by Risa Green
I feel sometimes as if my entire life revolves around snacks. I have to pack two snacks in my daughter’s backpack every day; one for morning recess, and another one for her to eat on the bus home in the afternoons. My son demands a snack upon seeing me when I pick him up from preschool, and then when we get home he usually wants a second one because he’s starving. They need snacks to eat on the way to their afterschool activities, and they need snacks to eat on the way home from them, as well. On the weekends, they need snacks during half-time of their games, and then they need another snack for after the game, even if the game ends ten minutes before lunch. Sometimes, I think that instead of having a trunk in the back of my car, I should just install a cupboard.
It’s a lot of work, these snacks. A few months ago, I met with a nutritionist about my childrens’ horrific eating habits, and snacking, she said, was their number one problem. Instead of giving them Ziploc after Ziploc of Pirate’s Booty or goldfish, or Cheetos, I should instead, she explained, aim to make each snack more like a small meal, complete with protein, whole grains and fruit. A freshly made strawberry yogurt smoothie, for example, or a bowl of whole grain cereal with bananas, or a bag of popcorn with a glass of milk and an orange. With snacks like these, she explained, my kids would actually snack less, because their stomachs would be full from the fiber, protein and vitamins, and they wouldn’t be crashing after the sugar highs that accompany fruit roll-ups, or still starving because of the empty calories in the bag of Cheetos. But it’s hard to pack a bowl of cereal in a backpack, it’s hard to find the time to make a yogurt smoothie, and it’s equally hard not to cave when my kids are whining for the fruit flavored gummy snacks they sell at karate or the packages of processed cheese and crackers on the shelves at gymnastics. I try to offer them bananas or oranges, pumpkin seeds or individually wrapped pieces of cheese, but sometimes I just can’t take the whining and I cave (okay, I cave a lot of times). But still, I do the best I can.
But while giving crap to our own kids is one thing, giving crap to other people’s kids is another. When it comes to group snacks, be it after a game, for a special event at school, or just even at a playdate, it seems to me that some parents treat snack as a category in a beauty pageant, in which the kids are the judges. For our next contestant, we have Miss New Jersey, who plays the clarinet, wants world peace, and brings Cinnabons and blue Powerade for halftime snack! I mean, come on, who doesn’t want to be crowned Coolest Mom Ever by all of the kids on the baseball team? But sometimes, we’ve just got to settle for being the forty-ninth runner up. For example, when it’s my day to drive carpool for my daughter’s basketball practice, I bring the girls apple slices, boxes of lowfat milk, popcorn and some string cheese. Yes, they groan and complain that I didn’t bring cookies or Doritos, but they eat it. I may be the Queen of the Loser Moms in their eyes, but when I bring the snack, they don’t complain that they’re starving after twenty minutes. Not so with some of the other moms. When I ask my daughter what she had for snack on the days I don’t drive, she ticks off a list that includes Pringles, fruit rolls ups, chocolate covered donuts and lemonade. Sure, the kids love those moms, but when practice ends at five o’clock, they’re crashing and burning, and melting down from hunger. And look, I know I probably sound self-righteous, and holier than thou, and I don’t mean to. It’s just that I really don’t understand why otherwise perfectly smart and rational people can’t see how bringing a box of Krispy Kremes for snack after a game that ends ten minutes before lunch might be a bad idea. Or why bringing mini-cupcakes to school when it’s your kid’s birthday might make more sense than bringing cupcakes the size of footballs.
There was an article that ran last week in The New York Times about how the snack situation is out of control , and how so many moms are stressed out because their kids barely eat meals anymore, they just go from one unhealthy snack to the next, and nobody really knows how to end the vicious cycle of crap-eating that goes on all day. Because really, once you’ve started the tradition of buying overpriced processed cheese and crackers at gymnastics, it’s pretty hard to stop. But if we can all just agree that when we’re feeding each others’ kids – when it’s our day to bring snack for the game, or when it’s our day to drive carpool, or our day to bring a treat to school because our kid is Star of the Week – we’ll stop caring about whether the other kids love us because we brought the giant pizza slices of Mrs. Field’s cookie cake, and start caring about whether the kids are getting what they need to sustain them until their next meal. It may not solve the entire problem, but hey, it’s a start.