Do you find your little one asking for snacks alllllll dayyyyyy loooooong? I’ve got a solution for you to not only take care of this problem but also help with your picky eater!
Create a meal and snack schedule. Ok schedule might be too harsh a word it’s more like a routine or even a rhythm. Creating a schedule makes meals and snacks predictable and consistent for your little ones. This helps them tune in to their hunger and fullness cues which is crucial for raising healthy independent eaters.
It also allows them to get hungry enough to try new foods, eat meals until they’re satisfied and full but yet not get overly hungry which leads to meltdowns and food refusal.
We want to create a meal and snack schedule starting as early as 6 months; when they start solid food. This often is more flexible and moveable as they’re younger and firms up a bit around 18 months.
We also want to create one that works for us and our family and catches them in the sweet spot of just barely starting to get hungry. Most children under the age of 6 this means allowing an eating opportunity every 2-3 hours which should look like between 4-6 times a day.
Creating this schedule allows for periods of time where they are eating and periods of time where they are not eating. Some people call this “open kitchen” and “closed kitchen”. Allowing them to build hunger is an important part of raising children who are able to eventually decide for themselves how and when to nourish themselves.
If we allow access to food all the time and they never truly feel hungry they will choose foods they are familiar with always and they will graze through out the day. Research shows grazing increases picky eating and makes mealtimes harder.
So if you’re struggling with meal rejection try implementing a meal and snack schedule. Providing them regular balanced meals and snacks can lead to less picky eating, less meal time struggles and increased accepted foods.
Aim to make both meals and snacks balanced with protein, fat and fiber options. Really snacks and meals shouldn’t look all that different. Avoid snacks or meals that only have one of the food groups present.
Examples of rounding out common snacks:
- Instead of just goldfish, add some quartered grapes
- Add peanut butter as a dip for an apple
- Take graham crackers and spread some almond butter on top
- Opt for cheese and crackers rather than just crackers
- Dip veggies into hummus rather than just plain
Struggling to find a schedule that works for you? I have some tips to get you started. Start by writing down the approximate times of naps and any other immoveable activities (ie. School drop off, soccer practice etc) add in eating times 15-30 minutes after wake up and allow for eating times to span for 30-45 minutes at least.
Schedule in 3 meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) then add in 1-3 snack times depending on your child’s age and needs. Children have small stomachs so they often need to eat small frequent meals and can’t last as long between meals as adults.
Pro tip: don’t schedule a snack within 1 hour of a meal or else you might find they’re not hungry enough to eat or stay at the table.
Here is a sample schedule with 3 meals and 2 snacks:
7:30 am : breakfast
9:30 am : snack
12:00 pm : lunch
1:00-2:30 pm : nap
3:00 pm : snack
5: 30 pm : dinner
Adjust these as needed for you and your family and regularly assess what’s working and what’s not. Make sure to stay consistent as making meal times unpredictable can lead to children overeating or underrating.
Sometimes a routine is better suited, which is essentially removing the timestamps but instead scheduling activities between meals and snacks that are consistent.
Ex: Wake up, breakfast, free play, snack, outside play, lunch, nap, snack, book time, dinner, free play, bath, bed. It’s more focused on the rhythm of the day rather than the times.
Of course, like anything things come up and life happens so be as consistent as you can but if a meal or snack needs to be skipped or move up or back just be sure to communicate this to your little one (no matter how young!). They really do understand more than we think and making eating times unpredictable can feel scary to our little ones even if they don’t know how to say it!