Are your kids constantly wanting to snack or graze on food?
Hands up if your child is asking for snacks allll daaay loooong…
It may get tiring for us as parents, but is it the best thing to be saying ‘yes’ to our kids and allowing them to graze on foods allll day long?
I often hear parents saying…
But my kids are asking for food and they’ve just finished lunch 10 minutes ago!
But if I just say ‘No’ they throw a tantrum, or are back nagging again in 10 minutes, and next minute they’re ‘hangry’!
Shouldn’t we let them eat when they’re hungry though?
What if they didn’t eat much at lunchtime and need something else soon after?
They’re saying they’re hungry allll day, but they don’t eat anything at dinner time.
I went through a while of asking all of these questions myself, and I hear them from parents I work with a lot!
Your parenting instinct may be telling you to not allow the constant snacking, but it can be so damn hard not knowing how to best deal with the persistent nagging and most parents get worn down. The strategies we use to deal with these food requests and our overall approach to feeding our kids - our parenting-style – has a significant influence on how they will eat.
Kids can request food for a multitude of reasons ranging from: actually being very hungry to boredom, stress or just the desire for a favourite food such as sweets.
Children really thrive on routine and predictability and research shows it is really beneficial for children to have that predictability when it comes to eating times. I am a strong believer in having a meal and snack time structure where meals and snacks are given at the same times each day which provides regular and appropriately spaced out eating opportunities for children. Offering food at set times over the day allows your child to top-up at these eating opportunities and then develop a healthy appetite by the next snack/meal time without becoming too hungry. I find that often when kids are becoming too hungry between meals/snacks and demanding food, it is because something is out of whack with the set meal/snack time structure.
We know that children will eat best when they have developed a healthy appetite. They will be less likely to refuse the nutritious food you have cooked and will be more willing to try new foods or the foods that are not-yet-liked. They will also be in good control of eating the amount that is right for them- they will be able to come to the table relaxed and eat enough and then also stop eating when they’re full, not over-full.
On the hunger-fullness scale (below), ideally kids will arrive at the table for set meal/snack time at a #3-4- moderate to mildly hungry and finish eating at a #7-comfortably satisfied. If they are offered snacks within 1-2 hours of meal time and are topping-up their tummy, they will probably be between a #6 and #8 and with not too much desire to eat well when they arrive at the table for their meal.
BUT, it is a fine line between having a healthy appetite and being….hangry!! No parent wants a hangry child! The hangry-monster will refuse to sit at the table, throw a tantrum because their dinner is on the wrong coloured plate or because the broccoli is touching the rice. They are unlikely to eat well while their emotions are not well controlled- they may be too emotional to eat more than a couple of mouthfuls and they most likely wont be open to trying new foods. Or they are so ravenous they may over-eat. This hangry-monster causes stress for the parents; stress about their behaviour and stress about the fact they didn’t eat well.
So, we don’t want their tummy to be topped up before a meal, and we don’t want the hangry-monster coming to the table either.
Now, you probably know this already, right?
But the part that most parents find difficult is the HOW to get this balance right. HOW to hit that sweet spot. HOW to get their children to the table with a healthy appetite ready to eat the family meal with little fuss.
Without keeping you reading here about how your overall feeding-style can improve your child’s eating behaviours for the next hour…because let’s face it, your child will probably be asking for a snack in that time…I will give you my 3-Step Response to Food Requests, to help manage the nagging for snacks and the grazing on food alllll day long so they can come to the table with a healthy appetite…and then eat well…which means less stress for them and you!
1. Acknowledge their request in a responsive way
2. Remind them of the firm meal and snack time structure
3. Redirect their attention
So, we want to prevent our little ones coming to the table with a tummy that is too topped-up to eat well or too hungry to have well-controlled emotions and eating behaviour. It is helpful to have a set and consistent structure for meal and snack times over the day. Our response to food requests and nagging for food between scheduled meal or snack times is important for preventing our kids eating snacks outside of the set times and ruining the development of their healthy appetite. The recommended 3-Steps for responding to these food requests is to acknowledge their feelings, remind them of the meal/snack time structure and re-direct them onto another activity. I have seen some great success following this structured response to kid's asking for food/snacks between structured meal and snack times. Give it a go, and good luck!
But if the problem of constant nagging for food persists, I recommend re-evaluating your family’s meal/snack time structure (or introducing one!) and reaching out for some further guidance.
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