Snacking at School, Part 2

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Last week, I published here an article that I wrote for this month’s Washington Parent magazine, about young kids and snacking, and the round-the-clock eating pattern that so many have adopted. Now that school and all related activities are back in session, organized, planned, eat-this-whether-you’re-hungry-or-not snacking is making its way back into my kids’ daily routine. (Never mind that they got along fine throughout the summer by eating only at mealtime!)

Is snacking throughout the day, along with or instead of the standard breakfast-lunch-dinner meal pattern, the new norm for children?

There is certainly evidence, both statistical and anecdotal, to suggest that it is. I have written here in prior weeks about the fascinating research conducted by Barry Popkin, PhD, at the University of North Carolina, about the dramatic rise in the last 15 or so years in the percentage of kids who snack every day.

At both of my kids’ schools, mid-morning and late-afternoon snacks are an accepted and expected part of the daily routine for all of the children, who range in age from 3 or younger at Daniel’s pre-school, up to sixth grade at Willie’s elementary school. Every day without fail, they are presented with a “child-friendly” snack, usually crackers or Goldfish or Teddy Grahams, string cheese or a popsicle if it’s a big occasion, within about an hour and a half on either side of lunchtime. Is it any wonder that the moms grumble that the kids don’t eat or finish their lunch?

What concerns me about this is not that this new eating style exists, and seems to work, for some children and their families. It’s the fact that parents like me who prefer that their kids do limit their eating to “mealtimes” as much as possible, are forced to contend with such a barrage of snack offerings that it’s almost impossible to keep our kids we could just throw in the towel and When did this line of thinking become so outside of the mainstream?

I am also concerned that leaders of schools, sports organizations, Sunday school classes, playgroups and other places where children gather are serving up these snacks with such frequency, for all the wrong reasons. I detail much of this in my book, “My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything.”

There is no positive nutritional argument to be made for dishing out pre-packaged, processed food products, especially when they take the place of better foods that may be served at mealtime. Yes, little kids with little stomachs need to eat more frequently than do older kids, but that is obviously not what is driving this snacking obsession, or the practice would be phased out by the elementary years.

“Maybe it’s something for the kids to look forward to during the day?” one mother that I discussed this with suggested. But I bet I’m not the only parent who hopes that if my kids are looking forward to eating, it’s not shelf-stable crackers or applesauce that they are craving!

No, I think the real reason that that every group or organization associated with kids continues this “We. Must. Feed. Them.” practice is simply because it has become a habit. A habit that most likely started out with far less prevalence and impact, but one that has expanded over time to the point that it has become a part of any activity where two or more children gather. It’s cheap, it’s easy, the kids like it and it provides a few mindless moments of down time. And if the result is that the child doesn’t eat his lunch or dinner, well, that’s something that the parents can deal with at home.

Let me know what you think about kids and snacking at school, particularly if you have older ones. I know I’m not the only parent around who thinks it’s time for us to start questioning this practice, rethinking this “habit”

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