Do We Let Our Kids Have Too Many Snacks?

My kids would snack or graze until they dropped, whether its savory or sweet, healthy or downright bad for you (all in moderation of course). Christmas is particularly bad it seems because the snacks seem to be dominated by small repositories of holiday chocolate or candy they've squirreled away from various doting relatives.

So it's interesting to read Jennifer Steinhauer's piece in the NYT on the cult of kiddie snacking, particularly this quote:

"Between 1977 and 2002, the percent of the American population eating
three or more snacks a day increased to 42 percent from 11 percent,
according to a large study of American nutritional habits conducted by
the Agriculture Department with the Department of Health and Human
Services.

Further, researchers found, the percent of children
surveyed who said they had eaten three meals on the previous day went
down, while those who had had a snack went up more than 40 percent.

My kids still manage to eat their meals (most of the time) but I can't argue against the fact that the times when they haven't had a snack they eat with more gusto.

So are our kids snacking too much? Or are we simply given them mini-top ups to fuel their busy little metabolisms?

What do you with Gastrokids think?

- Matthew

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10 Responses to Do We Let Our Kids Have Too Many Snacks?

  1. I once heard a quote that said that kids eat 20% less at their meals (which tend to be on the healthy side) when they’re grazing or snacking (which tend to be on the less healthy side). I definitely feel like my kids “need” snacks a lot more than I did when I was a kid. I don’t remember ever eating in my car, for instance, and I feel like my kids never go anywhere in the car (although are car trips are few and always long rides) without food!

  2. I think snacking is overly encouraged, but at the same time I think our understanding of how we eat has changed. I mean, we may have grown up eating 3 meals a day, but that may not have been the most healthy way for children to go. On the other hand, my kids have become a bit too dependent on a snack (which is often a fairly healthy one) in the car, so I’ll sometimes “forget” to bring it, unless I know we’ll be out for a while. I’m big on healthy snacks. By the way, my 5-year old’s afternoon snack of choice is a sliced apple, about half ounce of Stilton cheese, and a glass of water; he just loves it.

  3. When my kids were toddlers, I allowed them to graze all day long, but as they’ve entered elementary school, we’ve needed to switch them to a much more regulated feed schedule (heh)
    I always have things like hard boiled eggs and apples on hand to keep them going in the afternoons before dinner, but we eat relatively early, and I find that too much snacking means I’m the only one eating dinner.

  4. tim says:

    the answer is yes, we give them too many snacks per day, it’s so bad for their teeth and health

  5. I think part of the problem with snacking in America can be attributed to the prevailing culture (or lack thereof) around the table. In today’s hectic society, it’s often hard to find time to sit around the table as a family for any length of time and instead, a sandwich on the way to soccer or swim practice may be dinner on some nights.
    I’ve spent the last few years cooking with immigrant families and have found that many of them cherish their traditional rituals around the table and make the time to sit down together, even when work schedules make this challenging. Snacking doesn’t seem to be the norm in many of these families, rather, there is a focus on the big meal at the end of the day, an unspoken agreement that eating is done at the table when the family is together.
    Lynne Christy Anderson
    Author, “Breaking Bread: Recipes and Stories from Immigrant Kitchens”

  6. I definitely think that the snack culture has gotten out of control. And ultimately, we’re creating a generation of children who will lack self-control. I mean, come on, kids can get through an hour and a half class without a snack.
    I also have personally hate the group snacks because they put a lot of pressure on the adults and expose the gaps between food tastes and literacy – I wrote a full blog post on this subject in response to the Times’ article http://littlelocavores.blogspot.com/2010/01/little-something-to-snack-on.html
    Melissa Graham
    President/Founder
    Purple Asparagus

  7. Growing up in France, we did not have any snacks. We had three meals a day (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and le gouter (around 4pm). Most gouters were just bread and a small piece of chocolate/Nutella or a few cookies. In pre-schools, children have now fresh fruits for a morning snack that is steadily being eliminated because of obesity reasons.
    Coming to the US, it’s a challenge to get my children out in the park and not give them snacks. They are surrounded by children whose parents are feeding snacks (healthy or not) at any time of the day. And then, they complain that their children are picky eaters…
    I don’t condemn snacks (well, as long as they are healthy) but you have to learn how to “manage” them. It’s OK to be hungry for dinner!

  8. Jamie says:

    I think that its important to train kids to eat healthy when they are young. My mom let me eat too many sweets (because I used to bug her on end) and I still can’t kick the craving for sugar. Some of my friends were given fruit when they wanted something sweet, and they are really good at moderating their sugar intake.

  9. Crumbs says:

    Since reading this, I’ve paid more attention to my 5 year olds eating pattern and realized he was eating all day! Now I’m consciously eliminating snacks and he’s just as happy.

  10. Jane McKay says:

    I’m not sure it’s a bad thing. It’s very much dependent on what you give them. I question whether it’s normal to gorge on 3 larger meals a day (are we all just following convention?), when what our children need is sufficient fuel to get them through the day. In an ideal world i think little and often of the right foods would be a healthier approach. In reality, a good breakfast including slow release ingredients such as oats, a morning fruit snack, lunch the main meal of the day, high tea of savoury seeded muffins and a light dinner such as a boiled egg and toast soldiers. This doesn’t in any way stop families sitting around the dinner table and making food a communal affair to be enjoyed.

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