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Snacking and Grazing

See if the following scenarios sound familiar:

  • Your child sits down for dinner, but only nibbles at her meal, eating very little of it. Then 30 minutes after leaving the table, she comes into the kitchen, saying she’s starving. Before you can utter a word, she starts gobbling up something from the refrigerator or cupboard, then returns to the scene of the crime again and again, grazing for food well into the night.
  • Your child eats 3 highly structured, healthy meals a day that you carefully prepare, but then all those conscientious efforts toward good nutrition fall apart during her snacking, which at times seems as though it can turn into an all-day event.

For school-aged and adolescent kids, the biggest and most dangerous times for snacking are after school and after dinner. Typically, children will come home from school, and perhaps they’re wound up, stressed out, or simply bored. So they reach for a pacifier in the form of food.

As a general guideline, youngsters should consume 2 snacks a day—preferably low-calorie foods such as fruits and vegetables. Of course, if the decision making is left in their hands, many would opt for other types of snacks—potato chips, cookies, candy, French fries, or a slice of pizza or two. If it’s high in fat and rich in calories, it seems to draw them like a magnet. How about steering your child toward snacks such as

  • Carrots or celery sticks
  • A cup of melon or strawberries
  • Three cups of light microwave popcorn
  • An apple
  • A cup of vegetable soup
  • Sugar-free gelatin or fruit snacks

You can add to this list of healthy snacks. These are the kinds of foods that will help your child end of the cycle of unhealthy eating. At the same time, recommit yourself to making sure your child eats 3 well-balanced meals a day; that should help quench her appetite for anything more than 2 modest and healthy snacks. If she’s snacking out of boredom or anxiety, one of your challenges is to help her deal with the emotions and life situations that are steering her toward food. Encourage your child to take part in this decision making. Ask her, “What can you do besides eat when you think you’re hungry?” It sounds like a silly question, but some youngsters will give it some thought and then say, “Well, I can go outside,” “I can play with my blocks,” or, “I can read a book.” Those options are a lot healthier than feeding his hunger, particularly when it really isn’t hunger at all.

You may be surprised that she can give you some alternatives, or you may need to help her think of other things to do if she is stuck. Some ideas might be

  • Walk the dog.
  • Run through the sprinklers.
  • Play a game of badminton.
  • Kick a soccer ball.
  • Paint a picture.
  • Go in-line skating.
  • Dance.
  • Plant a flower in the garden.
  • Fly a kite.
  • Join you for a walk through the mall (without stopping at the ice cream shop).
Last Updated
A Parent's Guide to Childhood Obesity: A Road Map to Health (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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