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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Snack Attack!

By Sarah E. Rivkin

I’m an acupuncturist and practioner of Chinese medicine—I’m also the mother of two young children. Sometimes my two roles are in conflict. Sometimes I feel like I’m fighting the same battle on two different fronts. Here’s my latest struggle:

According to the naturalistic, Daoist-influenced principles of Chinese medicine, the digestive system functions optimally when it is allowed to alternate periods of work and rest. Like tides, or seasons, or pendulums, or phases of the moon we are meant to fill then empty in preparation for filling again… Hmmm, try telling that to a toddler, especially when there are snacks!

So, my kids have eaten a full meal and say they’re not hungry anymore. But then we get to the playground or party and there they are, the snacks. Forbidden (and not) fruit! My daughter cons a friend out of a bag of Veggie Bootie, “Can I just have a handful, I’ll give it right back,” I hear her say. (Famous last words.) My son stole his first cookie out of someone’s hand at a Christmas party when he was only thirteen months.

Now that my daughter is five, I’ve developed some strategies to deal with this. Not only do I feed them regular meals and try not to have them leave the house hungry, we also have snacks at set times, too. And I’ve loosened up and compromised on what I feed them for snack--dried mangoes sweet as candy, mochi with almond butter and agave syrup, popcorn with butter, soy sauce, and nutritional yeast (sounds strange, but tastes like parmesan cheese) are some favorites.

My daughter knows there are special snack days, typically frozen yogurt after school on Fridays, and days when it’s not even worth arguing, because she knows I’ll say no. And I try to remember that occasionally having something that isn’t healthy is a far cry from the junk-food diet.

Back to work… and a long-time patient of mine has brought in her toddler son who hardly eats anything, least of all dinner. Plain pasta, jelly on bread, goldfish crackers, and apples, that’s about his diet, usually consumed while sitting in his stroller or in between laps on the playground. He’s a nibbler, always snacking, never eating a real meal, much less a vegetable, and always with a runny nose.

Earlier in my career, before I had kids of my own, I would’ve told her, “I know how hard it is to get him to eat a more balanced diet and sit down for meals,” doing my best to sound sincere. Now, I really know how hard it is. “We’ll start slowly,” I say. “First we’ll strengthen his digestive system with acupressure and herbs, so he’s able to eat more at a time and a wider variety of foods appeals to him. Then you can start to transition him from snacking to meals. It’s the least painful way to change his eating habits.”

I know from experience that my toddler patient will get better, and his mom will make some concessions along the way. It will work out—at least until they pass the ice cream truck this summer and everyone else is having one.

Sarah E. Rivkin, MS, LAc, Dipl. OM, is a New York State-licensed acupuncturist and is nationally board certified in Oriental Medicine. She is also a Park Slope mom and currently maintains a private practice in Park Slope, focusing on women's health and pediatrics (see www.slopeacupuncture.com) and is on the editorial board of The American Acupuncturist, an academic journal. She has worked in the labor and delivery acupuncture program at Lutheran Medical Center in Sunset Park and is a former board member of the Acupuncture Society of New York.