It may seem rigid and boring, but setting a snack schedule for your kids is a very positive thing. It reduces meal-time battles, helps prevent the "hangry's", helps avoid the constant drone of "I want a snack", and helps increase intake at meals times. Sound too good to be true? I know, but read on.
Kids have small stomachs. They need to eat frequently. However, there is a balance between grazing throughout the day versus eating scheduled meals and snacks. Ideally, you want to offer a snack between breakfast and lunch, and another between lunch and dinner. You may also want to consider offering a snack at bedtime, but that depends on the timing of dinner and bed.
If kids are allowed to graze throughout the day, they go into meals not feeling hungry, which means they don't eat their food. This can mean that kids are eating "snack" foods throughout the day and missing out on their "meal" foods. This can also mean that they purposefully don't eat their meal food because they know they have a free for all of foods to graze on that they actually want to eat. This can be a slippery slope of parents telling kids to eat their dinner, for example, when they aren't feeling hungry because they have been grazing for hours. This leads to either the kids eating their meal, even though they aren't hungry resulting in them not listening to their bodies. Or, it leads to a meal time battle because the parents want them to eat and the kids just don't want to eat. By setting a specified snack time, it allows them to have something to eat so they don't get overly hungry (I'm looking at you hangry's) but they still won't be too full when meal time rolls around.
If snacks are at a scheduled time, this allows you to avoid the constant "I want a snack" because you can say, "snack is at ten o'clock". That also means that the "kitchen is closed" when it is not snack or meal time. Although this can be a struggle to overcome at first while making the snack time routines, it takes a load off parents. This way they're not constantly doling out snacks throughout the day.
Choosing a time to line up with snack times at daycare or school tends to work really well if it's an option for your family. Kids will come to look for a snack at those scheduled times as a result of their bodies regulating to that time - so the more consistent you can be, the better. When you are trying to set the time, you want to aim for offering food roughly every 2 to 3 hours, when they are awake. This timing is important because it allows time for hunger to build between eating. You want to time the meals and snacks to allow success at those times for eating to their hunger or fullness.
So really, what do you have to lose? Give scheduling your snack times a try and if you stick with it as a family, you will reap the benefits.
Need some more help with sorting out snacks for your family? Contact Jill, Nurture The Future's Registered Dietitian at firstname.lastname@example.org