Why do our kids expect to have snacks to go with every activity? Does anybody really need doughnuts after a soccer game or a slushee at the movies? Doesn't this just add up to hundreds and hundreds of extra calories in a day that no child needs?
When did we decide we wanted constant snacking on junk food to be part of our culture and lifestyle? Why do we let the snack food industry control us this way?
Constant social snacking is a nightmare for parents who are concerned about a child's weight. Snacks are offered everywhere, all the time, by well-meaning parents, teachers and others who want the children in their charge to enjoy themselves. And when I say "snacks," I am referring to the products of the snack food industry. Cookies, cake, chips, candy. Sugar, fat, salt and chemical additives, in child-friendly packaging. They eat this junk whenever they can, as much as they can, and then eat less of the healthy foods we offer at mealtime.
Recall that we have been keeping track of the treats we consume in our family using red lights. My kids chose 5 as the right number of treats per week. More often than not, the red-light quota has been filled in the first four days, before the weekend, just from treats my kids have been offered by kind, generous friends and grown-ups on playdates and at after school activities. Am I the only parent in the United States who says no to this stuff?
Turns out I am not the only one who has been thinking about this. Earlier this year the results of a huge study on snacking in American kids was released. Conducted by Barry M. Popkin, a professor of nutrition and epidemiliogy at the University of North Carolina, the study followed 31,337 children and adolscents using four national surveys over a 30 year period. Kids are snacking more often during the day, and are consuming a greater proportion of their calories from snacks -- almost 200 calories of snacks more, per day, in 2006 compared with 1997.
Snacks don't have to be unhealthy of course, but in practice and especially at social events, they mostly are. Cookies and cakes are the main source of snacking, according to the study. Salty snacks like chips and pretzels are the second largest snack category, and this category posted the biggest gains during the period of the study. Fruit drinks have replaced whole fruit as a snack, according to the New York Times, which published an article on this study on March 2, 2010.
I wish we could just agree, as parents, to cool it on the snacks, especially the junk. It should be ok to feed junk to your own kids, but not other people's kids. I wish we could agree that a single healthy snack between meals is appropriate, not a disappointment, and that kids should not be able to raid the kitchen when their friends visit without parent supervision. I wish parents didn't have to worry about feeling like party poopers if they don't serve junk at a kids' event. I wish our local swim club would get rid of the vending machine. I wish there were not lollipops at the doctors office. My kid was in treatment for cancer for 2.5 years and no one ever gave her candy after a scary visit. She did not miss it and she did not mind going back, despite the horrors she often faced. She loved seeing the friendly staff and picking out her stickers.
What I really wish is that everyone in my family felt thin and beautiful everyday, and entitled to eat whatever we want whenever we want. But we don't. And what I really don't want is for my kids to feel like everyone else is thin, beautiful, and entitled snack freely, while they are not. I know all too well where this leads. I'll write more about that topic next time.