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Why Setting a Meal Schedule Will Improve your Child’s Eating



Do your kids constantly ask for snacks but are never actually hungry for meals?


Are they eating all day and still asking for snacks?


Are you left wondering Hmmm, what is going on here?


This frequent eating behaviour, often referred to as ‘grazing’, can contribute to children lacking hunger at meal time.


Since there are certain nutritious foods that are more likely to be eaten at meals, rather than snacks, this could be a problematic pattern.


So what is the one thing you can do right now to make it better?


Set a Flexible Meal and Snack Schedule


A schedule or routine can help set boundaries and fill our kids up long enough to keep them going until the next meal.


Many kids are very active and need energy to fuel them every few hours, this is where snacks can be very helpful.


If your child isn’t hungry for a snack and they refuse, that is totally fine. Snacks are not absolutely necessary to take them through to the next meal.


If having a meal and snack routine works for your family, I recommend having about 2.5-3.5 hours between meals and snacks.


Here is a sample meal/snack schedule:


7am: Breakfast

9:30am: mid-morning snack

12pm: Lunch

3:00pm: afternoon snack

6pm: Dinner

Bedtime snack: depends on when kids go to bed (more on this below).


This schedule gives 5-6 opportunities for eating, each about 2.5-3 hours apart. Setting a ‘loose’ schedule will also allow kids to know when to expect the next opportunity for eating.


If your child decides not to eat much at their mid-morning snack, they know they will have another opportunity for eating at lunch time.


Please do not worry about sticking to your schedule religiously, as kids are often unpredictable. It’s perfectly fine to have some flexibility.

For example, my daughters are often whining for food 20 minutes before dinner is ready. A clever ‘snack hack’ is to put out a plate of vegetables at this time. Veggies alone will not fill them up enough to prevent them from eating at dinner.


Why I Don’t Love Grazing


Regularly allowing for grazing all day could run the risk of your child losing touch with their hunger/fullness cues and prevent their bodies to get hungry enough at mealtimes. Not coming to the table hungry can set us up for failure.


Why?


Because they will be less interested in what is on the table and not be willing enough to try new foods.


Preparing The Perfect Snack


More often than not, we want to offer balanced snacks. Think of a snack as a mini meal.


For example: Protein + fat + carb (fibre). In the example below, the Greek or Icelandic yogurt is high in protein. Adding fibre and/or fat gives it more 'staying power' to help fill them up.





Snacks that aren’t balanced likely won’t fill them up enough to get them through to the next meal.


Of course, there is room for ‘fun foods’ like chips, cookies and crackers.


Not every snack has to be a perfect picture of balance.



Snacks Outside Of Snack Time?


In no way shape or form am I saying to restrict your kids from food. They can eat as much as they want during meals and snacks. We want them to listen to their body and stop eating when they’re full, or keep eating if they still feel hungry.


Setting designated times to sit down and have a snack lets them know this is the time to eat (or not eat), and foods will not be handed out in between.


If your child asks for a snack or rummages through the pantry 20 minutes after a meal, one way to approach this is to validate that they’re still hungry and tell them when the next eating opportunity is.


For example:Thank you for telling me that you’re still hungry, but we just had lunch and the kitchen will be open again at afternoon snack time.’


There are always exceptions to the ‘kitchen is closed’ rule. If a child is sick or has a medically necessary reason for eating (i.e., Type 1 Diabetes), then of course we need to listen to them telling us what their bodies need.


What About Bedtime Snacks?


Bedtime snacks all depend on your family and what time your kids go to bed.

If they go to bed 30 minutes after dinner, then I wouldn’t offer a bedtime snack.

If dinner is 2-3 hours before bedtime, then a snack can definitely be appropriate.


Stay consistent with the bedtime snack – either offer it all the time or not at all. Try not to make it depend on how well your kid eats at dinner.


Remember – as parents we are here to set loving boundaries and provide meals and snacks consistently.


Kids decide whether or not they will eat and how much they will eat.


If you are struggling with establishing an eating routine with your kids and would like more peace of mind around their meal and snack schedule, I can help.

Veronica


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Veronica La Marca, RD CDE

                   veronica@eat2grow.ca

Instagram: @eat2grow.kids.nutrition

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