As I was strolling through the grocery store this weekend I found “snack packs” of everything: pudding, crackers, apple slices and cookies. I overheard young children repeatedly asking their parent to buy the cookies because “they were on sale.” Now, I am guilty of buying snack packs for myself to include in my lunch or have on hand for a quick snack. They’re very convenient for the on-the-go times that are increasingly common these days: parents are busy with late work schedules, taking children to soccer practice, music lessons and making one last stop at the grocery store for milk. Marketing specialists and manufacturers feed into this phenomenon by offering 100-calorie snack packs and lowering the prices of snack packs to less than a buck.
This makes me question what value is placed on snacks these days. The word “snacking” creates the idea that it is bad, a treat or a small amount of food eaten between meals. Experts in the field of nutrition are encouraging people to eat several small meals throughout the day, but they do not use the word “snack” in most of their literature or research findings. It’s about having small meals, or small amounts of the things we know aren’t the best for our health. Young children are always on the move and use energy much quicker than adults, so it is essential that snacks and small meals are provided for children on a regular basis. They need to re-fuel throughout the day to maintain their energy and eagerness to learn.
Mary Bellizzi, an expert with the International Obesity Task Force, estimates that “22 million of the world’s children under 5 are overweight or obese.” As the obesity rate continues to rise we must be conscious of how we view snacking and how many snacks we offer to our children. Are they hungry? Have they asked for something to eat, and if so, what is appropriate to give to them? Take time to think about your eating schedule as well as those of the children in your care. We’ve all heard that we’ll “ruin our dinner” if we have a snack beforehand, so make sure that meals and snacks are provided in a sensible way, following a routine. For instance, in child care centers a morning snack is provided midway between breakfast and lunch, and afternoon snack is offered approximately three hours after lunch. The other thing to bear in mind is that just because these foods are offered doesn’t mean they have to be eaten: children will let you know when they are hungry.
Keep these important suggestions in mind when offering snacks to the children:
- Always look for snacks that have high nutritional value (fiber, vitamins, calcium).
- Snacks should be dispersed in small amounts.
- Snacks should never be used as reward or withheld as punishment.
- Snacking should not be a way to keep kids busy.
- Re-visit the type of snack offered and broaden snack choices. Some non-traditional “snacks” could be the best option (dried fruit, multi-grain cereal).
The next time you are looking for a snack why not reach for a stalk of celery? These come in “snack packs,” too.