Join me in Rethinking Institutionalized Snacking

by Lian on March 24, 2010

Can one cookie make a diffrence? Yes.

Can one cookie make a diffrence? Yes.

Chaos Crew, you know that I have been working on my anti-snack platform for quite a while.  I was inspired by Newsweek’s Magazines cover story on childhood obesity to formalize my view.  Today, in a new column at oprah.com, I launch my anti-snack platform as part of my support of the Let’s Move initiative, launched by Michelle Obama. I am just one mother. I know I can’t solve childhood obesity with one blog post. But I encourage you to read the oprah.com post and Facebook it, tweet it or send it along to your fellows moms, room reps, team moms, scout leaders, after-school program admins, coaches, youth sports league commissioners if you agree.

Let’s take a stand against Institutionalized Snacking. By that I mean the constant barrage of unhealthy food that our kids are exposed to during school, after- school programs, post- sports contests– basically every time kids leave the house and gather in groups larger than two! I think we need to support each other on this one. I know most parents would be grateful for the opportunity to cut out the sugar and calories laden treats in favor of healthier options. Mrs. Obama’s initiative to reduce childhood obesity is the perfect excuse. Simply going back in time– to the days before mandatory pizza after practice- would be a healthy step for all kids.

I am for well- balanced, well -timed snacks.  A good snack improves behavior, academic performance, and helps kids maintain a healthy weight. So I don’t think kids should be stripped of all snacking privileges. My sons could not make it through a school morning without  snack at 10:30 (and I was thrilled when the school opted for whole grain crackers and fruit few year ago instead of cookies.) My growing boys come home starved, eating a real meal at 3:00 and then again after practice at 7:00. And yes, they get treats and chips and candy on occasion. But I have some control over what they are eating and the choices they are making.  I can keep that well balanced diet in sight.  Nothing makes me cringe more than a goodie bag filled  with high calorie treats at 5:30 PM after a soccer game handed out as part of the youth sports “experience.” You know what happens then: snacks scarfed,  no dinner,  and cranky behavior until bed.

Plus, the potential to create life long health problems. Am I over-reacting? Maybe. But what do we have to lose at this point when one in three children are overweight or obese?  Shouldn’t we all over-react a little bit to insure that the next generation grows up healthy?

What I am asking parents to do  is rethink is the automatic snack that comes with every baseball game, class party, or after school activity. In our small part of the world–  on the ground parenting– we can make a difference in the overall health of all children. And save ourselves the cost and the aggravation of providing endless snacks for our kids’ endless activities. Let’s be open to the idea that eliminating snack is not the end of the world. But maybe a fresh new start for our children.

Let me know what is going on in your community or on your sports team in terms of snacking? have changes been made? have you tried, but been shouted down? Are you concerned at all or am I out of line? You know want to know!

Helpful links for the Anti-Instituationalized Snack Movement:

Oprah.com: Is snacking endangering our children’s health?

Let’s Move: Resource website to empower parents and kids to make healthier choices. Blog, newsletter, information.

Newsweek Magazine: Michelle Obama’s essay on her Let’s Move initiative and Claudia Kalb’s  must- read story on our Culture of Corpulence.

Studies and Research:

New York Times Well Blog: Does One Cookie make a Difference. How small changes can prevent weight gain.

Children and Snacking: the latest study on Snack Time All the Time

Embracing my Chaos, Lian

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{ 13 comments }

Chris in San Diego March 29, 2010 at 6:04 AM

As the mother of 2 kids, aged 11 and 9, I am in total agreement that the snacking has reached crisis point. When my son started soccer at age 4, and the “snack sign-up” clipboard was passed around, I actually looked at it and said “why do they need snacks after each game?” It became IMMEDIATELY apparent that I was alone in my thinking! I have a friend who refuses to bring sugary snacks, and only brings healthy foods, like fruit and carrot sticks, as a sign of her disagreement with the mandatory snack sign-up list. And breakfast casserole? Please. It is no wonder that we are raising a generation of kids with sky-high expectations because we have set the bar sky-high for ourselves and other parents—with the constant upping of the bar on the snacks. I’m all for cheese sticks, crackers, and apple and orange wedges for school testing. But I wholeheartedly agree with Lian that breakfast casserole is definitely where I would draw my line in the sand. And, I say kudos to Michelle Obama for shining light on keeping our kids moving and eliminating the high carb, super-processed foods from the diets of our next generation of leaders. And glad that so many moms (& dads) support her in this ambitious endeavor! Thanks Lian for your inspiration, too!!

Amy D March 25, 2010 at 6:11 PM

Some of the groups my kids belong to recently banned home baked or home prepared goods , only prepackaged store bought items allowed. It makes it more difficult to send in a healthy snack. I can purchase a fruit tray or veggie tray at the store, but it costs me an arm and leg to supply a store bought tray versus a home made tray. I can bake homemade oatmeal cookies that taste delicious and are healthy, but I can’t find healthy delicious individually packaged cookies at the store. Has anyone else had these bans in their schools, scouts or groups?

Cyndi March 25, 2010 at 2:03 PM

I agree with Susan in Iowa – kids need the HEALTHY fats, protein, fruits and vegetables to satisfy their hunger and feel nourished. I’m sending my kids to Susan’s house!

One of my biggest gripes with non-stop snacking is the prepackaged nonsense that leaves the average child unsatisfied and looking for real nourishment so they continue to snack. A lot of processed food has some form of msg (listed under many different names) that tricks our taste buds into thinking the snack tastes MUCH better than it really is … they rarely contain any nutrition, just junk … our bodies say – hey I’m still hungry because we really haven’t fed them any REAL food!!

I agree with you Lian – snacking is ubiquitous – most times away from the “table” – the car, the sports field, the desk, etc… what are we all REALLY hungry for?

Susan in Iowa March 25, 2010 at 10:11 AM

Lian-

I’m not disagreeing with you on the sugary snacks but low-fat is not the way to go – nutritionists will tell you that children need healthy fats – skim milk or low-fat snacks will not fill children up- I’m all for veggies, apples, bananas as much as the next health-conscious mother – but kids need healthy fat, protein, fruits and vegetables. Crackers are empty calories – I bake for my family almost everyday -I use olive oil, coconut oil, buttermilk – healthy fats. I don’t think it’s all about avoiding taboo foods -

Christine P March 25, 2010 at 9:54 AM

What great feedback =)
Like Lindsay, I too allow snacking if it is water, fruit or vegetables…she can indulge as much as she pleases. I strictly monitor the junk and yes there is junk for sure, the quicky lunch at Subway, mall food, the Friday night treats with movie night. There is and has been only one thing I have forbidden her to indulge in and that is soda pop-in this house, it is an ‘adult drink’. She can have iced tea, juice, water (which is often her first choice).
I have to be the ‘bad guy’ and say I somewhat disagree when parents say they are ‘lucky that their kids like healthy food’…luck has nothing to do with it. It’s our fundamental parental responsibility to healthily feed our children. Trust me, when they get hungry enough they will eat the apple/carrot sticks/broccoli for a snack. It cracks me up when parents say they kids are picky eaters (if they are, it’s because the parents made created that). Kids should eat what you make them eat because we are the adult and we should be teaching them healthful habits.
Happy eating =)

Lian March 25, 2010 at 8:43 AM

Great comments. Thanks for taking the time to post.

I think the breakfast casserole is the perfect example of what’s happened to snacking in America! What was a good idea– providing nutrition during testing to improve scores–was supersized from crackers, apple slices and cheese sticks into a mandatory hot meal! There is nothing wrong with a breakfast casserole per se, but is it really necessary? Would a simpler snack provide the same nutrition in a lower fat, lower stressed -out mom way? Yes, of course. But we can’t seem to hep ourselves when it comes to making more work out of everything we touch!

That’s why I admire the elimination of snack at Sunday school. Cool, level headed decision! I am not sure why so many parents get emotional about this instead of eliminating all the eating. It’s not like there is some hundred year tradition of snacks! We have ratcheted up the snacking in the last 15 years or so. Let’s ratchet it back down again.

If you have toddlers, you will see their snacking opportunities explode in elementary school. And, go beyond your control. So, keep up the good work on the broccoli for snack now. Good habits will take them through the frosted cookie and juice box years!

As for the emphasis on weight, I understand the concerns. Though I do think that the Let’s Move program does emphasize health over weight, with educational components and exercise a huge part of the program. But doctors have been telling us for years that weight does actually matter. The trick is to educate without isolating kids whose weight exceeds sound medical guidelines for obesity.

Keep commenting. Thanks for your thoughts. Lian

Martha March 25, 2010 at 7:40 AM

I totally support getting rid of unnecessary snacking. For example,in our second grade Sunday school class we stopped having snack time this year. At first the kids would ask about it, but now it’s not an issue. It wasn’t even a matter of healthy vs. unhealthy, but the kids were eating out of habit not because they were really hungry. At my son’s school, kids can bring a healthy snack or juice, not both, and they eat while the teacher is reading. It helps since it can be a long time between breakfast and lunch for most classes.
Finally, I have some concerns about how kids are educated about healthy eating. I don’t like it when my son is worried about eating a food because the p.e. teacher says it has fat in it. My daughter was diagnosed with anorexia at the age of 10 (now fully recovered at 13) and we learned from hospital dieticians that there are no “bad” foods. ALL foods can be eaten, even sweets/fats, it’s the balance in the diet that should be the point.
Tara is right, we should focus on health, not weight. The National Eating Disoders Association shares these concerns, too. There has been a large increase in younger children, boys and girls, being diagnosed with eating disorders. This new initiative could be another factor if we focus more attention on weight and appearance.

Tara March 25, 2010 at 7:08 AM

Expectant first time mom here. I completely agree with the concept strategic healthy snacking, it’s about time! Hopefully by the time I have a child in school I won’t have to fight against the tide of cookies, cupcakes and pizza.
That said, as much as I respect Michelle Obama and the campaign to improve the health of children, I completely disagree with this emphasis on weight. I think this ‘war on obesity’ demonized larger kids without meaning to. Speaking as someone who was a fat kid, sent to a live-in hospital to lose weight, if I had been taught to eat healthy rather than being made to feel inferior because of how I looked, I might not have gained back the weight twice over.
I wish we could talk about healthy foods, bring back physical activity to schools and teach children to make smart choices and stop talking about fat kids. Maybe I’m alone in this but feeling bad about myself made me eat more. Good mental health promotes good physical health.

Lindsay March 24, 2010 at 8:19 PM

My children are 2 & 4 and big time snackers,which I think is pretty normal at this age. I try to keep it healthy and I am blessed that they actually like fruits and veggies, but usually I don’t give too many options. My 2 year old has been known to request broccoli fo snack! As long as they are healthy and in a healthy weight range I’m ok with the snacking between meals and I do allow certain amount of “treats”. As with most things I think moderation is key. I agree that childhood obesity is a huge problem, I think it has more to do with what is being eaten and lack of physical activity.

AmyP March 24, 2010 at 5:09 PM

I am totally on board with this for so many reasons, many of which you state in the article, but as a parent of a young boy with life threatening food allergies, this goes to a whole other level. So much anxiety, mine and his, would go away if we could eliminate all of the junk people throw at our kids. It leads to physically dangerous situations and socially awkward situations all of the time. I’m also all for it for my daughters who are not food allergic. No one needs to be consuming that much processed nasty food. I also can’t stand the argument…”they are kids, they can eat whatever they want.” NOT true as we are learning when so many teens are already showing signs of clogged arteries, and young people are increasingly getting diabetes. The damage is being done early and we are creating bad habits that will be tough to break.

Susan March 24, 2010 at 4:01 PM

Personally,I think breakfast casserole sounds like a very wholesome compromise.

I’m not sure how I feel about snacks – my children are very tall for their age (9th grade son over 6 feet) and during growth spurts they are very hungry – I wish schools would offer more healthy snacks during the day. Dr. Oz talks about healthy snacks throughout the day – I think children need more “fuel” than they currently get from school lunches. My kids are starving by the end of their school day – they eat breakfast at 7:00 A.M., lunch at Noon and then nothing until they arrive home at 4:00 or later if they are in an after-school activity. I would bet that most adults do not go that long without anything to eat -

Susan Stitt March 24, 2010 at 2:39 PM

Lian,
I couldn’t agree with you more! You should have seen my face when I was asked to bring a breakfast casserole to my daughter’s class the week of standardized testing. Did anyone feed you breakfast casserole when you were in school? We used to get a carton of milk every day around 10:00 AM, it cost a nickel and if you forgot your nickel you didn’t have milk that day.

I vote get rid of snacks and add gym class back to every school’s curriculum and recess!

Kristin March 24, 2010 at 2:21 PM

This subject makes me crazy. My seven year old daughter and four year old son have long been subjected to my efforts to keep things as healthy as possible. Whole grain all the time (pasta blends, can’t get the whole wheat by them), care and thought in everything I put in front of them. I must admit, there are some battles (fruit snacks, for example) I choose not to fight. But, when given the desire for a snack I try desperately hard to steer them toward good choices. We carry many, so I always know they have choices, options that I am comfortable with.

That being said, my son attends a preschool where the state supplies all food. It is ok, because it has to meet some nutritional guidelines, but please tell me how butter on Ritz meets those guidelines? My daughter loves school lunch and it KILLS me some of the things/ choices they are given. I could say absolutely no to hot lunch, but my choice instead is to plead with those in control, serve meals at home to counteract what I can, and make them play, run, and be active. While I watch them run outside it fires me up, makes me mad and sad to know that there are kids who eat like crap, don’t exercise and don’t have options or choices. I am on your team, Lian and will read, research and support this push…..

P.S. I sent in a fabulous cookie for my son’s bday (no butter, oatmeal chocolate chip……). A big hit and spurred me to consider even better ideas like fruit skewers, whole grain crackers, smoothies…..anything but a darn cupcake!

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