A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the phenomenal rate of increase in snacking opportunities that seem to be hitting our kids at every turn. From their earliest days in daycare, to nursery school, preschool and beyond, food is being made available to them all throughout their day.

Some say that this may not be such a problem, because six small meals a day, rather than the standard breakfast, lunch and dinner three, is a better option anyway. While I can see that this may be true for adults who are trying to lose weight, and who have a developed self-discipline when it comes to eating, I strongly disagree that a constant eating-throughout-the-day pattern is best for young children. Kids need a predictable routine and a chance to self-regulate their eating. If food options are always available to them, they have no chance to learn to do this. My kids have finished more than one meal based on the simple reminder that “that’s all we have until lunch (or dinner!)”

So what’s a parent of young kids to do about this eating when they are in group settings, away from your immediate control?

Here are some things I’ve tried (with varying degrees of success) to limit the amount of snacking my toddler is exposed to, without making him the lone wolf who is left out of an activity, or making me seem like the over-anxious, crazy parent.

Start by asking those in charge exactly how often and how much snacking is going on during your child’s day, and if there is a set policy on this issue. At daycares and preschools in some areas, it is mandated that the kids eat something every few hours. In other places, especially in programs involving older children, it may be just a matter of school policy and the assumption that parents want their kids eating throughout the day that drives the number of snack times. In cases like this, it is particularly helpful when parents opposed to the frequent eating speak up.

If you are friendly with any of the other parents, try mentioning your concerns to them and see if you can find a kindred spirit or two. (Don’t be surprised, however, if you are met with blank stares from other parents when you voice your concerns about snacking!) In any case, it’s worth a mention to the lead teacher or director that you are concerned that your child is not eating his meals because of the snacks that he is being served. If they insist they he needs to eat, ask them to reduce the amount of the snack being served. Can they serve the kids milk or water, rather than juice?

And although this may be a hassle, try bringing in the foods to be given to your toddler during snack time, so at least you have some control over what she is being fed. Most provided snacks in daycare and preschool are packaged processed foods, the kind that can be bought in bulk and stored for an indefinite period of time. This translates to snacks that are high in calories, carbohydrates and probably sugar, but low in nutrients, fiber and any semblance of flavor. Blocks of a favorite cheese, whole wheat crackers, carrot sticks and cut up fruit pieces are much better nutritionally and tastewise.

And remember, too, that when you have your children in your care all day – like on the weekends, or during holidays and school breaks – you do NOT need to follow the school snacking routine. In fact, if you want evidence that your kids have outgrown the daily morning and afternoon snack routine, just omit a snack from their schedule on a day that you are in charge, keep them busy with something else, and watch how they will eat what you want them to during mealtime.


One Response to “”

  1. Antonia Malchik Says:

    I’ve been watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution the past couple weeks, and it made me think of an odd twist to the whole snacking thing. In high school I used to sneak Saltines down at about 10 or 10:30 during study hall because I was absolutely starving and had to eat *something* before lunch in another two hours.

    So where along the lines did we decide that it’s necessary for little kids to eat every couple hours — which my son certainly doesn’t, unless he’s at day care — but teenagers, who probably could do with a bit of blood sugar boost a couple times during the day, aren’t allowed?

    Since we started including our 2-year-old in dinner time, I have definitely noticed that he is more likely to eat happily if I haven’t fed him recently. It’s a solid 6 hours between lunch and dinner, so I try to give him some cheese after his nap, but if he hasn’t eaten it by 3:30 or 4 he has to wait until dinner. Otherwise, he won’t eat much, even if it’s something he likes.

    I’ve given up on the whole day care snacking thing. I seem to be the only parent in town who’s concerned with my kid eating ‘real’ food, and as his morning snack there doesn’t seem to interfere with his eating lunch it’s not such a big issue. I am considering sending him with rice crackers or Taro chips (vegetable chips) so he can snack on something slightly less pointless than goldfish or pretzels when he’s there.

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