Sally Kuzemchak, the registered dietitian and blogger at Real Mom Nutrition, is beloved by her readers (including this one!) for her down-to-earth approach to raising kids in today’s food environment. And one of the issues Kuzemchak has written about for years is the proliferation of junk food snacks in our children’s daily lives, from soccer games to classrooms. She even coined a most excellent term, “Snacktivism,” to describe her own efforts to push back against the tide.
Now Kuzemchak has rolled years of Snacktivism advice into a new e-book, The Snacktivist’s Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports and at Camp – and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. It’s a fantastic resource with more than a dozen printables, including: healthy snack lists; email and letter templates you can use to communicate about this issue with parents, teachers or coaches; and lists of talking points so you can quickly respond if your concerns are questioned.
The book goes on sale today and Kuzemchak was kind enough to stop by TLT and let me interview her about it. Here’s our conversation:
TLT: So, what was your very first Snacktivism wake-up call?
SK: Six years ago, I was a brand new soccer mom. I was totally new to youth sports in general and had no idea what to expect. When the games started, I was shocked that the team was being given cupcakes, donuts, cookies, and fruit punch every Saturday morning after the games – sometimes there were even snacks after practices. But I didn’t want to say anything because I was a newbie and I didn’t want to be – as I like to call it – THAT mom. So I let it go. Then one week somebody brought cookies AND cupcakes AND fruit punch and I was watching all the kids gobbling up their snacks. This one little boy was clutching two cookies in each hand and I just had a moment when I thought “what are we doing to our kids?!?.” I just knew in my gut that this wasn’t right. So I vowed that I would speak up, and I did. Then I looked around and realized that kids were being fed these kinds of snacks EVERYWHERE – not just at sports. And I found out the parents around the country felt the same way I did but didn’t know how to change things, which is why I started creating resources on my blog and then wrote the e-book.
TLT: How serious is the problem of junk food snacks and over-snacking these days?
SK: Kids are getting about 500 calories a day from snacks – mostly in the form of junk food like desserts and sweetened drinks. Most kids are snacking about three times a day but obviously there are many kids who snack much more than that. There are also many snacks that go way beyond the calories that kids need. For instance, according to one study, the typical post-game snack contains about 300-500 calories. Another study found that a typical kindergarten birthday celebration at school could include more than 400 calories – that’s about a third of what such young kids need in a whole day.
TLT: What’s the biggest challenge a parent is likely to face if he or she wants to be a “Snacktivist?”
SK: There is a huge misperception that these kinds of snacks are “no big deal” – that it’s “just a few cookies,” that “the kids deserve this for working hard,” or “the kids are burning off so many calories they need it.” But the reality is that kids are being fed junk food snacks in so many places every day that it really adds up. Kids are getting 20 teaspoons of added sugar every day! And when you look at the research, kids in youth sports in particular actually spend a surprising amount of time being sedentary. Most of them aren’t burning off the tons and tons of calories their parents may think they are–and most of them aren’t sweating enough to justify a sports drink and the calories, added sugar, artificial dyes and additives they contain.
TLT: So what’s your best advice in addressing this misconception about snacks?
SK: Know the facts and share them! In my e-book, I include expert advice and stats from research so people can communicate with the powers-that-be with confidence. I want parents to feel like they can approach a coach and have a response to “But the kids need the electrolytes in Gatorade” and have concrete ideas when a teacher says “But candy is the only thing that motivates the students.”
TLT: What are some of the resources in your e-book that parents are likely to find helpful?
SK: One of the things that holds parents back from bringing up this topic is that they don’t know what to say. So I created email templates that parents can customize and use when reaching out to teachers, camp directors, coaches, and other parents. And I include discussion points that are ready to use when you’re having the conversation. The book also includes 14 printables with snack lists (including ones for preschool and sports and a list of nut-free and peanut-free snacks), ideas for non-food class rewards, ideas for healthier classroom celebrations and school fundraisers, and fact sheets to give to coaches and parents regarding topics like sports drinks.
TLT: Is there anything else you’d like to tell TLT readers about Snacktivism?
SK: I want people to know that one parent CAN make a difference. So many of these things – cupcakes after soccer, cupcakes in the classroom – seem so ingrained they can feel impossible to change. But all it takes is one person speaking up to create potential change. I’ve heard success stories from people across the country about this, so I know it happens. And once you do speak up, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how many people actually agree with you and want to work with you or at least stand beside you!
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