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Beat the Snack Attack!

Changing bad habits

Many parents realize that their children should be snacking on more nutritious foods. It's just that with our busy lives, we don't know how, or where, to start.

Charlotte Bush, mom of Fiona, 16 months, of Williamsburg, Virginia, notices many kids downing fries and soda at the playground come snacktime. "I hear a lot of my mom friends say, 'I wish she would drink something other than soda.' And I think, 'Why did you give her soda in the first place?'" Tamara Zappa is also perplexed by other parents' food choices -- including her husband's: "He just introduced our two-year-old, Henry, to snack chips," says the mom from Phoenix. "But I think that's too young."

The problem is, once a child's unhealthy snacking habits are set, they can be very difficult to break. "We know that kids'eating patterns, tastes, and preferences form in the first two years of life," explains Margaret Bentley, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

And snacking can become almost continuous, says Dr. Klish. "The minute a child is upset, bored, or tired, out comes that snack bag," he says. And so we parents succumb because, more often than not, we're just trying to survive that car ride or grocery-store run.

Kids' between-meal eating habits weren't always this bad. A generation ago, when a mom wanted to give her child a snack, she most likely had to prepare something -- spread peanut butter on bread or peel a banana. And a snack used to be a discreet event, usually consumed at the kitchen table. Not these days. "I feel like I can't leave the house without a stash of snacks," says Megan Gorman, a mom of two girls, ages 4 and 3, in Melrose Park, Pennsylvania. "I carry them in my purse, in the car, wherever I go. Like most moms I know, I've conditioned my kids to expect them whenever the first hunger pang hits."

And they do.