I was scrolling through Facebook the other day when I came across a post in a homeschool group about whether or not they allow snacks in their weekly co-op meetings. I couldn't help but read through each of the comments that answered YES to snacks, and noticed again and again the same kind of feedback highlighted with likes and loves and laughing emojis.
- My students eat ALL DAY LONG, start to finish, lol!
- My class would mutiny if I took away their snacks!
- We're homeschoolers! We are used to having food available whenever we want it.
- It's a homeschool thing - we love our snacks!
Was I tempted to comment on this topic? I absolutely was! But lest I become the Debbie Downer, Negative Nancy, and the Fun Vampire all rolled into one annoying social media troller, I exercised some self-control and just let it go. I've learned over the years that offering unsolicited advice to strangers in a social media setting rarely leads to positive discourse or significant progress. So instead, I will share my thoughts here, and you can do with them as you please.
How we feed our kids is a very personal thing, but I wanted to offer a few points to consider about constant grazing - for kids and adults, because I am seeing it more and more these days, and I believe it's a damaging habit for young people to develop. Here are five reasons why we don't allow it in our home:
The digestive system, like any other system, benefits from rest. Just because the body WILL digest all day long doesn't mean it was meant to do so. Constant digestion means the body can't delegate energy to other important processes - like taking out the "trash" of toxins, used up hormones, damaged cells, and bacterial and viral invaders. The body must have time without food so it can rest, rebuild, repair, and build up strong immunity.
Constant grazing interferes with the hormonal balance between ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and leptin (the satiety hormone). Children who never really experience true hunger or appropriate fullness can become disconnected from their body's God-given cues. This disconnect can, in turn, lead to poor eating habits and potential weight problems as they age. Nutrient-void foods lead to a constant state of dissatisfaction - always craving but never feeling satisfied. In combination with prolonged sitting, late nights with poor sleep and lots of screens, nonstop snacking is a nightmare for our hormonal health.
Grazing encourages mindless eating, and distracts us from the task at hand. Multitasking while we eat also disrupts and hinders the digestive process and prevents us from fully experiencing the taste, texture, and comforting experience of quality meals. The body must be in a parasympathetic, or "rest and digest" mode, if it is to maximize the nourishment provided by the foods we consume, so it's best to eliminate screens, work, and other forms of distraction while eating. When we fail to do so, symptoms like upset stomach, nervous stomach, acid reflux, cramping, nausea, diarrhea, and even gut infection become more common...it's the body's way of saying, "This way of eating is not working for me."
In my observational experience, kids are not snacking on nutritious whole foods. They are reaching for chips, cookies, pretzels, faux-flavored popcorn, candy, sweetened yogurts, granola bars, and ziploc bags of dry cereal that are high in refined carbohydrates and lacking in quality fat and protein. Young people can munch on these processed foods all day, going from one crinkly package to the next, because although it all tastes great, none of it ever satisfies. As a result, growing kids and teens are prone to experience a chronic and severe deficit of actual nutrients - because they never really have an appetite for a legitimate well-balanced meal. Given that every cell in our body is literally made of the food we eat, the potential for poor health and disease becomes more and more likely as consumption of these junky foods persists. These snacks offer temporary mouth pleasure, and nothing more - except greater susceptibility to illness and dysfunctional biochemistry.
Every time we eat a meal or snack with carbohydrates (which is basically all the time for most Americans), we initiate the glucose-insulin response. While our bodies are designed to manage this process to a reasonable degree, poking and prodding it excessively and irresponsibly all day long leads to a constant state of stress and inflammation. The human body isn't designed to process food round the clock, and especially not when it is highly processed, high sugar food that is going down the hatch day after day, year after year, decade after decade.
In our home, my children are fed three simple but very nourishing meals that center on a high quality animal protein, healthy fats, and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. While they will gladly accept a yummy snack when offered, I am confident they rarely if ever need one, because the foods they eat routinely are so filling and nourishing. For that reason, there are times when we are away from home that I do not allow them to have a low quality snack when it is offered to them. Postgame soccer snacks are a great example - I might give permission for them to grab a bag of chips or a bottle of Gatorade (even though it pains me to do so), but they must wait to have it until after their next solid meal. And if the snack or beverage isn't consumed that day, it is immediately dumped down the drain or thrown in the trash. My kids are so used to this routine that they don't even flinch when they discover their treats are gone.
Our schedule varies somewhat during sports seasons, but in general my three eat at roughly 8am, 1:30pm, and 6pm. It is not difficult at all for them to go 4-5 hours between meals, and often longer. They are allowed a small after-dinner evening treat like an Outshine popsicle, a grain-free brownie, or a small dish of real full fat ice cream or unsweetened applesauce with cinnamon. Beyond that, they rarely snack. They don't need to. And I believe their long term health will benefit because of the way we are educating them about food and establishing good habits now, while they are still young.
What do you think? Do you notice the grazing trend, and does it impact your family in any way? I'd love to hear your insight!