Is my child snacking too much?

Hello parents - Do you have parameters for your kids when it comes to snacking? 

We currently don't have any rules for our soon-to-be 11-year-old; his snack options are generally healthy (plain cheerios, snap peas, goldfish crackers, fresh fruit, nuts) with one sweet treat per day (a serving size piece of chocolate, a fudgesicle, etc.). I've noticed lately that he's been grazing between meals, sort of mindlessly eating while watching TV/Youtube videos in the living room. 

My husband and I are discussing some type of limit, eg, he can only have one snack a day, or he can only snack at a specific time. Is that too restrictive? 

(FWIW, he has three square meals a day that are also generally healthy, and usually finishes them.)

Curious to hear how other parents view/handle their kids' snacking. TIA!

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RE:

I (an adult) am a mindless snacker. It’s not the best habit. It has caused me to put on unintended weight, even though I was watching my diet during mealtimes. I also hear it is very bad for your teeth…your saliva doesn’t have time to break down the bacteria before you add another round of sugars. So just for the interests of developing life long healthy habits, I would discourage mindless endless snacking. Also, an 11 year old boy might be going through a growth spurt, and I was thinking your snack choices, while good for a younger child, might not be filling enough for a tween. Try to introduce “heartier” snacks with protein and fats that will fill him up more, and see if it takes away the need to munch on cheerios all day. 

RE:

We never had any limitations other than, minimal daytime sweets and not too close to dinner (unless they could convince me they’d eat a hearty dinner). Btw, if weight is a worry, know that many kids get chunky in MS bc they’re preparing for a big boost in size in HS. I think limits will cause life problems. But I think talking to them in a nonjudgmental way about awareness while eating, appreciating food, education about nutrition, can all be powerful - and making daily sports and exercise a norm for everyone in the family (model what you preach). Education will be much more useful because by 9th grade they’ll be out of the house most of the day and you won’t have any clue what they’re eating. As they start to earn money, start driving, and gain huge amounts of independence - more than you may realize - in HS, education will help more than just another rigid parental rule. 

RE:

My boys started eating more and putting on weight around this age, and then in the teen years came the sudden growth spurts and it all evened out. When the hormones start kicking in, their body is growing and bulking up, adding musculature, especially boys, and it can seem like they are hungry all the time! I remember my kids at 11 drinking a whole quart of milk in a sitting, or being able to eat two huge cheeseburgers for dinner, or going through a dozen bagels in 2 days.  It sounds like you are providing lots of healthy snacks.  You might consider adding more protein to the snack options  - whatever he likes - hard boiled eggs, sliced meats and cheese, mini bean & cheese burritos, leftover chicken, etc. The protein will satisfy his hunger until the next meal.  He may start needing bigger portions at meals too, so just be ready for that.  I would 11-14 to be a great age for my boys, and lots of fun too, but there are so many new things that come up that you haven't encountered before as a parent!

RE:

The only way in which we limited snacking is that our kids couldn’t bring, say, a bag of chips with them, they had to put some chips in a bowl and refill the bowl from the bag in the kitchen as needed. Gives them a way to check in with themselves as to if they actually want more food though we said it was so we didn’t get bugs.


When they eat a lot of junk food, I point out that maybe it was delicious in the moment but now they feel like crap. This has largely made the days of eating twenty cookies in one sitting fade away.


Our kids are older now, all teens, and one of them has a hard time keeping weight on if he doesn’t snack all the time (in addition to putting away huge amounts of food at all meals). I remind him he wont be able to eat unlimited amounts of food forever and to make sure he’s actually hungry before he eats. As he has finished the worst of his growth spurts he is easing off the snacking somewhat but I feel if we had tried to limit what he ate he would have been a very unhappy kid.


If our kids had been struggling with their weight being too high, I probably would have still had unlimited snacking but not had so many high calorie foods around.


Good luck finding a balance that works for your kid and family.


 

RE:

In my view, the only reason to curb healthy snacking is for oral health. It is better for your teeth to have a couple of hours in between snacks and meals. So maybe you could institute a morning snack time and an afternoon snack time. And possibly an evening snack (after dinner) if your child is still hungry. But I would not curtail the amount your child is eating, particularly at this age -- approaching puberty and growth spurts. My 13 year old son is hungry ALL THE TIME! Admittedly, he's always been a grazer, but this usually translated to poor meal times. Now he is eating all the snacks and all the meals. 

Caveat: my daughter struggled with an eating disorder and we generally subscribe to the Ellen Satter approach to feeding (division of responsibility).

RE:

Your son is going to hit a growth spurt if he hasn't already and need more food.  And at 11 age, he is entering his tween years and should be able to start making more decisions about his life (within reason), and eating is a reasonable area to allow them to make their own decisions (e.g. hungry = eat; not hungry = stop eating). That doesn't mean to shower him in junk food, but if he is hungry and its more than an hour from the next meal, he should be able to grab a snack.  I will often leave a bowl of fruit or veggies (think cherries, strawberries, mini-peppers) on the kitchen table to have a healthy snack readily available.  Another trick is to prep some cut veggies and hummus and put on the table for everyone to graze on while dinner is being made. [my advice is based on kids at a healthy weight; my kiddos always trended under the 50% for weight and were active].

RE:

We offer our kids unlimited access to a variety of healthy (or healthy enough) snacks and involve them in grocery shopping each week; we also made a rule of no snacking in front of the TV — tbh mostly because of the mess but it also addresses the mindlessness aspect. If they’re hungry while watching or playing something they can pause, get up, get a snack, eat it, then resume the activity. Overall this system works well for us and I’ll echo what others are saying which is that they’re growing! And ultimately we feel our job is to equip them to make food choices totally independently in the not-too-distant future.

RE:

Please allow your 11 year old son to exercise bodily autonomy over when he eats. As parents, I believe it is our job to have healthy food options in the home. But it is not our job to tell children when to eat them and how much, especially an 11-year old. I see no value in that level of control over another person, child or not.

RE:

Grandparent here.  When our only child, now 37, was a toddler, he was seen by a naturopath due to constant ear infections, and we ALL changed our diet to conform to his requirements, meaning basically non-vegetarian health food.  That, plus I grew up with a serious sugar addiction, which only got worse in adulthood, so I had to do a 12-step program.  I had read that if you can keep your kids off sugar until age 2, they won't get addicted.  It worked with my son, who still doesn't like sugar, and still eats healthily, though not to my impossible standards.  For snacks, I always made cleaned and ready fruits, vegetables, and whole grain bread and butter available whenever he wanted something. I also brought them for traveling, which we did a lot of. No limits.  The only thing I would limit is junk food.  Maybe for a weekend or holiday treat, but that's it.  I was lucky enough to be close to 4 European immigrant grandparents who grew up on farms, without sugar and other junk, and saw them live to ripe old ages with few if any medical problems.  My goal was to try and raise my child with as little baggage as possible, with as healthy habits as possible.

RE:

Maybe institute a no-screens-while-eating rule? We have this for our kids (although struggle with enforcement) and I'd like to think it makes food consumption more intentional without policing quantity directly (which I want to avoid).

RE:

Hi CSM15,

My child is in a different age bracket at 5, so I’ll include some thoughts about our adult eating habits in response. When the word “mindless” gets attached to eating, that’s usually a red flag in our family for an unhealthy behavior around food. It’s important for all of us to be in tune with what our body needs and to know when we’re turning to snacking not because we’re hungry, but because we’re trying to comfort ourselves instead of addressing an underlying need (like emotional discomfort or stress).

For our little one we set fixed snack times and focus on ensuring meals and snacks when possible include protein and fiber, with minimal sugar. For him and for us adults, high carb low fiber snacks, like goldfish, we try to limit and enjoy only occasionally rather than daily. Fruits are great but we see veggies as far better- more fiber to feel fuller, good for digestion, far less sugar. If sugary or carb-heavy snacks are common we all can go on carb crash rollercoasters and feel constantly hungry.


Our diet is vegetarian, so the proteins our little one will eat tend to be eggs, dairy, some legumes, and the occasional processed vegan meat substitutes. We try to make sure most snacks, not just meals, have a protein element in addition to fiber. It’s not perfect, and we’re not rigid, but for us we try to make these kinds of choices “most of the time” (4+ days/week or most meals in a day) and then enjoy treats only some of the time. Dessert is not a daily habit for us, that falls into the treat category of occasional things. 

Hope there’s something useful for you in here!

RE:

Your child's eating sounds totally normal to me. If he's eating well at meal times, and is mostly having relatively healthy foods (which it sounds like he is!), then I think it's great to just let him eat when he wants. At that age, they're growing so much, and it will only pick up pace in the following years. A lot of tweens and teens need an incredible amount of food.

RE:

Hi there, I do not want to diminish you worry, but I wish I had this problem. I am not a dietician or a specialist in child nutrition, but eating should be purposeful and be an activity of its own rather than an add-on to other activities such as watching TV or playing video games. Remember Roald Dahl's "Matilda"? Even back then, the author was horrified by the terrible habit of eating while watching the telly. My kid seems to have zero appetite unless she watches a screen of any kind. And, if a screen isn't available, she has to at least have a comic book to read. It's like eating on its own has no purpose or merit. Again, I am no specialist, but my little voice inside my head tells me it's not a good thing. I hate it, but then I catch myself watching my favorite TV shows with her while eating. I think if a kid would be limited to eating without electronics, they would be more likely to eat only when they are truly hungry. So, I wouldn't limit the quantity or frequency but focus on the environment. Good luck!