A few years ago, I banished snacking. No more snacks, ever!
Well, not quite... But I was tired of having my kids sometimes eat poorly because they had been snacking between meals and weren't particularly hungry at mealtime. Yes, our snacks are fairly nutritious, but they are in no way a balanced meal replacement. I was tired of hearing, "I'm hungry, what should I eat?" and I was tired of the crumby mess in the back seat of our car.
I had read Karen Le Billon's French Kids Eat Everything and learned about how "France's official food guide... emphatically recommends no snacking." In France, snacking is considered unhealthy to the point that "snack food ads on French TV carry a large white banner... bluntly stating: 'For your health, avoid snacking between meals.'" Le Billon stopped her own children's snacking and found it hugely beneficial in cultivating an appetite for real foods at mealtimes.
I toyed with the idea of banishing snacking altogether after reading Le Billon's book, but felt like there were too many things stacked against it. We live in a culture where snacking is the absolute norm (although I don't think that was the case when I was growing up). Most importantly, the time at which my kids and I eat lunch often isn't consistent since it depends upon my work schedule any given day. We sometimes eat lunch as early as 11:15am and other times lunch isn't until after 1pm. I don't think it would have been fair or realistic for me to banish snacks altogether given the uncertainty of lunch time.
Our Snacking Rules
So, a few years ago, I came up with a new snacking plan based around two rules:
Rule #1: Only fruits and veggies are allowed as snacks between meals. This specifically applies between breakfast and lunch, and from ~3pm until dinner time. There is an exception in the hours between lunch and our afternoon quiet time, during which time the kids are free to have other snacks as well. But between breakfast and lunch, and from ~3pm until dinner, only fruits and veggies are allowed as snacks.
Rule #2: If a child does not finish their meal, they may not have any snacks or other foods until the next mealtime. I make sure to dish up appropriate amounts of food so that no one is being expected to finish more than they can easily eat. And I make an exception on those rare occasions when a new recipe I've made isn't very palatable. We make sure not to use snacks as a bribe for eating meals; rather, it is just a matter-of-fact rule that no other food is allowed if the meal is not finished.
It did take a bit of time for everyone to become accustomed to these rules. But, over time, following these rules just became "normal" and no big deal. Fruits and veggies can take the edge off my children's between-meals-hunger, but they don't make them feel full the way other snacks do. This means that my kids arrive at mealtimes feeling hungry, just as they should. And on occasions when we are away from home, we can make exceptions to the rules as needed.
What Do They Snack On?
These are the foods my kids can eat between breakfast and lunch, and from ~3pm until dinnertime:
Seasonal fresh fruit - typically oranges, pears, or apples in the cool months; berries apricots, melons, or peaches in the warm months
Fresh veggies - carrots, bell peppers, snap peas, cucumbers, or tomatoes
Fermented veggies - pickles or sauerkraut
Benefits of These Snacking Rules
These rules have worked well for us, and they've led to great results in my family:
Better mealtime nutrition: Instead of filling up on snack foods, my kids are eating more of the healthy meals that I prepare.
More fruits and veggies: My kids eat less crackers, chips, and nuts, and instead they eat more fruits and veggies.
Less resistance to new foods: My kids are more willing to try new foods when they arrive at meals feeling hungry.
Time and effort saved: No one is spending much time tryi