Thanks for the great discussion about preschoolers and snacks (there is a lot of good stuff in the comments, if you haven’t read them). I’ve been giving this a lot of thought over the past few days and had a few other observations, arranged around the fact that I think there might be several different factors at work in the situation with my kids and snacking. To front load my usual caveat: I think it’s important to keep in mind that all kids are different, families have different circumstances, and we are all trying to do our best here, so please don’t take my opinions as prescriptive.
- First, I started thinking about why we switched to primarily whole, homemade foods in the first place. My little brother has Crohn’s Disease, and my husband also has an autoimmune digestive disorder, and my reading on those problems pointed to processed food chemicals and additives as one potential trigger for both conditions. I know I can’t protect my kids from their genes entirely, but I don’t want to be foolish about our food choices either. Many, if not most, people can handle convenience or processed food and be fine, but my family may not be in the best place for regular junk consumption. I think we will try small amounts of foods like animal crackers, cheese crackers, and so forth but we will probably never be the family who has a full pantry of that stuff.
- On a related note, I’ve done a lot of reading on food science (see my reviews of The Taste of Sweet, Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and The Fortune Cookie Chronicles for starters) and I’m not a fan of how the processed food companies’ goal is to make people prefer the taste of powdered cheese, high fructose corn syrup, and synthetic strawberry flavor to the real thing. While I don’t think those companies are evil, and I don’t begrudge them making money, I don’t want them making it at the expense of my family’s health. I want my kids to have broad palates and to appreciate real foods. I think we can have small amounts of junk foods, but I do want our food to primarily be composed of a variety of real flavors. We do have sweets at our house, but they tend to be less sweet than store bought, and they tend to have whole grain flour in them. We eat a variety of foods that the kids seem to enjoy, and they don’t clamor for snacks at home, so I think a large part of the problem may be the novelty of snacks in general and snacks made of food we don’t have at home in specific. I think I will commit to have two snacks a day, as several commenters on the previous post mentioned, and try having one be a healthy, homemade snack and one be a small portion of store food snacks.
- In addition to promoting moderation and hopefully innoculating the kids against the novelty of other people’s snacks, small portions might also help my budgetary concerns with snack food. The other day I got three small boxes of snack foods to try this moderate approach and I was pained to spend part of my very limited grocery budget on nutritionally useless items. For the same amount I spent on junk snacks, I calculated I could have bought a jumbo cantaloupe, a bag of fresh cherries, and a box of organic mixed salad greens (all foods my kids like that are also healthier than the cheese crackers, Nilla Wafers, and little banana snack cookie things I got). Ideally I suppose I would purchase plenty of the very healthy foods and then get snack foods in addition to that, but the reality is that I have very little wiggle room in the grocery budget, and the prospect of getting a job and putting my kids in daycare so that I can afford goldfish crackers is not particularly appealing to me! I think my plan will be to buy one or two bags of bulk snacks and then dole them out in very small portions, hopefully spreading the cost out so I don’t have to skimp on the fresh and healthy foods we actually need.
- I think nutritional lock down can be a trigger for overeating or other problems with food relationships, but I don’t think it’s the sole cause. I didn’t grow up deprived – we didn’t have super sugary cereals, but we had chips and cookies and fruit snacks for our lunchboxes, and ice cream and crackers and other snacks on hand. Neither of my parents has a weight problem or a bad relationship with food. And yet I still struggle with moderation. I think some people might just have that tendency in their personalities. After all, America is full of fat and obese people, and surely they didn’t ALL grow up without junk food? I don’t want to overstate the case: I’m at the lower end of healthy weight for my height, the kids are all at a healthy weight and body mass index, and we exercise a lot. My concern is not so much that they will be obese, but that I don’t want them to be given to overindulgence in any area of life. Several commenters mentioned the importance of modeling a healthy lifestyle and moderation to the kids, and I took that to heart.
- Finally, I decided to apply Occam’s Razor (the simplest answer is often the right answer) to the problem of the kids asking for too many snacks when we are out of the house. I realized that I had been letting them have more snacks, even though it was embarrassing, because it’s even more embarrassing to deal with the kids having a meltdown in front of other people. I think the simplest solution would be to tell the kids that we won’t be asking for snacks, and if another mom or their grandmother offers them a snack they may have a small amount and then not ask for more. If they ask for more, I need to be paying attention and cut them off and deal with any crying or carrying on that follows, even if it means we leave the occasion early. It’s a nutritional issue and a moderation issue certainly, but it’s also quite simply a behavioral issue and I’ve been dropping the ball.
If you have any other thoughts or points about snacking and moderation and the like, please leave a comment. I’ve really appreciated the thoughtful discussion!