Do you ever get frustrated that the preschool where you send your children serves cheeze-its and pretzels for snack every day? Does it ever bother you that after baseball and soccer games, your kids are given snack cakes and fruit punch? In the March 2013 issue of Parents there is an interesting little article called "The Snack Epidemic". Being a dietitian, it definitely sparked my interest. By the time I was a few paragraphs in, I was thinking "AMEN"! The article covered the very frustration I have been dealing with while looking at preschools to send my son to next year.
Just to clarify, I do not have a problem with pretzels, cheeze-its, goldfish, or cookies. However, I do have a problem with them being served constantly; and at every turn. I take my children to get their haircuts and they're offered suckers, we run an errand and some well-meaning adult offers my children cookies, and the list goes on. Honestly, I haven't encountered nearly as many of these obstacles as I am about to because my oldest child has not even started preschool yet. As I said, these snacks are not the end of the world, but they should be used sparingly. Children are often offered cupcakes and juice, or other similar snacks for celebrations at school. Adding up the sugary and low nutrient foods throughout the day, week, and month equals too much sugar and fat; and not enough room for nutritious foods. I inquired about this issue where I signed my son up for preschool and I was told that "healthy snacks" are too expensive, but I was welcome to send any snack I wish with my son. Thankfully, they don't have the rule that other preschools have. Many preschools that I looked into deny parents of even sending their child with a snack because they don't want any kids to have something different. I cringe at the thought of my child being offered nothing but junk for his snack 4 times each week. Personally, I would be happy to pay an extra $5-$10 monthly so that my child could be offered something more nutritious. Truthfully, it wouldn't cost that much more anyway. Has anyone checked out the price of bananas lately? They are not expensive. When in-season produce is purchased, it is fairly minimal in cost to feed young children with small stomachs.
Another issue discussed in the article was the constant snacking of children. Snacks are awesome, but they don't need to be handed out all day long. Many children get around three or more snacks between each meal and they rarely contain fruit or other nutritious items such as cheese, peanut butter, yogurt, or vegetables and hummus. In order to expect children to come to the dinner table hungry, they have to actually have time to get hungry. With the continuous flow of processed snacks being thrown at our children, what are we to do?
Here are my suggestions:
1. Get involved! This is the most important thing you can do to cause change. Don't be afraid to make some waves. Personally, I have received more than one or two eye rolls when I've suggested change. You will not always be patted on the back when you suggest that parents bring healthy snacks to scouts. Isn't it worth it to teach our children how to enjoy healthy foods? Children almost always love fruit and will eat it. However, they will be glad to grab the donuts too if that's all we offer them. Remind the coach that children need a healthy snack to replace important nutrients lost while playing, which cannot be provided from a bag of chips. Check out the Parents magazine for a sample letter used to encourage other parents to bring healthy snacks after a children's sporting event. Sometimes a snack really isn't even necessary. If a snack is being offered "just because", maybe suggest that it is done away with. Remember, change will not happen on its own.
2. Set a good example at home. Provide water for your kids to drink whenever they want. Remember that fruit juices are loaded with sugar and are low on nutrients compared to the actual fruit. Provide a healthy snack about halfway between breakfast and lunch; and again between lunch and dinner. Allow your kids to have snacks that are less than healthy, but mostly provide unprocessed, high nutrient foods. Show your kids that you practice what you preach. Remember that healthy habits start at home.
I would love to hear any suggestions or thoughts about this. Please feel free to leave a comment!