“Mommy, daddy, may I have a snack?”
How do you respond to this question from a wide eyed kid you love more than yourself? Do you say no? If they throw a tantrum, do you still say no, or do you cave and let them have what they want just so they will stop whining (and hopefully so will you)?
If you are one of those parents who cave, do you know what effect this can have on your child? Don’t get me wrong, as the effects are not always harmful; there are actually benefits of providing your children with some snacks. However, the beneficial effects are dependent on the types and timing of the snacks.
In 2010, a study was conducted that indicated that children today snack more often than they did in the seventies. Not only that, but children today also eat much larger portion sizes than they did back then. Allowing your children to snack on whatever they want and whenever they want can lead to a multitude of health issues such as obesity and diabetes.
Snacks do not necessarily have to be bad though. Snacking constantly throughout the day is referred to as grazing, and this type of eating is considered to have negative effects. If you allow your children to graze on food all day long, their blood sugar will stay high (a problem in its own right) and they likely will not have an appetite when it comes to mealtime. Additionally, you will not allow your children to recognize internal hunger cues if you provide them with snacks all day long.
As a parent, you need to trust that your children know when they are hungry and when they are full.
So the question is; how often should your children eat?
It is recommended that children eat about every three hours or so. Obviously, meals do not take place every three hours, so it is beneficial for your children to have a snack in between meal periods. But understand, the snacks you provide can either have beneficial or harmful effects on your child.
For example, if you allow your children to have cookies, ice cream, or other junk food, then the snacks will have a negative effect on your children. Snacks high in sugar lead to multiple health problems including obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Further, these types of snacks do not fill children up as much as healthier options, such as fruits and vegetables, so children tend to eat more of the sugary foods than if they were provided a healthier alternative. As a result, they overeat and are left with no appetite at meals.
Snacks, on the other hand, can also have beneficial effects for your children when the right food is provided at the right time. For example, fruits and vegetables are nutritious snacks for growing children. Further, snacks given right before mealtime can ruin your children’s appetite, so it is best to space snacks evenly between meals, usually an hour or two before the next meal.
So, this brings us to our main question: should you let your children have snacks? The answer is yes, when the right snacks are provided at the right time.
Freuman, Kamara. Smart Snacking For Kids. November 2012. U.S. News. http://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/2012/11/06/smart-snacking-for-kids
Kuzemchak, Sally. The Snack Epidemic. 2013. Parents Magazine. http://www.parents.com/recipes/nutrition/kids/the-snack-epidemic/
Shield, Jo Ellen. When Should My Kids Snack? February 2014. Eat Right. http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/when-should-my-kids-snack