Eating for REAL life: It feels like my kids are snacking all day long and then are never hungry for meals. What can I do?

Grandpa's fruit bowl

Snacks are very important for little kids. Little bellies have trouble holding enough food to fuel their active lives with just three meals a day, so nutritious snacks ensure they get all the vitamins, minerals and calories they need. Most kids do well with 2-3 snacks per day in between meals. However, it’s easy for these fun little mini-meals to get out of hand and cause you more stress than they should. Let’s see if we can reduce the food battles!

Do you feel like your kids are constantly asking for snacks, but then never seem to be hungry enough for real meals? Here are a few hints:

  • Specify snack time: While it’s fun and easy to graze all day long, it wrecks havoc with honoring our hunger-fullness cues. If kids are allowed to snack all day long, meals turn into mini-snacks too and they struggle learning what an appropriate level of hunger is before eating. We want kids to learn those valuable skills and also eat up at mealtime, so limiting snacks to only the 2-3 specific “snack times” each day can help. If your kid has had a good sized snack and they ask for another 30-60 minutes later, remind them they already had their snack and that the next meal will be soon. Then find a really good distraction!
  • Have a location for snack time: Snacking while playing or walking around the house is the kid’s version of distracted eating (like watching TV during meals for adults). Also, snacking can fill another need (like boredom or emotional needs) and fill them up before meals when they weren’t even truly hungry to begin with. Limiting snacks to specific locations like the kitchen table, the high chair or the car seat helps kids focus on learning their hunger-fullness cues as well as help them develop good habits for life.
  • Provide healthy snacks: The snacks that are advertised in the media look fun, but rarely are truly healthy snacks. Remember, snacks aren’t just “filling the hole.” Kids are hungry so often because they are growing and are active! They need real food to meet the demands their bodies have! Often kids will eat more quantity of lower quality foods trying to fill the needs their bodies have. That fills them up on empty calories so they don’t have room for nutritious meals. Providing quality snacks reduces the quantity of the snack they need, allowing more room for meals later. Providing nutrient dense snacks can stop the snack-battle cycle! See tomorrow’s post for kids about how to plan the perfect, healthy snack.
  • Limit calorie-dense drinks: Now, I don’t want to ruffle any feathers here, but there is no room for juice, soda, or other calorie-dense drinks besides milk in a kid’s diet. Sorry, but the calories they need to fill are valuable! I know the juice seems counterintuitive as a poor choice, but kids need fruit because of the vitamins, minerals, but especially the fiber. It fills them up and makes them feel full proportionate to the calories they just ate. Juice does not have that filling property and fills kids with calories without improving their satiety (fullness). Kids who have access to juice or soda to sip on all day are often getting their day’s worth of calories before dinner, so it’s no wonder they don’t want to eat! Saving milk for snacks and meals will help improve mealtime appetite too.

I hope one or more of these hints may be the key to helping reduce snacking stress and improve your kids’ appetite for meals! I would love to hear other ideas that have helped your family.

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