If you have kids, you may have noticed that the idea of the "afternoon snack" has become quite quaint; kids are snacking round-the-clock these days, and teachers, coaches, and caregivers are often the ones enabling the behavior.
My daughter is not even two years old yet, and we've already run into this phenomenon; where she only gets one afternoon snack at home, she's always offered a morning snack at the drop-in daycare, at playgroup, and at other people's houses. And the snack is almost always crackers, in some shape or form.
In the 1970s, kid typically ate one snack per day. Now, studies show that kids are eating at least three snacks a day—and some many more than that. Many parents work hard to serve healthy foods at mealtimes, but reach for convenience foods, which are often high in sugar, salt, and fat, when it's snack time.
And parents aren't the only ones handing out snacks. Most parents don't see anything wrong with the occasional birthday cupcake or soda at a soccer game—and they're right; occasional treats can go a long way to teaching kids about balance. The problem is that the treats are becoming less and less occasional and more and more routine.
For example, treats and snacks after sports games are commonplace in the pee-wee leagues, but according to research from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis, while an 8-year-old burns around 150 calories during a soccer game, the typical post-game snack can be 300–500 calories or more.
Fortunately, it's not hard for a parent to fight the rise of the snacks:
- Take a good look at how often you're offering snacks at home. Toddlers and preschoolers can go 2–3 hours between meals, and older kids can go even longer. Are your kids snacking because they're hungry, or because they're accustomed to it?
- Nix the noshing on the go. Make eating in the car or stroller a no-no.
- Make sure the snacks you're serving are as healthy as the foods you serve at mealtime.
- Bring healthy snacks like fruits and veggies whenever it's your turn to share for school and sports events.
- If you don't think the event is worthy of a snack, say so! Most parents won't be disappointed to cross one more thing off their to-do list.
- Find out if your school has a wellness policy—all schools that receive federal funding for school lunch must—and make sure classes are sticking to it.
- Speak up! If you're concerned with a class that's using candy to reward behavior or some other negative snack situation, the only way to change it is to speak up. Sally Kuzemchak, R.D., offered a templated letter in a recent issue of Parents magazine to make starting the conversation a little easier.