Snacks have become a national obsession, pervading every social event that involves children. It's time to say, "Enough is enough."
There’s an ongoing drama at the playgroup I attend on Tuesday mornings with my preschooler and infant. It’s a wonderful group, a much-needed social outing for mothers like myself who either work from home or stay at home full-time with their kids. We drink coffee and talk while our kids race around the church gym, play with toys, or do a craft. After an hour of intense play, snack time is announced – and that’s where the problem begins.
Each week, two parents provide snack for the entire group, which can range from 20 to 40 little kids. Parents are asked to sign up for two or three snacks throughout the school year; in return, they are welcome to attend the free playgroup as often as they wish.The problem, however, is that many parents are not signing up, which means that the responsibility falls unevenly onto the shoulders of other parents. Understandably, this has created resentment, and I don’t blame the organizers and parents for feeling frustrated.
I do my snack duty, but, at the same time, I understand the other parents’ reluctance to sign up for what is – let’s be honest here – a rather ridiculous tradition that stubbornly persists in North America, this obsession with snacks.
All child-related activities, whether it’s playgroup, school, soccer practice, or playdates, seem to prioritize this question of, “What will the kids eat?”
There are entire snack committees, sign-up sheets, online calendars with descriptions of each day’s planned snack, requests for volunteers to bring food and prepare it, etc. dedicated to answering this question and ensuring that the children never go without. (Rather ironic in a country where the child obesity rate has doubled in the past 30 years.)
The assumption, however, that all children need to eat steadily throughout the day in order to function optimally is, I think, flawed. Some kids do, if they have diabetes or other medical conditions, but certainly not all, especially because we’re talking about fairly short periods of time. We’re at playgroup for two hours; nursery school is two and a half hours; and my older son’s kindergarten day is six hours, during which he has two snacks and a lunch.
To make matters worse, many snack foods are not particularly wholesome or nutritious. They are the ‘fun’ snack foods, the packaged treats that kids will eat and that appeal to adults because they’re easy to dole out quickly, with minimal mess. As a parent who takes great care to feed my children well, I don’t appreciate when they come home stuffed with Bear Paws, Goldfish, Fruit Roll-Ups, and other strange branded foods that I wouldn’t even recognize. And then parents wonder why their children don’t eat well at mealtime!
Snacks serve an important purpose when children are truly hungry, but we need to let them get to that point, when they actually ask for it and want it. Believe me, your kid will let you know; they do that from the moment they’re born. Otherwise, we are simply “teaching our kids the habit of constantly eating even when they’re not hungry… and eating when we’re not hungry is a huge problem in this country,” according to pediatrician Daniel H. Feldman in this Washington Post article, titled "No, your kid may not have a snack."
If I could redesign the snack program at playgroup, I would do one thing: eliminate it completely. Leave it up to individual parents to bring their own kids’ snacks, if they want, and let the rest of them just keep on playing. Don’t interrupt them to eat when, in fact, they’re burning off energy and working up an appetite to enjoy a hearty lunch. Don’t believe me? Give it a try. I bet you’ll be surprised.