The insanity of snacking
What is it about the after-school snack? Every day at pick-up time I watch parents press pre-packaged goodies into outstretched hands before hellos have been exchanged. Biscuits, bars, brioches; honestly, lots and lots of brioche.
This is not as much of a judgment as it sounds. I might not bring the biscuits to school with me, believing as I do, that my children can probably make it up the hill before collapsing with hunger. But once we’re home, more often than not I reach for the malted milks. Administering a snack to post-school children can feel like a medical emergency. A few wilted cucumber sticks simply isn't going to cut it. Get some calories in them quick before something terrible happens and they get hungry.
But, surely we’re getting this a bit wrong. What if we do let the kids get a bit hungry? What would happen then? The major risk is a serious condition my friend calls being ‘hangry’ and the symptoms are irrationality, bad behavior, despair and then rage. The only cure is food, but the recovery is pretty immediate. So, snacking can ward off the dreaded ‘hanger’, but it is fine balance and I can’t help feeling we might be tipping the scales in the wrong direction. Tipping towards a situation where children are protected from feeling even the slightest pang of hunger.
Why do we give kids snacks anyway? Just to play devil's advocate for a moment, to we really need them? I had a chat with a mummy the other day, who said, ‘I give them these snacks after school and then I wonder why they won’t eat their tea. Crazy, isn’t it?’ So, what are the options here? No snacks and a good dinner with a dose of grumpy hunger? Or a cheerful, snack-filled child followed by dinner rejection?
There has got to be a middle ground. What I tend to do if I’m worried my snack allocation has reached dinner-damaging proportions is to do a mental scale-up. I look at what I’m offering as a snack and picture it scaled it up to my size. I’m about three times the size of my daughter, so I figure her eating three malted milks is like me eating nine and then expecting myself to want dinner two hours later. There’s no scientific basis for this little exercise whatsoever, but it does make you think. My child eating a mini-roll is a bit like me eating a whole Swiss roll. Not saying I couldn’t do it; but I’m not going to want my spag bol afterwards. Most ‘snack sized’ food is actually epic when scaled up this way; in fact I’d like to do a photoshoot with adults posing with giant snack foods to illustrate the point.
So, to snack or not to snack? Do we cut out the snacking completely, and ride the wave of stroppiness all the way to dinner? Or do we stuff them full and resort to cajoling, bribing and threatening to get the tea down too? Or, maybe, there’s just something to be said for a small banana, a glass of milk and a good bit of hunger left over for dinner; after all, there are few things as satisfying as seeing a child fall upon their dinner with gusto.
How do you do snacking in your house?