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It’s time to take our obsession with snacking down a notch (Surviving Parenting)

Jul 11, 2023Jul 11, 2023

Snacks, snacks, snacks. They're everywhere. Emily Kulkus | Contributing columnist

Is it just me or are we obsessed with snacks and snacking? I’m pretty sure I had four apples and about a dozen sips of water between 1987 and 1993, and yet my kids can't seem to get to the end of the driveway without their water bottles and a granola bar. Recently, a friend gifted us a bag of "snacking chocolate." I’ve been careful not to confuse it with my "meal chocolate."

I’m a big believer in eating when you’re hungry and not according to the clock. I also recognize kids thrive on a schedule, including for mealtimes. But it does feel like as parents we’re expected to have Mary Poppins magic and produce charcuterie out of our shorts in just about any situation.

My daughter was a toddler when we went on a short "hike" with friends. My friend said it would take about 45 minutes and I figured it wasn't going to be too challenging since her kids were pretty young at the time, too. My family donned sneakers, sunglasses and fleece jackets and headed for the door. My friend brought a backpack full of snacks and drinks, including water bottles, cheese sticks, fruit snacks and an entire box of cheese crackers. While I’m not sure her kids saw what she packed, it was soon obvious that her snack pack was a regular and expected circumstance of the outing.

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Our "hike" turned out to be a slow stroll on an elevated boardwalk through a marsh. It was as strenuous as a walk through the grocery store and her kids were in need of nourishment every 200 feet. My friend kindly shared the crackers with my daughter – who was suddenly famished by association – and who was now looking at me as if we’d just tried to climb Everest in shorts and flip-flops.

This situation has arisen countless times. I deliberately do not pack snacks or buy food for my kids in between meal times but then people around them offer them something. (It's a kind gesture, but seriously, my kids don't have to eat something every 45 minutes. Professional athletes they are not.) It's a tricky situation because while I would never deprive my kids of food, I know the difference between when they’re hungry and when they’re snacking for sport. Not to mention the fact that a backpack, vending machine or concession stand snack has a high probability of messing with my kids’ desire and ability to eat a balanced meal when the time comes.

Growing up, I remember having snacks on camping trips and school field trips, but not for every kid encounter, playdate or outing. I don't understand why food has to be a part of every social situation. I have struggled to say no when someone offers to give or buy my child something to eat in a social situation – especially when the kid is looking at me as if they haven't eaten in days, which is clearly not the case. It's not the other person's fault, per se, but I’m surprised by how often it happens.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to give children younger than 2 "something to eat or drink about every two to three hours, or about five or six times a day. This will give your child three meals and two to three snacks every day." Johns Hopkins Medicine says school-age children should eat four to five times a day, which sounds about right, considering breakfast, lunch and dinner, a snack at school and another snack after school. I’m sure we’ve all heard stories or experienced how the teenage years tend to make the grocery bills skyrocket. I once heard about a mom who made a daily after-school casserole for her brood – and that's what they ate before dinner!

Look, I enjoy nachos or chicken wings out with friends as much as the next person, but is it a mandatory part of my socializing? No. Maybe as parents we could tone down our snack obsession and just focus on the hike, the outing or whatever it is we’re participating in without the obligatory snack break.

I stuck to some great parenting advice when my kids were babies: do not create or rely on a sleeping environment that I couldn't recreate anywhere. Essentially, if your baby can only fall asleep in a pitch-black, silent room, you’re going to have a hard time getting your child to sleep in any other environment, whether by choice or necessity. I think we should treat snacking the same way: "No, I don't have a cheese plate on my person, but don't worry, dinner in 90 minutes is going to be fabulous!"

Emily Kulkus spent nearly a decade at The Post-Standard as a reporter and editor before leaving to become a mom – her most challenging assignment to date. She lives in Strathmore with her family. Email her at [email protected].

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