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Snack Food Nation

Wendy Sachs
Sept. 29, 2010

"I love your ponytail.  It's so silky and lovely," my daughter Lexi cooed to her Malibu Barbie, in the voice of Malibu's brunette BFF Jasmine.  "Thank you.  Is it snack time yet?" Malibu responded. 

This was the Barbie dolls' exchange last night in my daughter's room.  I swear.   

To kids, snack time has trumped meal time.  Let's face it, snacks are usually a whole lot more tasty.   It seems kids - at least the ones I know and the two who live in my house - are conditioned to snack from morning to night.  But I'm going to go out on a limb here and say, I don't think it's just my grazers.  

Wherever I look, kids are noshing.  Catch a brigade of Bugaboos on the streets of New York City and inevitably you'll see a trail of dropped Goldfish.   During play dates at my house kids ask for a snack not just once but usually multiple times.   

Now I'm not a nutritionist or a pediatrician, but I've got a hunch that our overweight nation full of overstuffed kids begins with snacks and begins really young.  We give snacks as bribes and snacks to appease the whining and cranky kid.  Snacks distract and entertain.  We pull out the bag of snacks when we're desperate for quiet or need to run errands.

In my house it started with Veggie Booty - or as we referred to it, Kale Crack for kids.   From stroller to car seat to music class, my toddlers were always packing a snack.  Granted, most were organic or "healthy," but still they didn't go anywhere without a stash of something.    

And then there was the sippy cup - their cigarette.  A diluted apple juice addiction that soothed them as soon as they gripped the handles  As they got older, they moved on to the juice box - 6 ounces of fruit flavored heroin housed in a plastic coated box complete with precious straw.   They chased the juice box with abandon.  It was coveted and rarely purchased.  And they would do anything to get one.  So my bribe always started with something like, "if you're good while I grocery shop, you'll get a juice box!"  

Recently, Katie Couric tweeted that 50 percent of all 3 to 6-year-old girls think they are fat.  As shocking as this number seems, I'm not surprised.  Some may blame this perception on the warped images little girls have of themselves from watching the iCarlys and Mileys on TV.   But the shocking fact is that young children are getting heavier earlier than ever.

My daughter, who is now 7, started asking me about a year ago if she was fat.  She's not.  But sadly lots of kids today are overweight.  Blame it on video games and cuts in our schools' physical education budgets or hormones in meat and milk and toxic chemicals in plastic.  All of these may be contributing to an obesity epidemic in America.  But I think our snack food nation is also to blame.

We are creating a generation of socialized snackers.   Every activity from infant music and gym classes to kiddie soccer comes with a treat as a "reward."  Ironically, even on the playground, kids are taking mini-snack breaks.   And nursery schools that are only two hours long include snack time.  Learning how to wait for your juice and throw away the cup are important social skills, nursery school teachers would argue.  But seriously, do they really need to eat again at 10 am?      

Back in the pre-microwave era when families shared the same meal at the same time and moms weren't short order cooks, there was a whole lot less snacking going on.  The idea that you were going to ruin your appetite and not eat the meal that you mom slaved over and spent two hours preparing, meant that moms limited eating in between meals.

For a grazer like me who would prefer nibbling tapas over wolfing three squares, I totally get the desire to eat throughout the day.  But the next time I hear my kids beg for a snack, an hour after lunch, I may invent a crazy game called - let's see if we can go from lunch to dinner without snacking.  And whoever wins gets a juice box.

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