Even though providing kids with snacks is a fundamental task of parenthood, most of us don’t give these in-betweens too much thought.  Instead we put our energy into making sure meals are up to snuff. 

The Nutrition Zone Mentality — focusing our nutritional efforts on meals — is a mistake.  Not only does it put too much pressure on dinner (leading parents to rely on the Two-More-Bites Tango), but meals don’t need so much attention.

Snacks are where the nutrition-action really happens.

Fact 1: The snacking trend has hit children ages 2-6 the hardest.

  • Kids between the ages of 2-6 snack more frequently than older kids.  But this hasn’t always been the case because…
  • The rise in snacking since 1977 has been steepest for kids age 2-6.

Fact 2: Kids don’t snack on meal-quality foods.

Kids get most of their snack calories from desserts and sweetened beverages.  That may not be true for much longer, though.  The largest increases in snacking have been in salty snacks and candy.

At the same time, kids are drinking more fruit juice and eating less actual fruit.

Maybe this explains why today’s children typically take in 168 more calories from snacks alone than they did in 1977.

Fact 3: Contrary to popular wisdom, kids don’t compensate for snacking by eating smaller meals.

Kids 2 – 6 years old have added an additional 182 calories per day to their diet, with no corresponding increase in physical activity.

Fact 4: Snack Foods don’t satisfy our hunger. Instead they stimulate our appetites.

High-calorie snacks –particularly those high in fat, salt and sugar — have been linked to a decreased sense of fullness.   But they also have been found to stimulate our appetites, setting in motion a cycle of desire and consumption.

So kids (and adults) keep eating.

Fact 5: Kids don’t need to keep eating.

There’s no reliable evidence that eating six small meals is a better lifelong habit than eating 3 larger ones.  To the contrary, some researchers worry that we’re moving our children toward a state of constant eating!

Yikes! What is that doing to our kids’ health? Read Snacks: The Gifts That Keep on Giving.

These are the snacking facts.  They prove the fallacy of saving nutrition for meals.  Break out of the Nutrition Zone Mentality to produce kids who develop the habits they need — for a lifetime of healthy eating.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~

==================================================

Sources:

  • Piernas, C. and B. M. Popkin. 2010. “Trends in Snacking Among U.S. Children.” Health Affairs 29(3): 398-404
  • Kessler, D. A., MD, 2009. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. New York, NY: Rodale
  • O’Connor, A. 2010. “The Claim: Eat Six Small Meals a Day Instead of Three Big Ones.” New York Times