March 12, 2010 -- Mark and Christie Tully have three children: 6-year-old Andrew, 3-year-old Liam and baby Caroline. They also have a kitchen full of healthy snacks, along with some not-so-healthy ones. And sometimes it seems as if mealtime in the Tully household is … all the time.
Daily children consume more unhealthy snacks than ever before, and snacking now accounts for more than 27 percent of their daily calories, according to a study published in the March issue of Health Affairs. The study, conducted at the University of North Carolina, surveyed more than 30,000 children and found that on average they snacked at least three times a day on candy, salty chips and other junk food. Unhealthy snacking added almost 600 calories a day to kids' diets -- up by 168 calories from the late 1970s.
The Tully family bravely agreed to let "Good Morning America" wire their "snack central" with cameras for one weekend, to see just how much Andrew and Liam are really eating between meals.
Andrew kicked off the snacking on Friday night with a buttered bagel before bed -- 439 calories.
On Saturday, before swim practice, he asked if he could have chocolate pudding. Christie Tully said sure, and younger brother Liam grabbed a pudding package as well.
"Is that what they're going for, pudding?" asked Mark Tully. "Guys, there are apples. How about a yogurt, instead? A yogurt would be a better snack."
And so began the pudding versus yogurt meltdown.
"You said I could have one," Andrew complained.
Dad's response? "Yeah, mommy wasn't paying attention to what you said exactly. How about for lunch you have the pudding, but yogurt you have for right now."
Both boys began whining and crying. The parents put up a good fight, but in a rush to get to swim practice, they gave in and let the boys have pudding.
Later that day, Christie Tully prepared a plate of low-fat string cheese, graham crackers and apples to eat between lunch and dinner.
"I have a bunch of stuff for you to share," she told her boys.
But, in addition to that, Andrew helped himself to some Goldfish Crackers.
Researchers found that many children snacked continuously throughout the day and that kids are less likely to pick up a fresh apple or vegetable than in past decades. And the largest increase in caloric intake from snacks, according to the study, was found in children ages 2 to 6, just like Andrew and Liam.
'You Need to Eat Something Other Than Bagels and Chicken Fingers'
In the Tully household, Saturday ended with a bedtime snack of ice cream with chocolate syrup for Andrew, and cookies for Liam.
Andrew's Saturday snack tally: 741 calories.
Liam's Saturday snack tally: 467 calories.
After breakfast, Liam helped himself to graham crackers and a glass of milk. Mom added grapes to the mix.
A little later, a little mischief got caught on tape.
"Let's see what I can eat, anything good in here?" Andrew wondered, rummaging around in a cabinet.
His brother walked in and helped himself to a cookie.
"Hey, guess what?" Andrew told his brother. "You want chocolate milk? Just open up this cabinet. The locks are off, see?"
"Oh, yeah! Cool!" Liam replied. "This lock is off too."
"Mom said we could have a snack before we leave," Andrew told his father moments later. "I took this chocolate milk."
And as the weekend drew to a close, a familiar refrain: Andrew asked for "a little bit of a bagel."
"You need to eat something other than bagels and chicken fingers," his dad said.
"You know what I can do?" added mom. "I can make a fruit smoothie really quickly."
Sunday's snack tally: 635 calories for Andrew and 390 for Liam.
Registered dietitian Samantha Heller said, "If I had to give the Tullys a grade, it would probably be a C."
"They are eating over half their recommended calories for their age in salty sugary snacks," Heller said."Even though their kitchen is full of healthy snacks, the kids are loading up on sweets."
Advice for Parents on Scaling Back Snacking
Heller says there are things parents can do to limit snacking.
Don't let your children snack out of habit. Make sure they are actually hungry.
"If you're snacking just after dinner, you're not hungry," Heller said. "They just feel like eating, and it's fun."
Put your money where your mouth is.
"You can't have a parent eating doughnut holes and telling your kid to eat carrots," Heller said. "That won't work."
Stop stocking your kitchen with bad snacks.
"When it's yogurt, chocolate pudding or apples, who is going to win?"Heller asked. "Well, the chocolate pudding will always win out every time. So A, I wouldn't give the child a choice, and B, I don't think I would have the pudding or the cookies in the house."
Take away the unhealthy temptations, Heller says, and kids will embrace the healthy ones.
ABC News Lara Salahi contributed to this report.