Let me first backtrack. I read a fascinating book recently called French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon. In the book this mother describes the year she spent in her husband’s native France trying to get her two small children in touch with the French way of life. She soon discovers that the typical North American way that kids eat just won’t do in France. The French seem to have a cultural sensibility about how to get their children eating healthy delicious food from a VERY young age. Leek soup, beet salad, fresh bread and French cheese -no problem! This is typical kindergarten fare at the school cafeteria. She spends the next year trying to get her kids accustomed to the French way of eating by exposing them in a very matter-of-fact fashion to all sorts of local foods.
What I have done with my own kids is very similar to how the French teach kids about food-and my kids do eat EVERTHING! However, our family faux-pas is how much my kids snack. I don’t think I’m much different from most American moms. I carry snacks for “just in case.” What if someone has a meltdown? What if we are stuck somewhere without food? I have a compulsion to be prepared for all of these “what if’s.” We also have a big “Snack Basket” in our kitchen, and the kids always seem to be hitting it right before dinner (which drives me a bit nutty!)
What I learned from Le Billon’s account of her time in France is that French kids just don’t snack. Period. After school they have a small “meal” called le goûter. This is given to children when they get home from school, sitting down at a table. Typically it may be yogurt and fruit or bread and cheese. Then food is put away and there is no snacking until dinner, typically at 7:00 to 7:30. Easy as that! What if kids get hungry? Well, hunger is a normal human sensation that kids get accustomed to, and it also helps them to eat more nutritious foods at mealtimes. A child who is faced with broccoli at dinner is more likely to eat it if she is not full of fishy crackers and fruit snacks.
For the past month, I have instituted “no snacking” and le goûter, at my house, and I’m please to say it has worked brilliantly. During soccer season, our heartier snacks held the kids over until after practice and the kids were much more able to eat a nutritious dinner that I served because they weren’t munching in the car on the way home. The kids now understand the rules about snacking, and as long as the kids have plenty to do, they don’t seem to miss the snacks.
Here are some five simple rules regarding snacking for kids:
- Small children should probably be offered a mid-morning snack and a later afternoon snack. Other than that snacks should be put away so that children are more likely to eat their meals.
- Older children (approximately 5 year old and older) can be offered a mid- afternoon snack. Other than that, snacks should be put away so that children are more likely to eat their meals.
- Children will probably whine at first when they are getting used to not getting snacks on demand. It’s okay. They will get used to it. Provide simple explanations for the change in your routine, and then don’t give in.
- Snacks should consist of foods that one would give at meal. Instead of “filler foods” like fish crackers, pretzels, chips, and fruit snacks which don’t offer much nutrition, try to provide a balance of fruits, veggies, whole grains and proteins. See our “Super Snack Plate” for an example.
- Avoid sweet drinks like juice, sports drinks, soda, or other sweetened beverages with snacks. Water and milk are good choices for snack time. Smoothies that combine fruit, veggies, yogurt and other nutritious ingredients can work well too as a snack.
Here’s a link to Karen LeBillon’s book: French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters.