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My little girl likes to snack. All day long. All the time.
I always want her to have access to healthy food so that she doesn’t go hungry, so for the first two years of her life I let her snack whenever she wanted.
But then I started to notice a less-than-preferable pattern.
She seemed hungry all the time, so I fed her. But then she was never hungry during meal time! She would push her food away, say “Done!”, and run off to play instead of eating her dinner. Only to ask for a snack 5 minutes after everyone else finished eating.
I also have a strong opinion against forcing kids to clear their plate. This teaches kids to eat a certain amount of food instead of listening to their bodies to tell them when to stop eating. So I never wanted to make her eat.
What’s the solution??
I asked a lot of smart mamas who have been there, done that. Turns out, this is a common problem for kids! As I asked around, I found several techniques that these clever moms used to fix the problem.
The amazing thing is that each mom had a solution that targeted a different aspect of the problem.
Is the frustration due to:
- The child eating only unhealthy snacks and turning down healthy food during meals?
- The insane effort of constantly cooking/fixing something to eat?
- The amount of food wasted during dinner and unnecessary money spent on snacks?
- Feeling a lack of gratitude for the meal that you worked hard on?
These moms feel you, and they’ve got tips to fix each aspect of the problem!
Here they are! Choose the one that fits your family’s needs the best.
Technique 1: No snacks one hour before mealtimes!
This strategy helps children be hungry enough to eat at the next meal without feeling starving for an extended period of time.
It’s easy to do- just decide when you’re going to eat a meal and put away all snacks one hour before meal time. Done!
Simple and easy… until you have to tell the child “no”. It’s not easy for a child to get used to a whole new system, so be patient as the child learns the new expectations. As you consistently explain and stick to the new schedule, the child will adjust. The frustration will decrease over time.
Giving lots of heads up can help decrease frustration for the child. Remind them by saying, “Snacks will be put away in 10 minutes. Hurry and eat a snack if you are hungry!”
If you need additional resources on handling tantrums, check out this link!
Technique 2: Parent chooses when to eat, the child chooses what to eat.
This method divides the roles of eating between the parent and the child.
Mom- your job is to identify what times snacks and meals will be allowed and provide a couple healthy options for the child.
The child’s job is to decide which of the options he will eat and how much he will eat. That might mean nothing at all, and that’s ok. Just make sure to explain in advance that the child will have to wait until the next snack or meal time!
For this method, it can be helpful to use a visual aid to help younger children understand that they need to wait.
Check out this great resource for parents!
Technique 3: Limit sugary, carbilicous, or greesy snacks.
Another great idea is to take a closer look at what snacks you are offering. It’s common to offer kids unhealthy options like fruit snacks or chips for snacks.
Those things are just fine in moderation, but if a child prefers unhealthy snacks to healthy meals (I mean, can we blame them??) then it’s perfectly natural to fill up on the yummy snacks and refuse to eat their broccoli at dinner.
Try offering broccoli as a snack, or a fruit cup with no added sugar, or a cheese stick. This teaches the child that healthy food is a lifestyle for your family, not an occasional thing.
When there’s no comparison (fruit snacks vs broccoli?) the healthy options look a lot better!
Technique 4: The uneaten meal becomes the snack.
Some moms hate seeing meal after meal thrown away in the trash, just to have the child ask for more food a few minutes later. This was my biggest frustration with my daughter!
A great solution is to hold on to the child’s plate from mealtime. Make sure to put a little of each option on the plate. This ensures that the child still gets some choices in what to eat.
The next time the child asks for a snack, pull out the plate from lunch rather than fixing them a new snack. This is a great way to teach a child to have gratitude for the food they have, reduce picky eating, save time and energy for mom, and reduce waste.
Technique 5: Premade healthy snacks available for any time!
Some parents really don’t have a problem with the child eating often. The problem is the amount of time and energy that goes into constantly preparing a new snack or meal. It can literally consume the day if you’re not careful!
Some moms will set aside 30 minutes twice a week to assemble healthy snacks. They will dice cheese, slice fruit, portion out whole grain crackers, and even make a few sandwiches.
If your kids are old enough to open the fridge by themselves, place the snacks in a designated section of the fridge. The kids will always know where to go to find themselves a snack without mom’s help!
If the kids are not old enough to get the snack on their own, all you have to do is grab something out of the fridge and you’re done!
Moms can easily set aside enough snacks and even some meals for the next 3 days or so in a short amount of time! Viola!
Technique 6: Watch portion sizes.
I made the mistake of handing my child the entire bag of goldfish. I assumed that she would eat until she was full and I could put the goldfish crackers away as soon as she was done.
The problem is, she didn’t just stop at full. She ate until she was STUFFED! And then she wasn’t hungry until long after lunchtime.
Binge eating like that isn’t a good habit for kids (or adults for that matter). I can help my child eat appropriate portions throughout the day rather than one large binge by being aware of the portion sizes that I am offering the child.
If I give her too little, she can always ask for a little more. No harm done.
If I give her too much, she might overeat. Or make a mess with the rest of the food…
I’m always so grateful for moms in my life who know exactly what I’m going through! I want to hear from you too!
What techniques do you use to help your child eat appropriate amounts of snacks but also participate in family meals?? Comment below!
I also want to know which of these techniques was most helpful for your family! Let us know that too!!
Need more information? Check out this great post by Sarah Remmer!
Who is Mrs. S… and why do people call you that?
It’s my favorite nickname! That’s what all my students call me!
I’ve been around the block a time or two. I’ve worked with children from ages 0-18, some with mental illness, some with disabilities, some with Autism, and many with behavioral problems.
I also worked as a parent educator!
All that doesn’t hold a candle to my best experience with children- being a mom. Want to learn more about me? Click here!
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