To Snack or Not to Snack: Should kids be snacking?

The NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) from the 1970’s shows that they typical American ate three meals per day. Although I was a child of the 80’s, I still remember that practice of less snacking. I remember by nana always telling me that snacking was going to ruin my supper. Interestingly the obesity and type 2 diabetes rates at this time were also lower.

If we fast forward to today, we are actively encouraging snacking. I often will consult with parents who will say that their kids will eat a meal and 10min later they will be asking for a snack. We have nutrition breaks at school, kids are eating granola bars and cheese strings in the car or as a distraction and even in my daughter’s 50min soccer game they need  a snack break.  Today the NHANES data shows that the average American eats 5-6 times per day.

I believe now there are a couple of challenges with this, including potential weight gain. But more than that I think they are filling up on quick and easy nutritionally void food. This not only adds a whack of added sugars and chemicals in some cases to their day but then are not hungry when it comes to dinner time. Even when well meaning parents are letting their children fill up on healthy fruit as a snack, this is just a lot of extra sugar in their system that is going to make them less hungry at meal time.

My suggestion: I think that the way that schools are set up right now, three meals a day is unrealistic. However I do think that we need to make a conscious effort to have an earlier dinner time and less afternoon snacking. Many children are hungry when they get home from school, so giving them a small snack is okay but not enough that it is going to interrupt their hunger at dinner. At this time I suggest that you don’t offer things like fruit, cracker, cereals, chips or other carbs. These types of carbs are very easy to overeat, especially when you are hungry.

Instead offer things like:

Veggies and hummus/dip

Nuts and seeds

Olives

Seaweed

Coconut

Cheese

And ALWAYS Water….

If they are truly hungry they will eat these snacks, if they are not then they will wait until dinner and have a great appetite to be able to consume a well balanced healthy meal.

Although picky eating has a lot of triggers and sources, this is one solution for the picky eater as well. The hungrier they are the more open they are to trying new foods. Being conventionally trained in nutrition I was always a huge supporter of snacks. Eating 6 meals per day was suggested to balance blood sugars and prevent overeating.  I consistently coached people to eat within half an hour of waking, and eat every 2-3 hours to maintain that sense of being full.  While people do feel full, many would have a very hard time losing weight. This was always puzzling to my (at the time) calorie in and calorie out model, as they were always eating well within their caloric limit.  While hormonal imbalances and quality of food consumed always have a role to play in sluggish weight loss, the other major culprit if frequency of eating.

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