When I was a kid, there were two kinds of lunch box snacks: fruit snacks (without character endorsements…) and pudding cups in metal tins.
I had neither.
To be honest, I don’t remember feeling starved or neglected by my snack-lacking lunch. I vaguely recall eating half of my sandwich if I was actually hungry at our mid-morning appointed snack time in elementary school. There was no afternoon snack when I got home – that was called “dinner”. Truly, it didn’t have much bearing on my quality of life.
Today I read an insightful editorial by David Staples – someone with whom I don’t normally agree – and it hit me right between the eyes: we are creating generations of rounder and rounder human beings, forcing food into them faster than their little bodies can process the calories.
Now, obviously, I know this already. But to see something as awesome as active kids being sabotaged by unnecessary food consumption makes my heart CRY. Kids barely get enough physical activity to counteract their suggested food intake, let alone the overconsumption that is happening in most little bodies. Have you ever looked at the nutritional information on most “healthy” kids’ snacks, let alone the junk food? SOOOOOO MUCH sugar, processed “ingredients”, and excess calories.
We are hard-wired to consume food when it’s in excess, but at some point we need to exercise our brains as well as our bodies and realize what we do and do not need. Adults are guilty of rewarding themselves with food after a workout; now we are teaching our already-at-risk kids to do the same. My kids’ schedules are dictated by me – whereas I can go for a run if I eat too much, my kids don’t have the leisure or the mental maturity to know that they need to run off and exercise at will. They need me to set the example for them and provide opportunities.
When my kids beg me for a snack at 10am, I check to see if they’re really hungry or if they’re just bored. Most of the time, they just need a change of direction. When I say no, and take them outside to play instead, I am teaching them that boredom does not equal hungry.
Stuffing kids with food, healthy or not, at any given chance is destroying any chance of teaching them healthy habits about moderation. We are living in an increasingly fat society. Our healthcare dollars are being spent on the completely preventable morbidities of excess consumption and sedentary lifestyle. We aren’t teaching our kids to notice hunger cues. Instead, we are teaching them to reward good behaviour (exercise, homework, potty training) with food, whether they are hungry or not.
I played soccer for one whole season, most of which was spent twirling in the field, picking clover. But I also watched my dad coach for many years, and watched my sister play for those years. I don’t remember a single “snack break”. I remember kids sipping water. I remember one kid getting yelled at for drinking pop in the middle of a game. There was no eating; after all, doesn’t anyone remember that eating + running strenuously = barfing?? I exercise on an empty stomach. Even during a 15+km run, you won’t catch me refuelling. I will eat when I get home, and even then, it will be minimal because I listen to my body, and the last thing my body wants after a run is a full stomach.
My friend Kristi made an excellent point this morning: Can you imagine if we breaked for snack during dance??
Can you imagine?? Can you imagine the stomach cramps that would have them doubled over, or the vomit I would have to clean off the studio floors? I have one diabetic student in my class of 16 who checks her blood sugars in the middle of class when we break for water, and even she rarely needs to break for a snack. Her blood sugar is fine. So are the other 15 kids, aged 11-15. If they don’t need a snack in the midst of my 90-minute dance class, why does any other kid?
It’s not refuelling them. There is not a single dietician who would agree that regular kids (or adults, for that matter) need FOOD in the middle of an activity that lasts less than 2 hours. They need hydration with zero calories: water. Afterwards, they need dinner. There is not a single average kid who needs snacks in the midst of their activities, or needs recovery foods afterwards. Most of these kids are failing to meet CSEPs guidelines for physical activity for kids and teens: 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. When they aren’t meeting these standards and are eating too much food, the only result is overweight and obesity.
And yes, that is a problem.
And yes, you can eat too much healthy food. Calories are calories. Too many oranges or too many chocolate bars and too little activity still equals weight gain.
Food is a social necessity in every society, but we need to use it in its proper place. The soccer field/dance studio/hockey rink/playground is not the place. Nor is the couch. Our kids are getting fatter, even when they’re more active than there peers. The skinny kid in class is the anomaly now.
That needs to change. Now.