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On Snacking and Parenting

By Mark D. Roberts | Thursday, January 21, 2010

I read a provocative piece in the New York Times today, “Snack Time Never Ends,” by Jennifer Steinhauer. Her basic observation (and gripe) has to do with the omnipresence of snacks for children. Here are a some excerpts:

Not a month goes by without someone somewhere asking me to serve up some snack for an event that one of my children will attend and that, generally speaking, will not last more than 90 minutes. . . .

The obligations to bring a little something to eat extend to the adult world, too — I’ve baked for PTA meetings and child-rearing seminars that I didn’t even attend. But when it comes to American boys and girls, snacks seem both mandatory and constant. Apparently, we have collectively decided as a culture that it is impossible for children to take part in any activity without simultaneously shoving something into their pie holes.

“Children used to come home, change into play clothes and go outside and play with other children,” said Joanne Ikeda, a nutritionist emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. “There were not snack machines, and the gas stations only sold gas. Now there are just so many more opportunities to snack and so many activities after school to have snacks.”

Between 1977 and 2002, the percent of the American population eating three or more snacks a day increased to 42 percent from 11 percent, according to a large study of American nutritional habits conducted by the Agriculture Department with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Ah, yes. Steinhauer brought be back to the days of snacks after soccer games. My children would expend a few hundred calories on the soccer field, only to refill with a few hundred calories of sugar-based snacks. At least the half-time snacks were orange slices!

But we have more than just a snack problem here. It’s also a parenting problem. Parents, according to Steinhauer, seem unwilling or unable to make good decisions for their children and follow through with them:

Some of the moms I see around the school corridors and the soccer field told me they felt backed into a corner by the omnipresence of snacks.

Once a week, Vivian Zachary’s 6-year-old son, Joel, goes dashing for the vending machine at the gym after his gymnastics class ends at 5 p.m. “Last week it was a Fruit Roll-Up and a can of 7Up,” Ms. Zachary wrote in an e-mail message. “I’m not sure why I let this go on, and I often think that if I were a better parent, or at least more able to tolerate incessant complaining, I would let him buy the snacks but not actually consume them until after dinner. But I have already established the pattern (the ‘rule’ in Joel’s mind), so there’s no going back now.”

Telling, isn’t it? Ms. Zachary knows that she has made a bad decision when it comes to her six-year-old son’s well being. But because Zachary thinks there’s a rule that says he can eat sugary snacks before dinner, Ms. Zachary concludes, “there’s no going back now.” She will continue to do what’s not in the best interest of her six-year-old son because she made a mistake in judgment, and because she is not able to “tolerate incessant complaining.” Oh my! Ms. Zachary is on a collision course with a parenting disaster, not just now, but in the future.

Steinhauer enjoys baking, and would be happy to bake healthy snacks for her children and their peers. But this isn’t so easy. As Steinhauer observes:

But a person can’t just bake whole-wheat banana bread and call it a day. Here was the memo I received concerning my recent snack obligation for a play practice. “Please note, we have the following allergies in mini players: Peanuts, cashews, nuts, wheat, dairy, strawberries, milk, egg whites.”

Hence Steinhauer’s concluding paragraphs:

Food allergies are a real problem. But did no one ponder the idea that perhaps the solution is for children to bring their own snacks?

Or to eat no snacks at all?

No snacks at all! How dare she!

Topics: Cultural Commentary |

3 Responses to “On Snacking and Parenting”

  1. Barb Says:
    January 21st, 2010 at 10:56 am

    I think this hits the target–why we are becomming more and more an obsese nation. this applies to adults too–we can’t seem to sit down together without something to eat and it usually high in sugar!
    I’m old now and personnally fighting this battle of the bulge. Nobody more rabid than a “reformed snacker”

  2. John Key Says:
    January 21st, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Mark, you do a great job of avoiding politics–often more than I’d like; however, I suggest you avoid the Food Police blotter also!

    Full (no pun intended) disclosure: I’m overweight.

  3. Jennie Says:
    January 23rd, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    After reading this article in the NYT, I had to stop and think about myself, as well. I have recently noticed that I expect (even if it’s not consciously) that there will be snacks served at meetings that I attend. It was not so long ago that PTA, church and/or business meetings did NOT include bottled water at every chair and “snacks” provided either by the organization or some sad member of the team who has to run out at the last minute to provide concessions for “their turn.” Hmmmm, maybe we should ALL be thinking about this, not just for our kids!!


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