Kid Snacking: How Much Is Too Much?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I have a feeling that one day very soon, I’m going to become the complaining parent at my 3-year old's preschool. I've always been conscientious about her diet (I prefer that term over "strict" or "crazy") so I knew that I'd have a hard time sending her to school where she gets a snack that's not approved by me. I've tried to relax a little, looking at the bigger picture and telling myself that she's got to learn to make her own healthy choices at some point. She's only 3, so she's not really making those choices yet. But its good practice for the future, right?

She's only at school for 2 ½ hours, so she really doesn't need a snack. But I'm okay with it, even though I'm cringing internally when she tells me she had Cheese-Its and "dragon juice" for snack. I'm not entirely clear on what dragon juice is, but she always comes home with a blue mustache on the days when she's had it.

Preschool is notorious for having all kinds of parties- celebrating each holiday, each season, etc. And those parties always involve bringing in snacks and special treats for the kids. She never wants lunch after she comes home on those party days. After seeing all of the things parents bring in and how the kids are allowed to fill their plates with mounds of food, I can see why. She's also had regular days recently where she didn't want lunch because "I had lots of Goldfish today, mama!" she proudly tells me. It seems like her very short school day almost always revolves around food, and I guess that's where I start to get irritated.

According to a study from the Department of Health and Human Services, "Between 1977 and 2002, the percent of the American population eating three or more snacks a day increased to 42 percent from 11 percent." Of the children surveyed, the number who said they had eaten three meals on the previous day went down, while those who had had a snack went up more than 40 percent.

Some of that increase is probably due to the fact that families are constantly on the go. Many don't have time to sit down together for dinner as they shuffle from one practice or event to another. So snacking has become a way to fit it all in when there's no time for meals. Unfortunately, a lot of those snacks come from vending machines (candy, soda, etc.) and end up being a poor substitute for a nutritious meal. But it also seems like snacking has taken over our culture. I don't typically go to a meeting or any event that doesn't have snacks. And if they don't, the first question (whether it's vocalized or not) is "Where's the food?"

Am I overreacting? Is this just something I need to get used to, especially where my children are concerned? Do you find that snacking is a bigger deal these days than it used to be? Why or why not?

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PATRICIAANN46 9/16/2019
Thank You...……….. Report
JANIMOEN 5/28/2019
My daughter’s preschool is 3 hours, they always have snack time but the teacher is quite specific about what the little ones can have. It’s also in the morning so that might make a difference. But no cookies or unhealthy snacks are allowed. If the the kids come in with something not approved, they just send it back home and give them something healthier from their cupboard. I thought they were overly strict when they sent home pretzel goldfish one time, but I just traded it out for something else. On the days we are home, we don’t have morning snacks, but in school they always do. So I choose fruit/veggies/cheese strings or low fat crackers to send and my kids have never had any problems eating their actual meals. When my son was smaller, there was one dayhome that gave them snacks at the end of the day and he never wanted supper so I just mentioned that and the lady had no problems changing snack time to earlier. Report
KHALIA2 4/20/2019
My children are grown now, but I am concerned about what my grandchildren eat. Report
CHERYLHURT 4/14/2019
We weren’t allowed to snack. Report
DRAGONFLY631 3/23/2019
Agreed Report
Article written in 2010 and it's 2019, so hopefully your kids are out of pre-school by now!! (smile!!) But in 2003 or so, when my son was in pre-school, they didn't seem to have as many snacks as what your school did. I don't know if it was because the school we were going to was in the "lower income areas" of town (it was actually a pre-K program for 4-5 year olds not yet old enough for Kindergarten), and it was only a half day program? The snacks were a bigger issue at the elementary school he went to for Kindergarten through 5th grades - snacks every time we turned around, it seemed like. If it wasn't one monthly excuses of a holiday, it was then some kid's birthday. My son's birthday was about a week before last day of school, so I usually did his birthday snacks with an eye to it being the "last party of the year". I also remember his Kindergarten teacher, the first time we needed to bring snacks in, I brought in a gallon of 100% orange juice. I knew others bought the "fruit punch" so I wanted to bring in something that was "healthier". I was so shocked by the expression of sheer joy and I don't know, thankfulness? something - as the kindergarten teacher drank her glass of orange juice and she said something (can't remember exactly what now) to the effect of "It's been sooo long since I last had REAL orange juice!" I was so sad for her. And I brought in orange juice EVERY.SINGLE.TIME. we needed to bring snacks in the rest of that year... Report
BILLTHOMSON 12/24/2018
Some very good information Report
JAMER123 10/16/2018
Teaching your children is different from teaching your grandchildren. Thanks for sharing this info. Report
Healthy snacks are the way to go Report
Very interesting Report
Very interesting to read some of "comments" Report
Interesting. Report
Depending on the day my snacks vary from 0-5. That seems extreme I know but as long as I plan my snacks it's usually fruit/nuts/yogurt/protein bar or similar. It's when I don't plan I slip. Report
I can honestly say that I am thankful to have a teenager that is somewhat aware of the empty calories in snacks as well as fast food.
My Brother and Sister In law have also raised there kids the same way.
Yeah! Report
I've been retired for 5 years now but for at least the last 5 yrs I taught 3rd grade in public school we were not allowed to have anything but healthy snacks in our classrooms, including birthdays and holidays. We also provided nutritional instruction during every snack time, such as teaching them how to read nutritional labels; the difference between 100% fruit juice and those horrific pouches of sugar water pretending to be juice, etc. Report
It's funny that you mention how your little one only talks about what she ate! My daughter was in preschool last year and for the first couple of months her snack was the only thing she'd tell me about. Luckily for me her teacher had warned all the parents about that. You've got to do the inquiring, for some reason the little ones just won't tell you about their day!! But they seem to ramble on about the food! I had to go and volenteer in her class a few times before I knew what to ask (what story did you hear today? did you sing a song?) but after that the information started to flow!! :) I hope that helps a bit! Report
I think you'd be smart to keep your child home with YOU until she is older and you feel better about what she is being exposed to. I don't think you're ready for her to be gone even if it is just for 2 1/2 Hrs. per day. LOL When my children went to 4K they "burned up" any snacks they had while there, with all the singing and jumping they did. Report
I am appalled at the fact that so much revolves around food--here at college, "free food" is on every event poster as a bribe to increase attendance. People don't eat real meals--just "snack" foods in massive quantities. School "parties" always focused solely on food, which I found perplexing--what is so fun about gorging on junk food? Where are the games and activities? Just give them food and keep them quiet seems to be the theme with parents/teachers. and that food is rarely fruits, veggies or anything else healthy. Report
My! Such a beautiful little girl!!!
Anytime I have gone to events at my grandchildren's school, there are always veggies and fruits and there may be cupcakes or another dessert. But I notice the children really enjoy the fruits and veggies first. Report
Healthy snacking is like living on a budget: in THEORY it can be done, but in REALITY most obese Americans just use it as an excuse to eat more, which is the last thing we need. This story touches my nerve / pet peeve / soapbox. Telling obese Americans with bad habits and little to no developed self control to eat more often is breathtakingly wrong and detrimental. The THEORY about why smaller meals more often, is beneficial, never materialises into REALITY because those smaller meals are really snack-size, calorie-wise. It's shouldn't be called 4-6 small MEALS because that's a misnomer; is should be called 4-6 SNACKS because in calories, that's what it is. A chicken breast half and broccoli IS NOT A MEAL!!, but it may be the only cals you have left for the day if you ate 4-6 meals. NO THANK YOU. I started eating 3 meals with 500-600 cals per meal, with No Sweets, No Snacks, and No Seconds, and the weight has started flying off me! I am re-learning self-control because, since there are no seconds, once you are done with your plate, then you're DONE eating until lunch or dinner, and for some reason I don't yet understand this is working like a charm, super ultra simple EASY. I have only gotten hungry one time before the next meal, and I drank a tall glass of water at that time. Food tastes better, and at meals I am always surprised how full and satisfied I am. This is great-grandmother's way of eating, and if anyone's interested please see my page for the SparkTeam icon, this is called The No S Diet. There is also one exception on the No S Diet, so yes you CAN eat Johnny's birthday cake and still have the pounds fly off. Report
It really seems that snacking is becoming an epidemic. Too many snack, too many unhealthy calories. Report
Snacks in themselves aren't bad--good to keep your metabolism humming--but I am more worried about the preservatives and food dyes and artificial floavors in these snack foods. All those little things add up, and worry for the kids' future health. I think parental awareness is the key--if you communicate these concerns to your daughter, I think you'll be really pleased to see how she wants to imitate you in her choices. Report
Can you say: Mixed Signals? Sparkpeople comes out with articles like this, but also has articles saying that it is better to snack than to have 3 square meals. Coach Nichole speaks of 'toning' in some of her favorite exercises, while Coach Dean says 'toning' doesn't exist. This can be rather confusing, esp. when it comes to the trivial questions. I don't alsways agree with the answers, and it seems neither do some of the experts. Report
My 4 yr old goes to Headstart ...its a goverment funded program for lower income families.. We are not allowed to bring in any kind of food what so ever.. They also are not allowed to give them cakes and cookies and sugar loaded foods!!!! They have a meal plan for the entire month and its always healthy! Its awesome my daughter wouldnt touch half the veggies I gave her untill she started going to headstart... the other day she spooned broc. on her plate and ate it on her own, My husband and I just sat there in amazement!! Report
Well I workmat a preschool and I think you need not worry about your daughter becoming obese just attending 2 and a hallf hours a day. Sometimes we run out of food for the children and can't ask for any more. Everyone including preschools are worried about obesity. The most important thing is what you do at home and what you have to offer your child at home for meals. The parent's responsibility is to provide healthy meals snacks etc to their child. The childs responsibility is to eat what they want. If you have healthy food choices at your home, your child will learn to eat healthy. The preschool is just a small part of your childs day and should not make a difference. Report
Unfortunately, the bad snacking habits being learned now will carry into adulthood and cause obestiy issues later. The eating habits learned by the older generations of having to "clean your plate" have contributed to the obesity of that generation especially since all the fast food chains have biggy-sized their portions. Report
If only I had a parent who was this conscious around food while growing up I might not need to be one of the 100+ team. I must say that this is something that should be raised in a PTA meeting so that all parents are aware of the bad habit that is formed at such a young age. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject. Report
I teach Kindergarten and we eat a snack everyday. Since joining spark, I've stopped eating snack with them! There are too many calories in the foods that they bring in (chips, cookies, brownies) for me to fit them into my calorie range for the day! I've also cut down considerably with how much I give to them. Before I would just give enough to pass out all the cookies or just give a handful - but now I look at the calories and give them around 100 calories. Sometimes they get mad about only getting 1 little brownie - but that's ok. Report
Though my children are grown (and healthy weights) I was appalled the first time I was "Room mother" for one of my daughter's parties at school. I remember when I was little the room mother baked 1 cookie or cupcake for each child, the school provided the 1/2 cup icecream cups and we drank Koolaid. Admittedly it was not all that healthy but.... when I went to my daughter's class party almost ALL the mom's had sent food. Most of it was chips, candy and cakes. I tried to send veggies or fruit after the first time. Just do your best to teach good habits at home and feel free to let her skip lunch when she has snacked alot. Thanks for caring about your child's nutrition. I wish more moms did.
I wouldn't worry too much about it, since on the days she eats that much at school, she doesn't want to eat lunch. That means she can still tell when she's really hungry and when she's not, which is a very good sign. I don't think she is likely to develop a problem with overeating, especially since you are so careful about what she eats at home. Small children need more calories than you might think, anyway--they are growing and usually quite active. Report
Wow, I have such mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I think it's so important to instill healthy habits in children by monitoring their behavior AND by setting a good example yourself. On the other hand, our society is so focused on childhood obesity that we tend to overlook just how many children in our country go hungry on a daily basis. For some kids, the school snack may be the only lunch they get. One thing I've noticed (and others have mentioned here, too) is that children whose parents have set good examples tend to have children who make good choices. Many times I've seen children turn down cookies or other sugary snacks to eat vegetables. --Dr. Twitchy Report
Approach the teacher, or someone else in charge, to see if they could move to healthy options. When my children were in preschool and elementary, we had an approved list of snacks and if someone wanted to bring in a treat that wasn't on it you had to get approval. Report
I believe that it isn't a huge deal. If you teach your children the RIGHT way to to eat they are more inclined to eat that way as the get older. I am a firm believer if you over restrict children from having junk food they are more inclined to want the foods they can't have. My advice (since you asked) is relax. She is only in pre-school a short time and you are the major force of food education in her life. TRUST your teaching abilities!
Good luck! Report
I'm a grandma and can not really supervise snacks any more. I was totally ofloored when my son was six and asked for broccoli and cauliflower for snack with ranch dressing. That had been served as a snack at school and he liked it. Who wouldda' thought. He had always ate well (read correctly or whatever you wish to call it) until he got on his own and started junk food eating. He now has a weight problem (duh) and is fighting to take it off. Report
My daughter attends a pre-school for 9hrs each day(Mon-Fri) and has been at same place since 6wks old. They have a healthy breakfast, snack,lunch,snack and if you are still there late dinner. Once in a while they have a special occasion in which they have candy or cake but not all the time. They are very careful on the childrens diet plans and I am very pleased. There is nothing wrong with snacks at school as long as the school understands nutrition and does not cross over the line on a daily basis. One more thing is that they are very careful on portion control also. Report
I try to do healthy choices for snacks at home. My 4-year old's preschool does offer snacks that I wouldn't choose, but I let it go. My 5-year old though, who is in Kindergarten this year is in a junk-food-free school. Parents rotate sending the daily snacks for the whole class & there is an approved list of healthy snack ideas to choose from. Also, her school does not allow sending birthday treats to the class. Instead, to honor your child on his/her birthday, you can choose to donate a book to the school library. Your child's name is printed inside the cover & your child gets the book "delivered" to his/her classroom & is the first to check out that book. I think that's a pretty good alternative to cupcakes & cookies a few times a month for class birthdays. Report
My daughter lived in Texas where there was not a snack at recess. Now she's back in Massachusetts where they have snack. At least the school requires the snack to be a healthy one. Report
I have 4 healthy fit children. We limit processed non-nutritional foods in our household too. However, I know we can't stop them from trying those things and quiet frankly I don't see the need to. The small bites of a treat or snack they might get a few times does not even come close to the good nutrition I provide my children.
As a matter of fact my children have always eaten better than mom. I would be a hypocrite to claim otherwise. I am a part of Sparkpeople for a reason. I need to loose weight, make better choices and become a much healthier example to my children!
I do not want to become a food Nazi to my kids. That is going lead to the kind of behavior that could potentially scar a child and give them issues with food they just don't need. Provide the best example you can for your child, and a snack every now and then is not going to be detremential to them. Report
NO YOU ARE NOT OVERREACTING! All people who call themselves "parents" should be "strict" or "crazy" about snacks for their children, and proud of those labels. It means you truly care about your children. In today's world our children need us to give them all the good health and habits we can in order to survive to adulthood without a chronic condition or disease. Show you love your children, please. Report
I agree that there are too many snack breaks for kids these days. We have friends that come to the playground with a fully loaded commissary for an hour long playdate. They break out the snacks and the kids quit playing. My kids stand around looking at the food and acting like they never eat. You can survive one hour without food and water folks! Also, do you really need to take Cheerios into church for your kids? They end up rolling under the pews and the poor little clean up ladies end up sweeping them up. Teach your children to sit quietly without having to have a snack in their mouths. Report
I can see where the emphasis is on food for esp. children this young. It's a way to calm down the group and put their attention on something other than noise and generally frantic activity. BUT there is a way to turn this into a learning experience for life. They could talk about the differnt foods and food groups and what each one does ... you know, turn it into a learning "game". And it also gets kids to think about nutrition and to try foods that might be different than things served to them at home. (this was a personal problem for me ... my mom only gave us food she liked and let's just say her ideas of what to eat were not very healthy, tho she is 90 and fairly healthy. Me ... I never tasted broccoli or cauliflower, et al , until I moved out of the house. I have always had a problem w/ weight because of a trained habit to go for cookies and potato chips and a coke! I haven't had potato chips or a coke in over 2 yrs ... but I can't break my weakness for cookies). Report
Too much snacking is a big problem, not just for children but for adults as well. Report
I am a preschool teacher and we have a snack time as part of the learning process--table manners, healthy foods, conversation, personal responsiblity (cleaning up after self), fine motor (opening milk carton/ string cheese) etc. Each child brings the snack for the day so depending on class size it is about 1 time a month per child. We request healthy snacks but allow the occasional cupcake/cookie for birthdays. For "big holidays" we do a fun activity like Halloween=wear costume for the day, December celebrations=pajama day, Valentine's=card exchange, etc without the whole party food issue.
Sounds like something you should definitely talk to her school about!! I wonder if there are other parents who are also concerned? I think it'd be worth it to speak to them to see what they think. Being at school for 2 1/2 hours, no, I don't see why that requires a snack. But if they are going to insist on doing so, it should at least be sensible and very limited - teachers should maybe dish out portions for the kids and help prevent them from getting a plateload of cupcakes! Report
i don't have any kids, but i'm angry FOR you! if my child came home and told me that she was full on cheez-its i'd be PISSED off! Here you are trying to set good examples for your children and going out of the way to prepare them healthy foods and they're being given the very junk that you don't want them to have (or at least a limited amount) in the one place that's supposed to be good for them.

That really grinds my gears! I mean i'm pretty "conscientious" (read that "obsessed") about the food I eat, so if it was a little mini-me, i'd be even more crazy because i wouldn't want them being overweight like i was later on in life.

An off-limits food is okay once in a while, but everyday is way too much. I would definitely say (for me it would be "bellow") something to the school of i were you. I'm sure even if you talk to the other parents they might have concerns over the very same thing, and if they're not concerned (what kind of parents are those???) tell them your background and explain why they should be concerned. Report
I think you should definitely talk to the teacher. I actually talked to my child's pre-k teacher about the lollipops which are so bad for their teeth and she stopped giving them. The public schools in my area have instituted policies about not bringing sweets to school and they have healthier snacks at parties (no candy, mostly popcorn and pretzels- occassionally a cupcake). It's a huge relief for me since I don't pack junk for my kids and now they aren't "missing" anything. Unfortunately the school lunches still have a ways to go as far as I'm concerned.

As for at home I ask my preschooler if they had any "special" treats and if so then I know I won't allow junk at home. Thankfully all 3 of my boys will snack on veggies (I always have them prepared) and fruit. Last night they were very excited to have grapefruit with a drizzle of honey for dessert.

Certainly the most important thing we can do for our children is to lead by example. The healthier we eat the healthier they will too. Report
Snacking is definately a bigger deal than it was when i was a kid. we used to only get lunch at school & we had an "after school" snack when we either got home or to daycare. our only special treats at school were for birthdays and we didn't have snack time.

my oldest is in kindergarten now & in addition to her 3 normal meals a day, she's also being given 2 snacks in the afternoon (her lunch period starts just after 10 am). i try my best to offset this with smaller meals & heathier foods.

it does make it easier for now to pack her lunches for her. i don't feel our school has really improved their menu. healthiest i've seen on this month's menu is prepacked fruit cocktail (probably drenched in syrup) and a whole wheat roll. that comes with something like a chili dog or pizzza. yay. (::eyeroll::) i'm just hoping she doesn't start trading her healthy lunches for junk food when she gets older (like i did lol).

I always thought schools and preschools were more careful these days because of all the awareness of food allergies. I agree that once in a while is OK, but I'd hate to have my daughter eating crap every time she goes to preschool. Something to think about in the next couple years. Thanks! Report
I guess we are pretty lucky. At my daughter's preschool, the parents provide snack. Maybe it is the particular group of parents, but for the most part the snacks are healthy. They usually have water or milk to drink- apple juice (in small cups) only once in a while. Most of us provide snacks like yogurt and fruit, string cheese and whole grain crackers, etc. Once in a while it is something like Goldfish crackers, but I can live with that. They do not allow snacks like chips, cheese curls, cookies, or cupcakes (except on birthdays). The teachers do serve very small portions to start with, and my daughter is happy to come home and eat a healthy lunch. Now, my 3rd graders school lunches are another story!!! We allow her to choose a set number of lunches a month, then send healthy bag lunches the rest of the time. If she packs her own, she will choose carrots, apples, etc., but the school insists on serving chicken nuggets, pizza, hotdogs, and hamburgers several times each per month! Report
For me - also a mother very conscientious of her kids eating - the issue is not having a snack but what they are eating. I think kids (and adults) can benefit from a good snack to keep energy going and prevent overeating due to being over hungry. It also helps keep the grumpies away. But eating processed grains and refined sugar does not provide those benefits. I would work with the school to make an effort to improve the quality of the snack being provide. My preschool made the switch to plain water at snack time. Perhaps you can offer to occassionally bring in grapes or something like that. At my kids elementary school we started a Wellness Committe and one of our projects is to encourage healthier party foods using a green-yellow-red food list chart. This kind of approach could also work in the preschool. But these things are best tackled in small steps - it will take time. Overall I believe in the 80/20 approach and I think that kids need to be allowed to be kids and have fun - including fun foods. The trick is to keep it in balance. Report