I own approximately three-thousand plastic kid-size snacks bowls in a variety of colors and sizes. There have been large schools of Goldfish crackers living under my sons’ carseats, and I used to empty out the contents of my purse and shake it free of pretzel and graham cracker debris almost weekly. I am familiar with the fervor and frequency with which little kids eat snacks.
We dietitians like to say that snacks should “fill in the gaps” left from mealtime (like if your child skipped fruit at breakfast, give him an apple mid-morning). But we moms use snacks as much more than gap-fillers. We use them to bribe (“if you get in the car, you can have your string cheese”) and to occupy (“here, eat these Craisins while Mommy looks at carpet samples”). And as anyone who has suffered through a raging meltdown from an over-hungry child at library story hour knows, a well-timed baggie of Triscuits can help us avoid public humiliation as well.
But lately, I’ve been feeling serious snack fatigue. I recently saw a mom at the playground pushing her child from the front of a bucket swing. Every time the child swung toward her, she popped a bite of food into his mouth. What are we doing? I thought. If, as study researchers recently pointed out, our kids are moving toward “continuous eating”, how will they ever know what it feels like to have a growling stomach?
So I’ve started living dangerously: I’ve been letting my kids go hungry. Just a little bit. Instead of always leaving the house with an arsenal of snacks, I’ve been trying to keep just one ziptop bag of raisins on me. I figure that if my kids are truly hungry, they’ll eat them. And at home, I try and wait for them to ask for a snack before offering one–and say “no, not right now” sometimes too.
I’m happy to report that neither Henry nor Sam has dropped dead of hunger at tumbling class or fainted on the walk home from school. And they’re eating more at dinnertime. Needless to say, my car and my purse are much cleaner too.