Reader Poll: Who Keeps the Keys to the Pantry (and Fridge) in Your House?

by Bettina Elias Siegel on January 20, 2011

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about the issue of control in the kitchen.

I’ve always been a believer in Ellyn Satter’s philosophy that parents decide the “when, where and what” of meals and snacks, and the kids decide whether and how much to eat.  That translates into three meals a day, plus set snack times in which the parent decides what’s served (although choices might be offered, of course).

My kids are usually ravenous after school and when they were younger (and I was a much better parent) I had a snack ready for them — usually cut-up fruit and something a little more substantial, like baked corn chips with melted cheese, hummus or guacamole, a bowl of cereal, or, if I was really on my game, a homemade, whole-grain-and-fruit muffin.

These days, though, we’re all a lot more rushed, plus my kids are older and more autonomous.  They often drop their backpacks and head straight to the pantry, while I yell impotently, “No cookies!”  ”Have some fruit with that!”  The result is that the nutritional quality of snacks has gone down in my house (although our baseline is still OK — you guys know me well enough by now to know that we’re not stocked up with Flaming Hot Cheetos, Twinkies etc.)

On the weekends, too, there’s more of a push by my kids to just graze at will, which I try to curb given that we still eat three set meals a day — e.g., if we’re going to dinner on at a restaurant, I don’t want everyone snacking up right before we go.  Similarly, I’ve also been getting into struggles with my son who has a tendency lately to profess extreme, life-threatening hunger about 30 minutes before dinner is ready, but who has always been skittish about fruits and vegetables.  Sometimes he’ll grudgingly take my offer of a few banana or apple slices, but other times he refuses (yet still pesters me at the stove for some carb-heavy snack he’s pulled from the pantry, which makes for a delightful late afternoon.)

All of this pressure from my kids is making me feel much more like a rigid Food Cop than I ever did before, and I’m wondering if by now, when my kids are 8 and 10, I ought to be loosening up the snacking reins.

I took an informal poll on the Lunch Tray’s Facebook page about how snacking goes in your house, and thought I’d ask the whole readership.  Let me know your thoughts and feel free to also leave a comment if the poll responses don’t fit your situation.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Milehimama January 20, 2011 at 9:32 am

I don’t buy stuff that I don’t want the kids to eat (and, ahem, me too.) It’s just easier to exercise self control for an hour in the grocery store than to have junk constantly tempting around the house.

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Christina @ Spoonfed January 20, 2011 at 9:40 am

What Milehimama said.

As I posted on Facebook: My 7-year-old asks, but she really doesn’t have to. We’re pretty relaxed about snacks because we don’t keep junk in the house, so there’s never anything I wouldn’t want her to eat. She also eats only when she’s hungry. And even at holiday time, etc., when there are more sweets around, she self-regulates. So I’ve never seen a need to make a big deal about snacks.

(And you already know I have disagreements with Satter. Really need to get on that blog post! ;-)

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jenna Food w/ Kid Appeal January 20, 2011 at 10:03 am

christina- glad to know i’m not the only one who disagrees with Satter. i wrote about it last year. the idea that a 2 year old will eat when he’s hungry is ridiculous. both my guys when 2 would rather build with blocks or run free on the playground than stop to eat. the only reason they ate or slept is because i brought them to the table/tucked them in bed and expected them to eat/sleep. http://tinyurl.com/4a92nb5

I don’t have any junk in the house, but there always seems to be some “grain only snacks”, like pita chips or crackers. If my guys (age 4 and 6) want an grain snack i say yes on the condition that they eat some real food with it : nuts, cheese, glass of milk, fresh fruit, hummus.

as far as the dinner prep hunger monster, when kids ask for food while I’m cooking i tell them the pantry/fridge is off limits, but they are welcome to nibble on anything I’m prepping, raw veggies, meat if it’s already cooked, etc. they groan, but i know better. if they eat a banana 30 minutes before dinner, there is a much smaller chance they will eat what I make. i usually get “but i don’t want carrots, i want crackers.” I respond with “you can have some crackers after dinner if you’re still hungry.”

i do think it’s our job as parents to help kids learn that if they eat only things they want for the rest of their life, they will eventually have weight or health issues.

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bettina elias siegel January 20, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Jenna (and Christina) — interesting to hear from the anti-Satter crowd! I’m not a wholesale adopter of all she advocates by any means (some of it seems really off the wall) but that division of responsibility idea resonates deeply with me. I’m digging into your post now, Jenna, and will probably swing back to discuss in the near future. Thanks to both of you, as always, for sharing your thoughtful perspectives. – Bettina

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Christina @ Spoonfed January 20, 2011 at 10:18 am

Jenna, thanks so much for that link. I’ll be sure to reference it when I write my post. (One more reason we’re kindred spirits!)

I also wanted to add that I have similar strategies re: snacks and dinner prep. Though my daughter can snack at will, I, too, have emphasized over the years the importance of pairing a grain snack with a whole food, so sometimes I’ll still pipe in with a “grab some nuts” or whatever. But after seven years of this, Tess knows that scene pretty well. And it’s become (mostly) a natural thing (which is kind of my whole point of raising thinking eaters…).

With dinner, too, she can snack on whatever’s being prepped. I will slice an apple sometimes, but she almost always prefers to nibble the dinner stuff instead.

Spoonfed: Raising kids to think about the food they eat

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Renee January 20, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Our house doesn’t run so well in the meal department. My husband and I both teach college; I teach one night a week, he teaches two nights a week. I have a small breakfast, then lunch when I get home most days around 1:30 p.m. (except for the one day I teach at night as well, which is endless and a meal-time nightmare for me). My husband is a night person, and most days he doesn’t teach early classes –he’ll have a sandwich I’ve left for him when he drives to campus, at around 10 a.m., then he won’t eat anything (he doesn’t have time) until he gets home after picking our daughter up, around 3:30. This is on the days he’s not teaching nights, but since I’ve just had lunch an hour or so ago, I’m not hungry at that time, but both my husband and daughter are starving, so I’ll often make something for them to eat –I try to have some leftovers from meals we’ve actually shared over the weekend, or I make an omelet, and I join them at the table. On the two days he teaches nights, he obviously doesn’t come home at all, and usually gets a sub sandwich. He doesn’t like taking leftovers, since it’s not easy to warm things up, and he’s often dealing with students while he eats.

My daughter does okay at breakfast, but will not eat a sandwich for lunch, so she has apple slices, a cheese stick or cottage cheese, some crackers and a desert. It’s a small lunch (they don’t have much time), and she doesn’t like me to change it up. I pack an ice-pack so the apples don’t get too brown and the cheese doesn’t get slimy :-) She’s quite hungry by 3 p.m.

Basically our week is meal-time chaos, even though it repeats itself weekly :-)

Having said all that, though, my daughter has had pretty much open access to the pantry since she was old enough to understand it was there. Somehow, along with that open access, she learned that she has to eat a balance of foods (I think I taught her this, but I can’t say I remember specifically how). Now, at 10 years old, she often gets her own food, and will balance out fruit, veggies, and starches, plus desert. She is allergic to peanuts and tree-nuts, so getting enough protein in her has always been a battle. I wish she liked yogurt or sunbutter, but not yet.

When I was a kid there was strict parental control of the pantry, probably in part because we were pretty poor. As an adult I have constantly struggled with my weight and binge eating (not bulemia, just eating more than I should at a sitting). I see my daughter making decent choices, and since she knows that even desert foods are readily available, she’s just not focused on them. She’ll ask to eat apples and carrots as often as she’ll ask for grains or sugary snacks. And even though she often gets her own food, she’ll actually still ask me if she thinks I might have a problem with one of her choices.

I’m not saying that I let her have free rein –I’ve always been the parent, and there have always been some limits. But I don’t stress too much about it, hoping that she won’t see food as something that isn’t under her control –and then make poor choices once I’m not there to control it. (I have had friends of hers visit and want to sit and eat all the treats in our pantry, and I think that perhaps the parents in that situation have been a bit too strict. I think being too strict can easily backfire.)

I also think that all kids have different personalities, and that what works for one parent/kid combination is not necessarily the best thing for another parent/kid combination. The more I parent, the harder I try (not always successfully) not to judge too harshly what other parents are doing.

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Em January 20, 2011 at 1:45 pm

My husband grew up in a house of only fruit as snacks, and is actually perfectly content with that to this day. This has always kind of blown my mind. When I’m hungry, an apple may be a good start, but it really doesn’t solve my hunger dilemma….

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Mary January 21, 2011 at 8:00 am

When I was growing up my mother would not let me have so much as a drink of water before dinner. I can remember being so hungry while waiting, but her thing was she wanted us to eat that meal each night, the meal that was full of balance and nutrition, even if it was spaghetti and meatballs. There was no “snacking” going on in my house that I can recall, if you were hungry at odd times of the day you made a sandwich or had a wedge of leftover lasagne or some fruit. Chips were there only when we were about to have a party. It’s amazing to see how the snack industry has changed our kids. They have become a generation of snackists.
I guard the pantry with an iron fist, even though my boys are 12 and 13 and constantly want to eat. I want them to grow up with the ritual of three meals. By the way, two great books on the subject of the history of dinner, The Rituals of Dinner and Much Depends on Dinner, by Margaret Visser.

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bettina elias siegel January 21, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Mary – I’m laughing because you’re such a tiny thing [Mary and I know each other from the HISD PAC] and I’m imagining you guarding the pantry door with two adolescents approaching! :-) And the books sound very interesting – I’ll take a look.

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