Dear everyone who interacts with my children anywhere at all:
Please stop feeding my kids sugar.
No more juice boxes after soccer practices and ix-nay on the candy-filled birthday party loot bags-ay.
In other words, could we please agree to stop turning most kids’ events into free-for-all sugar sprees?
I ask not because we are treat teetotalers in our family. Oh, heck no. I make the most insane chocolate chip cookies (tip: melt the butter first!) and love to take my kids to our local handcrafted ice cream shop on a (very) regular basis. And that’s exactly why I wish they weren’t getting so much sugar from so many outlets and events that traditionally have had nothing to do with eating.
Think about it: candy-centered holidays like Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Easter have turned into week-long marathon celebrations with multiple parties, each better stocked with sugary treats than the last. Short sports practices and games are often capped off by a parent appearing on the field with cupcakes, and judging by how my kids act at our post-church Coffee Hour, the social gathering should really just be called “Cookies!” Part of me wants to stop worrying, to say “It’s childhood! We ate all that and we turned out okay!” (More on that in a minute.) But the other part of me wants to go on total lockdown because when a typical week includes all I mentioned above (in addition to any birthdays at school), I feel like I have to become downright ascetic at home in order to create nutritional balance in my kids’ lives.
Part of the problem, according to Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, author of Cooking Light Dinner Time Survival Guide: Feed Your Family. Save Your Sanity and the creator of a blog called Real Mom Nutrition, is that the definition of snack has changed. “Having a snack used to be a way to stave off hunger in between meals and provide nourishment. Snack being synonymous with ‘treat’ is a new thing—and it’s rampant,” Kuzemchak explains. An important factor, she argues, is “pinterestification” of snacks, which has engendered competition among parents. “No one wants to be the family that shows up with just orange slices when the offerings in the previous weeks have been post-worthy and garnered tons of compliments,” says Kuzemchak. Ergo, white chocolate-dipped Twinkie mummy pops and pretzel fishing rods.
Kids today are getting about 500 calories daily from snacking, and most of their snacks contain primarily refined white flour, salt, sugar and artificial additives, which is a dangerous combination given how childhood has changed, too. “There’s more inactivity and kids are eating more calories and artificial food dyes than at any time in history,” says Kuzemchak. And as for whether adults who’ve grown up indulging are okay, well, the Centers for Disease Control puts it like this: “Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.”
Plenty of parents, however, aren’t interested in fighting this battle. They seem resigned to the fact that we can’t control what happens outside our own homes. Which is true, but I still believe that not everything needs to be celebrated with junk food.
So I’ve become a Snacktivist. And I’m certainly not the first — or the only. I’ve instituted rules and have started really thinking through what the kids are consuming and when. In our own house, I let my husband establish the Swedish tradition he grew up with called “Lördags Goodis” (Saturday Candies), which means the kids get to dig into their stash and eat a lot of it once a week. They love it because … candy! And I love it because I can deflect their begging/whining/bartering on other days of the week with a simple “Wait until Saturday.” I also spend more time preparing our family’s daily snacks, which lets me control the sugar content and the additives. I guess I’m following Michael Pollan’s directive of “eat all the junk food you want…as long as you cook it yourself.”
Ultimately, my snacktivism is a selfish act. I don’t want to have to give up the treats we enjoy together as a family just so my kids can eat their fill when they are everywhere but our house. Any chance I can convince you to join me on this crusade to put sugary snacks back in their place? If so, I might just drop by with some of my chocolate chip cookies as a thank you.
Audrey D. Brashich is the author of All Made Up: A Girl’s Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype and Celebrating Real Beauty. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia and New York City. Find her on Twitter @AudreyBrashich.
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