The Cult of Snacking: Are Your Kids Obsessed? Are You?

Let me say this right upfront: I love snacks. I love chips, both potato and chocolate. I love little, picky things, finger food, cheese and crackers, nuts, trail mix… I love the good kind of snacks (baked pita chips dipped in hummus) and the bad kind (day-glo cheez doodles that turn your fingers orange).

But. I have come to believe that, for this generation of kids, snacking has become a sort of religion. There’s a belief in snacks, a cult of snacks and snacking. Many parents simply do not leave the house without arming themselves with snacks. You’d think when we venture out of our front doors, none of us has a clear idea of when we might return for a nourishing meal, or whether we might, in our travels, pass a place where foodstuffs might be readily available. (It’s not 40 years wandering in the desert, folks, it’s a playdate and a couple of errands in town!).

When I first became a parent, I didn’t pack snacks. First, of course, because I was breastfeeding my son; lucky me, I didn’t even have to bother packing bottles. But when he started eating food, and I was going to be out of the house for a while, I packed what might be necessary for his meals. And yes, I did include A Snack in his daily mealtime schedule, but A Snack is different from snacks. A Snack is a scheduled pause for a bit of food to tide tiny tummies over in the long stretch between, say, lunch and dinner. Thinking it’s snack time? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the snack filling a gap? If Junior didn’t have the strawberries you gave him with his breakfast waffle, then fruit or 100% fruit juice is an ideal snack an hour or two later–sneaks in the nutrition he missed earlier.
  • Is the snack timed well? Ideally, space snacks 2 or so hours before the next meal. A 10 am nosh? Great. A hearty snack 15 minutes before lunch? Not so much.
  • Is the snack to satisfy hunger? See above. Kids do need snacks to keep energy up and spread nutrition throughout the day. They don’t need them to stave off boredom or round out a playdate or as rewards, except in moderation (think: a lollipop after that shot at the doctor’s office!).

So that’s A Snack. But generic, unspecific snacks are non-scheduled, often bribe-related, habits. In the car? Have a snack! At the library? Snack time! Need to spin through Target or the mall for a birthday gift? Better bring a snack because he might get hungry.


My first encounter with the Cult of Snacking came shortly after my second son was born. At home with a three-week-old and a 2-year-old was grating on me, so I took both boys  to the local Barnes and Noble. I figured I’d let Daniel tool around in the kids’ section (they have a great Thomas the Tank Engine table there), and then I’d buy a magazine and head home before the baby needed nursing again. When we arrived, an employee informed me that story time was about to begin. Story time! Sure, we’ll go.

I steered the stroller over, and sat Daniel down to listen. And just as the reader opened her first book, half the kids in the audience cracked open lunch boxes and snack containers and juice boxes. That was the end of that — my boy became far more mesmerized by his neighbor’s goldfish and fruit snacks than he was by the story. Then the baby woke up, pooped, and cried, so that was the end of story time for us.

Since then I’ve fought the battle of the snacks. I pack three snacks a day, along with lunch (one for Daniel in first grade, and TWO for James in pre-K). Why two? He has a morning snack, then lunch, and he’s home by 3:30. Can’t he wait? The answer is that yes, of course he can, but it’s part of the ritual.

Perhaps I’m spoiled by having boys who, for the most part and within certain picky parameters, eat their meals (and so probably have less need, as they grow, for quite so many snacks to “fill in” their diet). I do know that plenty of moms complain that their kids don’t eat their dinner. Um, could it be because they had a juice box and a bowl of pretzels and goldfish at 4pm? Just a thought!

What’s your snack stance?