We're raising a generation of snackers - and that needs to stop

kids having snack time
CC BY 2.0 camknows

The parental obsession with snacking does more damage than good. Rather than providing necessary extra nutrients, snacks have become the reason for many kids' inability to enjoy full meals.

Last week I watched a mother in the park chase after her toddler with a juice carton in one hand and a box of goldfish in the other.

“Here, have a bite. Just a sip. Aren’t you hungry? Want something to eat?”

The mother chased and cajoled, continually shoving the snacks in her toddler’s face until the child relented, took an obligatory sip and handful of goldfish, then raced off to the slide.

It was apparent to me that the kid had no interest in snacking. After all, she was at the park and food was the last thing on her mind. I’ve seen this scenario play out many times and always wonder why everyone is so obsessed with feeding snacks to young kids. It’s as if parents think their kids will shrivel up and die unless they’re force-fed as many calories as possible.

There are a number of reasons why I think parents, teachers, and daycare providers should put an end to this obsessive snacking cycle, not least of all because kids’ eating habits are on a downward spiral, obesity is on the rise, and I constantly hear parents complain about how their kids won’t eat. Challenging ‘snack culture’ could go a long ways toward solving those problems.

Snacking prevents kids from eating decent meals.

Many parents offer snacks because their kids haven’t eaten well at mealtime, and they’re genuinely concerned that the little ones aren’t getting enough food. But what they don’t realize is that snacking reinforces a very unhealthy eating pattern. By snacking, kids are less inclined to eat at mealtime because they’re not actually hungry. By contrast, a truly hungry child will clean up a plate of real food in the blink of an eye. It will improve their behaviour at the table, too.

Most popular snack foods are crap.

Pre-packaged granola bars, fruit-and-syrup cups, puddings, store-bought muffins, Bear Paws, goldfish, juice, and all those other strange products that appear on children’s snack tables at daycare and school are not real food. Most are loaded with sugar, salt, and other additives, and don’t have any real nourishment for small kids.

Being hungry will not traumatize a child.

Brief periods of temporary hunger will not kill a child. In fact, they will teach the child to wait for full meals and take advantage of that food when it’s provided. Once a child starts eating meals properly, they won’t need snacks as often.

If a four-month-old baby can be trained to nurse on a four-hour cycle, which is what I did while following The Baby Whisperer method for my sons, why can’t a three- or five-year-old go four hours after filling up on oatmeal, yogurt or milk, fruit, toast and peanut butter? I know my kids certainly can – but the secret is ensuring they eat a solid breakfast.

Prepping and schlepping snacks is a pain in the butt for parents.

I’m amazed at the snacks that parents pull out – containers of perfectly chopped fruits, mini boxes of raisins, small portions of pretzels, Cheerios, and the ubiquitous goldfish, juice boxes and milk. It takes a lot of time and effort to always have a source of curated snacks on hand to satisfy small demands.

At the same time, there’s a recent statistic from Industry Canada, which states that only one in four Canadian households eats a single homemade meal per day. So if cooking homemade food is such a challenge, why are parents wasting precious time on organizing snacks? The amount of time it takes to assemble those snack foods for a trip to the park is about as long as it takes to prep a quick stir-fry.

There is a time and place for snacks – on a very occasional basis – but snacks do not need to be an integral part of every small kid’s day. Cut out the snack, and just see if your kid’s meal habits don’t improve dramatically. I bet they will.

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