“Snack?” I hear this all day long. At home, the grocery store, the park, gymnastics, the bank… if there are children in the area, at least one of them is asking for a snack. Did they miss a meal? Are they hungry? Bored? While providing snacks throughout the day may be a short-term solution, such as making it through your shopping list without a meltdown on aisle 3, it may be causing some problems in the near and far future. How did our children become so snack obsessed and what can we do to turn the table?
I realized this was becoming a problem under my own roof when my now 2 year old daughter asked for a snack every single time I put her in the stroller or car seat. It was automatic: I placed her in, buckled her straps and within one second there it was. “Snack?” You just ate breakfast!
I am a triathlete and runner, and when I training for 103-mile ultramarathon this past year, my daughter would join me her BOB stroller about 3-5 days per week for non-long runs. It was then I knew that I had to make some changes soon, or we were going down a very slippery slope…
What’s wrong with snacking on-the-go anyway?
Replaces real food. Most stroller/car seat/shopping cart – friendly snacks consist of items like crackers, goldfish, pretzels, “fruit” snacks and roll-ups. Even if they are organic varieties, these foods are empty calories compared to a fresh fruit and yogurt snack you could offer in the home sitting at the table.
Ruins appetites. Filling up on foods during the long duration a child might be in the stroller, cart seat etc… will only take away from mealtimes later in the day. Children should come to the table hungry and ready to eat their lunch or dinner, which should include nutrient packed choices such as a lean protein and vegetables. If they are full, they will most likely refuse the meal and this is often confused with being a “picky eater”. But really, they just aren’t hungry!
Promotes mindless eating. Eating out of habit, which is generally the case in this type of all day snacking, can lead to problems later in life. A teenager and adult can get used to eating all day, which can lead to obesity as well as other health problems.
Rewards. Using food as a reward to “be good” while mommy completes her errands, takes a stroller class or goes for a walk/run, can lead to food struggles for a child. Karen Le Billion, author of French Kids Eat Everything, said it well: “Avoid emotional eating. Food is NOT a pacifier, a distraction, a toy, a bribe, a reward, or a substitute for discipline.”
Bad for teeth. The minute certain foods (sugars and starches) are placed in your mouth, bacteria makes the tooth enamel more acidic, and the acid starts the process that can lead to cavities. The worst culprits are what they call “fermentable carbohydrates”. These start tooth decay and destroy teeth, which include breads, crackers, bananas and cereals, as well as the more obvious: cookies, cakes, candy and soft drinks. Sorry moms, but the organic bunnies, goldfish, saltines and cheerios all fall into this category! If you were going to give these choices, they are best given at a designated snack time in the home, sitting down, rather than nibbling on for hours without a toothbrush nearby.
What are some other ways I keep my child happy on-the-go?
Play a game. Watch the environment around you and point things out, especially if you’re outside. Play the eye spy game, sing a song or play some music! I started playing Pandora during my runs a few months ago, and my daughter hums and sings along.
Bring toys. If you have a baby or young toddler, bring some toys that can be hooked on to the seat, and for the older child, include some books. Be sure to change them up so they don’t get bored.
Time naps. Naps are always best for the baby or child in the home, but some moms have found that timing stroller outings with naps works well for them.
Is there a better way to include snacks on-the-go?
Time your snack. Don’t let the on-the-go snack be additional foods, let it be THE snack for the day. Toddlers only need 1-2 snacks, depending on the age and activity level.
Choose non-fermentable carbohydrates. Stop the puffs, cheerios and goldfish and choose other snacks such as apple or orange slices, blueberries or raspberries with a slice of cheese.
Bring water. Children should be drinking water throughout the day. Save juice (if you serve it) for special occasions like birthday parties. Encourage your child to drink water and rinse their mouth after a snack. Start young but teaching your child to associate thirst with water instead of juice.
Lose the snack tray in the stroller. This is a constant reminder to your child that a buffet should be served every time they are in the stroller. Use it in special circumstances like a trip to a theme park!
Stop moving. Try to have snack-time at a designated time each day and in a seat. You’ve heard the benefits of the “family dinner table”, well it’s the same for snacks! If you give your toddler snacks while playing, they might mindlessly eat and stop eating when they are full. Babies are born with this amazing ability to know when they are full. As we get older, we lose this ability. Unfortunately, its happening way too soon with our eating habits.
If “on-the-go snacking” has been a part of your routine for a long time, you are not going to eliminate it over night. And you are not a bad mother if you continue to give snacks in this manner. The goal is to get rid of that automatic response “snack?” every time you place your child in an on-the-go seat and help them develop good eating habits and eat well-balanced meals. Good luck and enjoy these years, I heard they go by fast :-)
In good health,