The Snack Epidemic
My piece for Parents appeared last month and here’s a look:
Obesity experts now believe that the frequency of eating, not just bigger portion sizes, is also to blame for the uptick in calorie intake for kids and grown-ups alike. “Our children are being offered food at every turn,” says Yoni Freedhoff, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa. And adding just one extra snack each day can make a big impact. In fact, it’s possible that childhood obesity is driven by as little as 165 extra calories a day for kids ages 2 to 7, say researchers at both Harvard and Columbia universities. That’s roughly the amount in a handful of potato chips. [You can read the entire article here.]
I was also interviewed about the story for a Q&A that appears on Parents.com, where I freely admit that I was guilty of over-snacking my kids too:
When you have a toddler out in public, the first time you don’t have a snack and your child has a meltdown because they’re too hungry, that really scars you — so you think you have to carry something around at all times to avoid it. But then it’s really easy for that to get out of hand. When you have a million containers and baggies of food for a one-hour outing to the playground you have to think, “Is this necessary?” [You can read the Q&A here.]
And snacking’s not just a problem at home. Snacks are ubiquitous in our children’s lives, seemingly everywhere: At preschool. At camp. At school. At church. At sports. That’s why I’m happy about the USDA’s “Smart Snacks in School” proposal that would require all food sold in schools outside of breakfast and lunch (such as food in vending machines and snack bars) to meet certain nutritional standards. These include limits on calories and sugar and an emphasis on whole grains and nutrients like calcium and potassium. It’s not perfect (I predict a lot of baked chips and fortified cereal bars) but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
If you want to change the snack culture for all kids (including yours!) here are 3 steps you can take right now:
Give your support to the USDA’s “Smart Snacks in Schools” proposal
Do so by leaving your comment here (click on the blue “Comment Now” button). But do it quickly: The comment period ends next Tuesday, April 9th.
Find out what kinds of snacks your child is getting outside the home
Cover all bases, such as at school, church, scouts meetings, and sports games. Talk to the person in charge to find out if you can improve the snacks or eliminate them altogether.
Consider how your child snacks at home
Lately, I’ve been working with my serial-snacker preschooler on stretching the time between meals and snacks. We drew a clock together and talked about when we eat during the day. We also made a “closed” sign for the kitchen. I want my kids to know what hunger and fullness feel like–that’s a tool they’ll need their entire lives.