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Attack of the Snacks! The Importance of Instilling Good Snack Habits in Your Kids

snacksLast week I heard a story on NPR about teenagers’ snacking habits, which are pretty appalling.

NPR conducted a poll with The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, which covered eating and exercise habits of American teens during “crunch time,” the hours between school’s end and bed. Here on Babble Dads, Serge already wrote about one outcome of the poll how overweight children aren’t seen as overweight in their parents’ eyes.

Another finding of the study: adults are not often aware of what their children are snacking on, or they don’t find the amounts that the kids are eating to be of concern. Almost every parent, 87% of the ones polled, thought their kid was eating healthy during crunch time, when in fact, almost half the kids queried admitted to eating sweets, a quarter said they had chips or snacks loaded with salt and oil, and 1 in 5 ate fast food. In the radio segment, some of the parents had no idea this was the case, and the kids weren’t surprised. One said his parents just never ask what he’s eaten during the day.

Here in New York City, I see kids walking home from school chomping on all kinds of processed and fried foods. When I taught middle school in East Harlem, the teachers and administration tried to help parents instill healthy eating values in the students by talking about nutrition and diet during the normal course of each school day. (The school also served vegetarian fare for breakfast and lunch.) Students sometimes told teachers about classmates whom they had seen grabbing fries or chicken wings after dismissal, and while there was nothing punitive the school could do about this, we discussed the detrimental effects eating junk food has on a body. The message was: be mindful and think about what you eat. Listen to your appetite; know when enough is enough.

Even as the parent of a toddler, I talk with my son about snacks when we eat them, what kind we have and why. Though just three and a half, I’ve already caught Felix cramming goodies on the sly. Once, when I needed to go upstairs and dress, he said he’d prefer to stay downstairs on his own an unusual decision from a kid who typically follows me from room to room. A few minutes after leaving him alone, I heard him rummaging around the pantry, and then came down to find him gorging himself on cheddar bunnies, a favorite snack. “I was hungry,” he said.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to bother you.”

Ok, so there’s an element of him exploring his independence here too, fetching his own food, doing for himself. That’s great. And the bunnies are organic, sure. But still, it wasn’t long before lunch, and I’d rather have had him save his appetite for a sandwich and carrot sticks. Similarly, I don’t let him snack much after 5pm, as dinner approaches.

My wife and I limit the amount of carbohydrate snacks he’s allowed to have each day only so many handfuls of bunnies, pretzels, or dry cereal while pears and apples he can eat his fill of. (I keep less a specific count, and more a general sense.) Even if they’re made with organic ingredients, I don’t want him to eat a lot of processed snacks.

I do my best to model healthy eating, and as the primary grocery shopper, don’t purchase items I wouldn’t want either of us to eat. Come “crunch time,” I partake of cheese and bread, or almonds and olives, not chips. We make hummus and guacamole, and salsa during the summer. I like to eat, and my son sees me eat, food that we’ve prepared, that tastes fresh and delicious, and makes me feel good as I digest it. I’m passionate about that. Besides, it’s important to adhere to the same standards you hold your child to, I think.

I believe that the bedrock of good eating habits I’m trying to establish now, along with continued discussion about what and how much we consume, will lead to good habits on Felix’s end in the future. But who knows. I’m sure that when he reaches his teenage years, Felix will want the sugary salty sweet stuff. I could end up being like one of those parents in the NPR segment “Oh yeah, my son eats healthy. Wait he ate what?!?” But I hope not.

How do you deal with snacking in your house?

 

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