It's so easy to give your kids food all day long - as most parents know, they ask for it! Many parents feel that if kids ask for food, they must be hungry. The thing is, kids are persistent. Trust me, I get it. I also have many parents who worry that their kids aren't eating enough, so they think that at least if their kids are snacking during the day they are eating something. I have heard many, really valid reasons why kids are snacking throughout the day. But this constant snacking is not only exhausting for parents, it also sets up the kids and parents for more meal time power struggles.
While all of the arguments as to why your child is snacking throughout the day may be true, giving your child free access to food - grazing - all day will actually have a negative effect in terms of mealtime struggles. When you let kids snack throughout the day, they enter mealtime not feeling hungry. This means that the amount they eat at meals goes down. This can lead to more stress for parents as they worry that their kids aren't getting all of the foods that they need. The food at meals can be challenging for kids: vegetables, different proteins, it can touch other foods, be all mixed together, the list of reasons goes on and on. Meal foods don't tend to include what kids think of as snack foods. There are many a child who will wait out the foods at meal time until they can get what they really want at snack time.
So, what can you do about this?
While it can seem almost "mean" at first, offering food to your kids at scheduled times can actually make big improvements in their eating. Offering a snack between breakfast and lunch and between lunch and dinner allows kids to have opportunities to eat throughout the day, which they need. But it also allows them some time between eating to start to feel hungry again. By having more of a schedule for snacks, it reduces stress on parents because you know that they are offered food roughly every 2-3 hours and will have the opportunity to eat - if they choose. You know they aren't truly starving if them come looking for snacks between those times, and again, I know how convincing kids can be. Although stopping the constant snacking can be a hard habit to break - it is really worth it. Remember kids are very adaptable and will soon look to these set snack times as when they eat. As a result you will have much more meal time success. I see it time and again.
Do you need more help with your child's eating? Contact Jill, Nurture The Future's Registered Dietitian at firstname.lastname@example.org