Inspired by French Kids Eat Everything, we are cutting snacks down in our house. Waaaay down, from “feed the children a snack anytime they’re hungry, except maybe 10 minutes before dinner” to afternoon snack.
Let me confess – I am a big time snacker. My mother once described my preferred eating style as “grazing,” and I will say that while I haven’t always snacked all the time, between children, breastfeeding, and working in a cafe/bakery where food is always available, I had fallen into a state of pretty much perpetual snacking. And so had my children.
It was quite a culture shock to read French Kids Eat Everything and learn that the French have a big cultural taboo against snacking. Even children, past toddlerhood, are expected to eat three meals a day, plus afternoon snack (they also eat a later dinner, so their snack is at 4, but dinner isn’t until 8). Adults don’t even have the afternoon snack. Their reason is simple – if you don’t fill up on snacks (which are usually less nutritious foods), then you will eat a hearty, nourishing meal. If you snack, you won’t be hungry, you won’t eat your meal, and then . . . you’ll want a snack.
In our house, we weren’t snacking on ding-dongs and doritos. Snacks were mostly fresh fruit, nuts, carrot sticks, baked goods (homemade or from our bakery), and yogurt. Not awful foods, but also not as nourishing as a bowl of chicken soup filled with vegetables, right? I have seen children and parents fighting about snacks, and I’ve heard my own child whining and pleading for snacks, especially sweet ones. Like many parents, our car was filled with crumbs and sticky goo appeared in many places.
Reading about the French strictness with snacking seemed shocking at first, but also immediately appealing to me. When I mentioned it to my husband, he was thrilled. We decided to drop snacks at home, except for afternoon snack when Ella gets home from school, and to move dinner back from 5 pm to 6 pm – this gives her more time to get hungry, plus it makes it easier for him to get home to eat with us.
Getting rid of constant snacks really simplifies my life! I don’t have to stock – or create – so many different kinds of foods, or wash as many dishes. In our kitchen, I had taken down some cabinet doors years ago, letting us see the foods inside. As part of our snack re-structuring, I realized that the open doors let us see the food all the time – seeing it makes us want it, even when we’re not actually hungry. The doors went back up, and had an immediate effect.
I was honestly surprised how quickly and easily the whole family adapted to this. Ella did ask for bedtime snack (and other snacks) the first few days, and a few times got whiny/complaining about it. I gently but firmly reminded her that we weren’t doing snacks, and when it was applicable, I would say something like, “You’re hungry? Dinner will be soon. Hey, let’s . . .” and then I would distract us all by moving on to something else. The later dinnertime lets me get the kitchen cleaned up a bit before dinner, and part of keeping Ella distracted means having her help me put out the plates, silverware, napkins . . . When she was having an especially hard time waiting last Friday, I let her get out all the fancy cups and plates that she loves, and she created a beautiful table for us. She definitely eats a better dinner with us now, and we are all staying at the table longer, enjoying each other’s company, enjoying our meal together.