snacks part deux

pomegranateWhy do people eat? I asked my 5-year-old a few days ago. “Because they’re hungry”, he tells me. Duh. Not “when they’re bored” or “when they feel sad” or “when they’re punished or rewarded” or for any other reason that many of us eat. I wonder….would all kids respond with such conviction? More importantly, do most kids only eat when they’re on empty? And most important of all, do parents model and teach that we eat because we’re hungry?

It’s possible that kids are being programmed to eat when they’re not hungry. The automatic sliding door on your minivan closes and instant hunger sets in. Walking into the house and the first place anyone goes is the fridge. Bringing snacks in your purse in case the youngsters get bored at the check-out in Costco. It doesn’t take long to get into a routine. Offering refreshments at random times, or specific times that are not eating times for that matter, quickly reinforces the idea that kids always need to be eating. By grazing throughout the day, their little tummies don’t have the chance to get empty, which is a good thing to get. At meal time there’s no way Max will be hungry if he just ate crackers and cheese an hour ago.

Babies naturally turn away from food, or in most cases catapult it, when they are full. What can you do to keep this up? (The turning away part- not the catapulting). One way is to let them get hungry. I’m not talking low blood sugar I’m-a-famished-monster-with-a-crazed-look-in-my- eyes. I’m talking mild hunger pains. A purring of the stomach, if you will. This experience gets children in tune with what hunger feels like, so later in life when offered food, they can actually make a decision to not eat if they don’t in fact feel hungry. Hunger truly is the best seasoning.

Snacks do have their place, especially if your kids are like mine and have appetites like horses. (I actually don’t know how much horses eat, but I imagine a lot). But snacks need to be scrupulously examined for wholesomeness, and timing should be properly planned. This means:

  • there should be an exact snack time
  • the snack should be relatively small
  • the snack should be real and healthy food. Pretzels or goldfish are excellent examples of what I call not-real-foods. Where did they come from? Fruits, veggies, seeds and nuts are real foods.

The word snack is often used interchangeably with treat. It shouldn’t be. Treats are sometimes foods, like once or twice a week, in my opinion. Eating chips or cookies for snack time will not provide lasting energy but small servings of protein with carbohydrate (like walnuts and pomegranate seeds) do. Snacks also should be 2 hours or more before a meal.

Not just when, but where: eating while in the car, reading a book, watching TV or doing homework isn’t conducive to mindful eating. Kids, and anyone, tend to eat more when distracted. Which, according to Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, is a great way to get kids to eat more vegetables. Just plonk a plate of cut-up vegetables in front of anyone watching TV and away you go. Although Wansink didn’t use the word plonk. I don’t encourage any type of mindless eating, even if the eating is of healthy foods, so try to stick with the table rule (if you’ve never heard of the table rule: Eat At The Table).

Stay strong: Many parents (myself not included. I use an excellent brand of earplugs. It’s true, ask my husband) have a very hard time listening to whining, and will do just about anything to make it stop. In addition to stress from high pitched noise, parents often panic that their kids are hungry. But you must keep your wits. Intense moments are just that. Moments. And they will pass. Practise in the mirror, saying out loud “you’re hungry? Dinner is in 1 hour ” or “you’re hungry? Sometimes I’m hungry too when I didn’t eat most of my lunch” or you can be more forward and simply but non-judgmentally state “maybe next time you’ll eat dinner with the rest of the family so that you won’t be starving an hour later”. When we give kids snacks shortly after a meal, they remember. And they may forgo the chicken stir-fry, knowing that eyelash flapping, mid-section holding and pouting will get them Oreo cookies and milk before bed. But if snacks are smaller and less often, kids will quickly learn to eat at appropriate meal times. This might take a while, so there could be a few days of extra tears, whining and general irritability. Your child might experience these symptoms as well. But it will pass and eventually youngsters learn to eat more at meal times and that your purse is not a receptacle for raisins, pretzels and Ritz crackers.


fruit & nut bonbons

bonbonsTreats are an essential part of eating. I tend to classify treats into two categories. The first is treats that are made with “real food” ingredients (see below). The second group have ingredients that are sometimes hard to pronounce and most people have no idea what they are or where they came from (think sodium stearoyl lactylate- a food additive found in foods like commercial baked goods, pet food, chewing gum and cereals).

Alas living in a sodium stearoyl lactylate-free bubble has proven to be a difficult, if not harmful task. Harmful because strict prohibition can fuel resentment. The “never” rule might just make my kids push back with the “always” rule. So instead we stick with the once a week rule for treats in category 2.

As for real food treats? These are more of a twice- (sometimes thrice) weekly occurrence. They are not eaten every day because the novelty soon wears off. Wholesome sweets (like honey or dark chocolate) should still be regarded as something special. Does this idea sound completely outlandish? Read: Is It Too Late?

The no-bake fruit & nut bonbons featured below are meant to be a dessert, not a snack food. If you find that, after reading the ingredients, you scoff and think “no way this will pass as dessert in my house”, I urge you to try it anyway. There will be no change if you don’t make a change.

I recommend using excellent quality ingredients and organic if possible. The taste will be richer. It is highly advised to conceal these dainty little balls in an airtight container somewhere far from sight. Otherwise they will be devoured in minutes.


Fruit & Nut Bonbons:

1/4 cup natural almond butter

1 cup chopped dates

1/2 cup chopped unsulphured dried apricots

1/2 cup raisins

1 tablespoon creamed honey

1 tablespoon cacao powder (or coco powder)

Pinch of salt


For coating:

Dried, shredded unsweetened coconut

Cacao powder

Mix everything except coating, obviosly, in a food processor for about 2 minutes, until crumbly and mixed well. Scoop out and form small uniform balls. Try one. Just to make sure that it tastes right, of course. Pour cacao powder and coconut into 2 different bowls. Roll the bonbons into either the powder or the coconut. For the coconut coating, press firmly so that it sticks. Place, alternating coatings, on a pretty serving plate (or in an airtight container). Makes about 32 bonbons.

good job! now here’s a cookie.

Death and taxes. The only two certainties in this world that are commonly agreed upon. But I’m adding another: reward the kiddies with treats and you’re setting them up for a wacky relationship with food. First, eating when one is not hungry is ill-advised because slowly but surely one becomes less in tune to what hunger feels like and as a result might eat mindlessly. Second, rewarding a child in the form of food will only encourage the child to expect the same next time. Third, do you really want your child to grow up having an emotional attachment to food?

Sounds harsh? Well, it is. But I’m not advocating a complete annihilation of all things sweet. Treats can and should be enjoyed guilt-free by kids and adults alike (here’s my ecstatic son mere seconds before getting squirted with red jelly), but the reason for the indulgence should be celebratory and occasional.

Parents need a supply of tricks up their sleeve (or in their purse), and many believe that using a good old (well, maybe not old) bonbon will help get results faster, and quieter. But it’s a slippery slope. Literally. After a full-day skiing lesson what about hot chocolate? It’s all in how you word it. “If you listen to your ski instructor, I’ll buy you hot chocolate after the lesson” is giving a different message than “after the lesson we’re going to have a special treat: hot chocolate. Have fun!” Listening (or not) to the instructor can affect your child’s other privileges, like using the computer, having a friend over, or even a return visit to the mountain for another lesson, but should not be related to food.

In theory, the idea that you have to eat dinner before you can have dessert makes some sense, but be wary of telling children statements like “you have to eat dinner before you can have dessert”. Instead, make it clear at the beginning of dinnertime (and for all meals, for that matter) that there is a natural progression and order of a meal. Dinner first, then dessert and when people miss a step, they don’t go on to the next step.

It’s up to parents to train tiny tummies from the start to love food and yet eat it only when they’re hungry. Stop reading for a second and write down five inedible rewards that your own child would appreciate. Now go through your home and see if you already have any of these items. Lastly, go shopping this week for whatever items you don’t have and keep everything in a box marked Legal Documents (most children don’t ever snoop in these places, unless you have one of those types of kids) and there is your new rewards system.

A word about non-material rewards: they are super. Not to mention they usually cost less. Like giving a huge hug and saying way to go! Or taking your child for a special outing just the two of you.

For parents that routinely use candy as incentive, this is a hard nut to crack, but the nut must be cracked nonetheless. Talk to your kids about the change and explain why it’s happening.

Decide today that the words “if you do X, you’ll get a treat” will never pass your lips again.

what’s for dinner?

Eggs in cartonI love scuba diving. And riding a motorcycle. And skydiving. Having kids has made me (slightly) more reliable and mature, but how to satisfy my cravings for adrenaline? The easy solution (aside from leaving the house without diapers. Which can be quite exhilarating. Until you have to ask a complete stranger if they have any extra diapers and wipes and then put up with the “what an irresponsible mother” looks, of course) is to wait until 5 pm before deciding what’s for dinner. This is serious stuff for the adrenaline junkie. But without my arsenal of wholesome ingredients, my unrelenting need for excitement has potentially unhealthy consequences.

Don’t get stuck resorting to wieners. For that matter, why would you want to eat something called wiener anyway? Food companies play on your fears of having nothing good for dinner, but keeping a well stocked kitchen can be all you need to make sure emergency dinner doesn’t become artery-clogging, salt-overdosing quality family time. If you don’t buy these “emergency foods” you won’t use them in emergencies. It seriously takes just as long to saute snap peas, mini carrots, pre-sliced mushrooms and cubes of tofu with soy sauce, sesame oil and rice vinegar, as it does to make instant macaroni & cheese, if not faster.

It’s ok to use the same ingredients over and over, just treat them differently depending on what’s cookin’. Season, prepare and combine your ingredients so that each dish has its own individual character and flavor.

The well stocked fridge:



cilantro & parsley

lemon & lime


soy sauce

sesame oil

white wine

variety of veggies


The well stocked pantry:

olive oil

apple cider, red wine, and rice vinegars

herbs & spices

tomato paste

tomato sauce

whole tomatoes


canned salmon

peanut & almond butters

red wine

apricot jam

dried beans of all kinds

whole grain rice of all kinds



radishStart slow, pick small and gradual changes and keep your eyes on the goal. Experts recommend this way because it works. So what’s it going to be?

Move more With and without the pipsqueaks. Exercising on your own sets an example, not to mention all the benefits it has for you. Which I won’t mention. Since you should know them by now. More on physical activity.

Read more of what’s on the back of what you’re about to buy. Nutrition labels exist to help you make healthier choices.

Eat more veggies, fruits, whole grains and nuts & seeds and fatty fish, and, and, and.

Research more Ask the kids to pick a country and research together what people eat there, then shop and cook together to recreate an ethnic dish.

Talk more about different foods and how they affect the body, as well as what vitamins, minerals and fiber do.

Experiment more with new foods, like gluten free grains such as buckwheat or quinoa, or vegan bean patties, or halibut, or guava, or tempeh (which, frankly, I have yet to try myself), or anything you’ve heard of and thought what the heck is that? Well, find out and make it.

Think more Not only about what you buy, cook and put on the table, but how you eat as well. Kids have the mysterious ability to catch us messing up. And they remember everything. When my 2-year-old inquired “mommy do you need a bib?” I realized that yes, in fact, someone did notice me dripping food all over myself because I was too lazy to get a napkin, let alone a plate.

Plant more Even homes with no backyard can provide favourable circumstances for green-thumbed explorers. Consider planting this spring. If you’re new to gardening, choose easier, quick-to-grow options, like radishes.

Watch less of just about everything. On a screen, that is.

Eat less The usual suspects are obvious, but consider foods like white pasta, convenience or packaged foods (like most granola bars or cereals), sweetened yogurt, or food targeted to toddlers and preschoolers (like animal crackers, which are often high in sugar and low in the good stuff).

Drink less juice

Shop less Having a well stocked pantry is a great time-saver. Or you can plan your meals the week before and shop once a week for everything you’ll need. Who am I kidding. I never do that. But for the coordinated parents reading this: woohoo, you deserve a medal. Seriously.

Worry less about the past. Decide now to look ahead and remember, it’s never too late to make changes.