It’s 15 minutes before dinner and your kids say they are hungry.  Do you give them a snack or make them wait?

What if it’s:

  • 30 minutes before dinner?
  • 60 minutes before dinner?
  • 90 minutes before dinner?

Snack or wait?

I suspect most parents would feel comfortable making their kids wait—i.e. stay hungry—for 15 minutes.

But 30?

I have been thinking a lot about snacking lately because I’ve been reading Karen Le Billon’s new book French Kids Eat Everything.

The book is fabulous.  I’m jealous.  I wish I had written French Kids Eat Everything, and not just because I wish I had been able to spend a year living in France.  This book gets it right: When it comes to raising healthy eaters, if parents set up a structure that facilitates good eating habits kids will eat nutritious food.

But let’s get back to snacking. Apparently the French don’t do it (or at least they don’t do much of it).  And so reading Le Billon’s book makes me wonder: Do we really need to snack as much as we do?

Of course I have questioned snacking before, and I’ve talked about the role of hunger in fostering good eating habits—read The Upside of Hunger—but Le Billon makes me question snacking more as a philosophy.

So I pose the question:  How much hunger are you willing to tolerate?

French Food Rule #7: Limit snacks, ideally one per day (two maximum), and not within one hour of meals.

According to Le Billon, French kids get an afternoon snack around 4:30 and that’s it. No mid-morning nosh. No after dinner delight.  Zilch. Nothing. Nada.

“If asked, many American parents would prefer to give something unhealthy to their kids rather than make them wait. If French children are hungry, on the other hand, they are simply promised that they’ll be able to eat well at the next meal. ” (p. 147)

I think this is true. Read Snacking and the Nutrition Zone Mentality and “Do No Harm” Snacking.

Snack or wait?

I know what you’re probably thinking: Kids need to snack.

Maybe this “truth,” that tiny tummies need frequent fill-ups, simply isn’t so.

If Le Billon is to be believed (and I can’t see why she shouldn’t be) French children—babies, toddlers, and school kids— survive just fine without a mid-morning snack.

Le Billon’s own children who, I think it’s reasonable to say, were snack-aholics when they first moved from Vancouver to France, actually made the transition to a non-snacking lifestyle without losing their ability to concentrate in school, play energetically and without their blood sugar levels tanking to dangerous levels.

When I was a child no one snacked mid-morning and we all survived just fine.  I don’t even remember being especially hungry.

In other words, snacking is a philosophy.  It’s an approach to eating.  It’s a lifestyle.  It’s not a necessity.

The American approach to snacking teaches kids to avoid hunger.  In contrast, the French cultivate hunger.

Why? Hunger makes eating more pleasurable.  Try giving up snacks, like I recently did, and you’ll see how much you start enjoying, I mean really enjoying, your meals.

But letting kids get hungry between meals pays off in another way: It makes kids less likely to be picky.

I don’t really expect parents to abandon snacking. But you should seriously curtail it.

  • Don’t let your children snack on demand.
  • Create snack zones—times when snacks are available—that won’t ruin meals.
  • If your kids seem especially hungry, move up the meal.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Le Billon, K., 2012. French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters. New York: William Morrow.