Sunday, April 25, 2010

In Which I Opine About Snacking

This morning I received a message from a friend whose children are in the same baseball league as my own. She was asking for ideas about healthy snacks for after the games, as her team assigns one parent each week to bring a snack and she has been disappointed with the offerings thus far. I gave her some suggestions based on what my own kids eat, though mentioned that I wouldn't even bother with snacks except for the fact that AlmondBoy's metabolism is such that he has got to eat about every hour or so or ends up feeling very sick.

I've been thinking a lot about snacks lately. Whenever I am out with my kids for extended periods or when we are going some place where we'll engage in lots of physical activity, I bring healthy snacks and water. But it seems to me as though the snacking habit has really gotten out of hand, culturally speaking. I feel like a snack should be a small, healthyish something to tide over an empty stomach until mealtime. Not a pacifier. Not a bribe. But all too often I see bored children placated with empty calories to keep them quiet and, as someone who fought an uphill battle towards healthy eating, it worries me to think about what kind of eating habits these children are learning. And I feel pretty strongly that Munchkins or "fruit" gummies are not what growing bodies need after 1.5 hours of t-ball practice.

My kids don't get to eat in my car because cars are for traveling. They are not mobile cafeterias. We do not eat in front of the television. There are no Dunkaroos or Fruit Rollups in our house. And I don't say this to brag in some kind of mommier-than-thou competitive way. It's frequently a pain in the ass to be That Mom. People think you're weird or judgmental or Amish. There are times I honestly wish I didn't give a crap about corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils and food dyes and corn agribusiness and the two dozen other things that give me the occasional headache at the grocery store. But the fact is that these things matter to me. Weight, health, and nutrition matter to me. I'm hoping to spare my own children many of the issues I have faced by not instilling bad habits which they'll have to learn to break on their own. I'm hoping to spare them the dubious distinction of membership in the growing childhood obesity problem in this country.

I love food. In particular, I love beautiful, delicious food. I try to prepare myself three meals a day and then I sit down to eat and enjoy them. I find that I am more mindful of my eating this way, that I enjoy what I put in my mouth. That respecting my food equates to respecting my body. I am trying to pass this on to my children, this idea that eating should be both for sustenance and pleasure, but not just for something to do. By constant snacking - especially snacking on empty calories - food becomes part of the background noise. It becomes an expectation. We eat when we are bored or lonely or happy or sad. We eat for something to do, and often it's when we're already being entertained. (I'm looking at you, movie theaters.) And as more of us have our butts parked in front of the computer (hi!) or the 4,382 channels on the TV or the Wii or let the kids play with [current trendy electronic device], we're doing less and less to burn those snacks off. By constant eating we take our bodies out of their natural rhythms. We don't learn what it means to feel hungry and instead, we eat right through those hunger cues. And by not knowing what hunger feels like, it becomes very difficult to learn what satiation feels like. There is no "clean plate" rule in our house for that very reason. In addition, many people also think they are feeling hunger when they are, in fact, thirsty.

I don't think snacking is completely evil by any measure. I always have a high-protein something after the gym or I don't feel very well. But I do think that getting children established in a routine where all outings and activities include something to munch isn't a great idea. And as I said, my son has to eat constantly or he loses weight so I certainly know that there are kids who really are hungry all the time. But I do suggest that we all try to be more mindful of what we're putting in our kids' bodies and in our own bodies, particularly between meals. I try to pack healthy, filling calories like full-fat cheeses, cashews, fresh fruit or vegetables, boiled eggs, etc. And I urge everyone to take a look at this article.

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