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While some parents don’t see the harm in an occasional birthday cupcake, or a doughnut during library storytime, it’s the additive effect that’s worrisome. It’s easy to look at one isolated junk-food snack and say it’s okay but there are likely multiple times a day when someone is offering your child calorie-laden treats. It’s an ongoing, never-ending parade, and it adds up to a huge problem.

Tasty New Snacks

Every day I hear of some new tasty snack that my boyfriend’s son tells us about. He’s seven and in second grade. In fact, the other day in science class, they made rootbeer floats (56g sugar). Then ate them just before letting out of school! Earlier in the day, one of his classmates had a birthday celebration. The class enjoyed cupcakes and juice (25g sugar and 14g sugar).

For completing something in class, our son was rewarded with a lollipop filled with gum (10g of sugar). In his lunch box, I found an uneaten packaged of rice crispy treats (16g of sugar) and an organic juice box (14g sugar) that he was given by one of his friends. What a good boy for not eating and drinking them! Ugh…

Then, there was the after soccer snack (where each parent has a turn to bring the snack). It included a package of Oreo cookies (13g of sugar), a fruit roll-up (10g of sugar), a 6 oz juice like drink (14g of sugar), and a small tangerine (9g of sugar).

If we add up the amount of sugar he’s either had or been exposed to in this one day, he’s been given 179g of sugar or ¾ cup!!

What’s Recommended?

The American Heart Association recommends that children have only 3 teaspoons of sugar in a day. In case you missed that, our seven-year-old who has good-intentioned adults caring for him, found 37 teaspoons of sugar offered to him in one day!!

Kids Are Being Fed Junk Food Everywhere

At almost every event children visit they are offered a snack or treat. In fact, parents are guilty of it also. Have you ever used a snack as a bribe? “I’ll give you that banana if you get into your car seat quickly.”  To reward them? “If you eat your dinner, you can have dessert.” Maybe to occupy their time at the grocery store? “Mmmm…peace and quiet for a minute.”  Letting children mindlessly snack while their eyes are glued to the television screen? No one paying attention here. We often forget and have the audacity to be irritated when they aren’t hungry for dinner! Smh…

Our kids are snacking more than ever before. In the late 1970s, the average kid between the ages of 2 and 6 ate one snack a day between meals, but today kids typically eat almost three, according to a study by Barry Popkin, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

You see, when kids are allowed to eat all day, it robs them of the chance to ever develop an appetite. If kids aren’t coming to the table at least a little hungry, they’re not as willing to try new foods.

Snacks Aren’t Treats

Snacks are a healthy part of a child’s diet. They’re important because kids have a smaller stomach and high energy needs. Still, even if you’re serving relatively simple snacks like string cheese or crackers, continually feeding children can have negative consequences.  Of course, many parents give healthy snacks, but there are some other parents who think of snacks as treats. They may also grab food that’s convenient, which tends to be a package of something that is high in sugar, salt, and refined carbs. Remember a “snack” is a small meal not a “treat”.

One Small Sweet Treat A Day

There’s certainly some room in a child’s day for goodies. And I recommend it. One small sweet treat a day can help teach kids about balance. This will help them view sweets not as forbidden foods or something to only have as a reward. Because using food in these ways will become even more alluring as it becomes an ingrained habit. Save the snacks for in-between meal periods. Make them nutritious and fresh foods such as fruit and veggies, or things you might see as a small meal. The trouble these days is that there seems to be no balance, with every gathering calls for a special snack.

Change Your Family’s Behavior

  • For starters, consider how often you give snacks to your child. Toddlers and preschoolers can go two to three hours between meals and snacks, older kids three to four. If you’re giving them more than this, it’s time to take a look at what you are doing.
  • Avoid grabbing to-go snacks to eat in the car, in the shopping cart, or as you’re going out the door. Grazing makes it harder for kids to eat the right amount. Mindless eaters don’t have the chance to savor food or pay attention to their body’s hunger or fullness signals. This often leaves them over or under eating.
  • The foods you serve as snacks should be just as nutritious as the ones you serve at meals. Would you serve them Oreo cookies for dinner? When it’s your turn to bring the snacks for the team, start by bringing fruits and veggies. You might be surprised how others follow your lead.

You see, kids aren’t in the position to speak up for themselves, so we have to do it for them. Be confident that most children won’t turn down a beautiful fruit tray when they are hungry. Ask the principal or director at your own child’s school if there is a policy about healthy eating and exercise. If you are able to, volunteer in some way. All schools that receive government funding for school lunches must have a wellness policy in place. Just be sure to come with concrete suggestions, not simply complaints.

The only way to create real change is for moms and dads to speak up, at school, at sports practices, and at home. It’s a lot easier to just give in and let your children eat junk whenever they desire. Us parents need to take on this important battle to serve healthier snacks. Become committed to not allowing your kids to eat so frequently between meals. For your children’s sake and their futures.

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