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June 22, 2016

Has 'snackism' crept into your family's eating habits?

Whether you and your child are at a soccer game, Sunday school, or a community art class, snacks abound. We live in the day and age of "snackism."

A column in the Washington Post (2015) addressed this obsession with snacks head-on. Hurley writes, "America is in the clutches of an insidious disease [snackism], one that thrives on the good intentions of parents and leaves a trail of wet Goldfish in its wake." I have to agree that most American parents are convinced that their child needs to eat every few hours. Half of kids in the U.S. now snack up to four times each day. Do they truly need it? No. Do they want it? Of course.

It is true that infants, young children and children with special healthcare needs benefit from snacks and small, frequent meals. This stable energy intake can help to promote healthful growth and is best managed by a child's primary caregiver — their parent — not society. At present, school days are set-up to feed the child breakfast at 7:30 a.m., snack at 9 a.m., lunch at 11 a.m. and possibly a snack before getting on the bus at 2 p.m. Then, the child heads home and enjoys another after school snack, dinner at 6 p.m. and maybe even dessert before bed time at 7:30 p.m. The child is essentially eating all day. Not to mention that snack serving sizes now reflect small meals.

This altruistic approach to nutrition lays a fertile ground for childhood obesity. Not only is the child's blood sugar climbing with every bite, but our sedentary society does not extend ample opportunity to use the energy consumed. Then, all we have are squirmy wormy kids attempting to focus but too energized to do so.

What do kids need?

They benefit from eating a well-balanced meal or snack every three to four hours with adequate opportunity to move. A well-balanced snack is one that includes a source of energy (carbohydrate) with a nutrient that will balance that energy (protein or healthy fat).

Consider:

  • 1 cup air-popped popcorn with a cheese stick

  • 4 whole grain crackers with almond butter

  • 4 ounces of plain yogurt with ½ piece of fruit

  • ¼ cup whole grain cereal with 5 nuts of their choice

  • Raw vegetables with 2 tablespoons of hummus

  • ½ apple with cheese

This is a call for parents, teachers, coaches and childcare providers to take a closer look at their child's meal pattern. How often are they eating? Do they need all of that energy? Some kids do, but most do not. If you have additional questions or are seeking guidance on healthful eating patterns for you and your child, consider calling the Pediatric Fitness Clinic at (608) 890-5210.