It’s mid-morning and Adeline has been snacking almost constantly since she woke up. At least it seems that way. I filled up her snack container with puffs about twenty minutes ago and now she’s begging me to get her a strawberry from the fridge. I grudgingly concede. And despite my commitment to letting her make choices, I can’t help but feel guilty. Should I stop the snacking?
I had been wrestling with snack guilt on and off since she started solid foods, but it really got bad when the whole Bringing up Bebe phenomenon started. One of the big criticisms of American parenting is that we let our kids snack too much. Apparently the French have perfect children, and one reason is that they enforce three meals and one snack a day. And that’s it. No extraneous snacking. Obviously, I’m a failure.
But when I step back from the hot new parenting book for a moment, I realize I don’t even really agree with it. For one thing, my doctor assured me that constant snacking at her age is totally normal and nothing to be concerned about. Not to mention that Adeline is in the 25th percentile for weight, so I don’t think she’s getting too much to eat. Girl runs around a lot – she needs calories!
Speaking of calories, snacking throughout the day is actually an incredibly healthy way to get calories. I snack constantly: a piece of fruit, a handful of nuts, a small piece of cheese, even some pretzels or pirates booty. It helps keep me full (and energized) and prevents me from overeating at any one time. And I think it keeps my metabolism up, helping me maintain a healthy body size. How could I prevent Adeline from snacking when I’m at the cupboard grabbing another bite to eat?
Anyway, it’s not like she just snacks all day, every day. Some days she can’t seem to get enough, but some days she hardly snacks at all. If I were the one deciding how much she gets to eat, how would I know which day it is, the hungry day or the not hungry day?
Which is really the most important point. I think giving her freedom around the whole eating/food issue is crucial. I don’t want to make her eat at certain times and therefore create a person who always eats at mealtimes, even if she’s not hungry. I don’t want to make her eat a certain amount whether she wants it or not (“clean your plate!”), again, creating unhealthy eating habits. And I don’t want to make her stop eating when she’s still hungry. She’s going to be a teenage girl some day, she needs to be confident about food. She needs to trust her body and eat when she’s hungry and stop when she’s full.
Of course, I don’t want to bribe her with food when I need her cooperation or use food to calm her when she’s upset. That’s not going to lead to good eating habits, either. I’m pretty good about not giving her food as a pacifier when she’s upset. But I do use food to keep her occupied when we’re driving or when I just need to finish the dishes, write a quick email, get her to stay with me at the grocery store, etc. I’m trying to be better about that, but it’s just so damn effective!
But whether I’m distracting her with food or she’s just snacking throughout the day, I try to at least give her healthy choices: fruit (girl loves fruit), cheese, whole wheat pita with hummus, green beans, whole wheat toast with cream cheese, and just for good measure, more fruit. Now don’t get me wrong, cheddar bunnies were her absolute favorite for a few weeks, and she always goes back for more puffs. But hey, at least they’re organic, right? And she never gets sweets or cookies.
And that pretty much sums up my whole approach to parenting: I set boundaries and define the range of choices, and within that structure, she gets to make her own decisions. The French be damned. I’m feeling pretty good about my parenting after all.