Children's Voice September/October 2007

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The Down to Earth Dad

Food for Thought...Keep the "Grazing Canister" in the Bag

By Patrick Mitchell

If some is good, more must be better. That's the reasoning some parents employ when giving their children snacks to keep them quiet, stop them from running around, or distract them from doing just about anything else. The trouble is, too many of the wrong type of snacks can result in underweight children (they're not hungry for dinner), or overweight kids (they'll eat dinner anyway, despite excessive snacking).

Parent Education Is Key

"This is preventable by parent education," says Bryan S. Vartabedian, a pediatrician specializing in helping young children gain weight if they're light, or slim down if they're heavy.

He describes a typical day at the office: "A toddler is brought in for evaluation. During the course of our visit, any type of whining, fussing, or protest "triggers the appearance of the grazing canister from mom's bag." Grazing canisters, he explains, are "small, colorful plastic snack containers suited for the fast, easy delivery of refined carbohydrates anytime, anywhere."

He watches as "the fish-shaped crackers or bear-shaped graham crackers disappear as fast as they appeared, wreaking havoc with their blood sugar. And when it comes time to eat, they really don't have the metabolic drive to eat at mealtime," he says. "It's like putting the mule bag on the mule."

Most parents perceive the grazing bag as innocent. I did, but speaking to Vartabedian wised me up. "Allowing children to graze represents a breakdown in feeding discipline," he says. "As a general rule, we tend to placate our kids with food. And we see this all around us--at airports, supermarkets, wherever. Parents are going for peace at any price. They're opening that grazing canister in exchange for peace and quiet."

There are other reasons all of this over-snacking on refined carbohydrates bothers Vartabedian: "It rewards marginal behavior and reinforces that we deal with boredom and other emotions with food. But unless it's a designated snack time, it isn't consistent with good feeding structure."

Parent education can help children maintain a healthy weight, he says, adding there may be a special role for dads in the feeding picture. "Moms are definitely more preoccupied with all the bad things that can happen if their child doesn't eat well. Fathers are less apt to be worried about a missed meal. Dads are funny because they are sometimes a little bit more laid back in their parenting style and, interestingly, sometimes, when kids are left alone with their dads, who can sometimes be a little bit more playful, the kids will sometimes do better food-wise.

"At dinnertime and other mealtimes, fathers interact with their children quite a bit differently than mothers do. Sometimes, when it comes to feeding (such as with an underweight child), [dads are] often more playful and less serious. Those are attributes that really work. So, dads may have something special to offer as far as feeding goes."

Presentation Is Everything

Vartabedian recommends planned snacks for children as follows: "Typically, with my own kids and my own patients, we recommend fruits and vegetables as snacks, sometimes offering a couple of options, such as cut grapes along with some crackers, giving the child a chance to try some new things.

"The way these foods are presented is very important as well. Fresh fruit is good, and things of that nature--offering cut grapes and cut celery, from a very early age, so the children only know how to do that.

"For the child who has started on this at a late age, when you give them no other option, and you give them cut fruit or nothing...they're going to take it. They may block it at first, but they will take it. I've seen this with my own kids. They'll protest for cookies and crackers. You cut the apple, you put it on the plate and walk away, and about ten minutes later they're back for the apple. You can give them Goldfish, but just introduce healthy options for the kids, including fruits and vegetables."

If some is good, more must be better: More parent education on diet, that is, and more grazing canisters replaced by a thoughtful snack plan.

A regular contributor to Children's Voice, Patrick Mitchell publishes a monthly newsletter, The Down to Earth Dad, from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and facilitates the Dads Matter! Project™ for early childhood programs, schools, and child- and family-serving organizations. He conducts keynote addresses, workshops, and inservice and preservice trainings. To reserve Patrick Mitchell for speaking engagements, or to implement the Dads Matter! ProjectTM for your families and community partners, call him toll-free at 877/282-DADS, or e-mail him at Website:

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