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Raising a Child: Then and Now (Part IV – Snacks and Weaning Foods)

[This is a guest post written by Risa Tanji, a Student Assistant in Special Collections & University Archives, who works primarily in the Prange Collection.  See Introduction, Part I, Part II, and Part III.]

As babies grow, parents begin to introduce baby foods and snacks to their diet to familiarize them with the way that adults eat meals. The type of foods that were eaten as snacks and the way of integrating snack times into children’s schedules differed slightly between the early post World War II period in Japan and now.  

I compared the information in two books, Babies’ Meals and Snacks/赤ちゃんの食事とお八つ by Shufu no Tomosha Henshukyoku (Prange Call No. 2019-0012) and The Common Sense of Child Rearing/育児の常識 by Dr. Yasumichi Yamamoto (Prange Call No. 2019-0013), with information from Dr. Yuriko Ota, a registered dietitian in Japan, as a representative example of current Japanese perspectives on this topic.

Babies’ Meals and Snacks listed specific examples of snacks such as sweet potato and bread pudding, creams made from various vegetables or nuts, jelly, apple otoshiyaki (traditional Japanese pan-fried cookies), and apple starch gruel. According to Dr. Ota, the ideal snacks for babies, especially for those who are one to two years old, are those that compensate for nutrients that are generally harder for babies to get through their meals.

Some dishes, such as starch gruel (suggested to be served hot), did not seem to be particularly appetizing, but perhaps was advised more for its nutritional value and vibrant color. There were many potato-based snacks, such as sweet potato tarts and sweet-potato jelly, that are still commonly eaten today.  All of the snacks in the book were homemade, and considering how time-consuming they were to make, we can be assume that store-bought snacks were uncommon and/or unaffordable for many families.

Dr. Yamamoto stressed the importance of snacks for children.  He suggested that children be given a snack twice a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, until about age five or six.  Many scientists today would agree that snacking is important for children’s growth, because children use more energy than adults.  Dr. Ota, however, suggests that one snack a day is sufficient for children over three years old. 

The “emotional sensitivity” that Dr. Yamamoto repeatedly showed concern about was mentioned in this section of his book as well. He believed that if the parents were too stressed about food, their children would also become stressed, and stressed children would develop weak digestive systems. Though he emphasized the importance of snacks, he also conjectured that eating too many snacks or eating at the wrong time could lead to gastrointestinal problems. 

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