What to do when your toddler wants to live on snacks

image displaying title of blog post: what to do when your toddler wants to live on snacks. Practical advice to take back family meal times.

It’s the ultimate battle between parents and toddlers. The toddler belly seems to hold an infinite amount of space for snacks and has only a pea-sized reserve for meals. On one hand, you’re happy to see that your child is interested in eating, but on the other, it’s maddening to spend 30 minutes cooking a meal you know they would enjoy if they would just try one bite. 

Child's hands pulling apart a grilled cheese sandwich with a bowl of tomato soup in the background.
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Here’s some advice for how to take back family mealtimes and get your toddler to the table. 

1. Division of responsibilities for parent and child

Understand the division of responsibilities when it comes to your toddler’s eating. Created by Ellyn Satter, the division of responsibilities during meals and snacks gives both parents and children a role. Parents are responsible for the what, when, and where of feeding their children. The child is responsible for if they eat and how much. This means that a parent must decide the structure around the meal or snack.

For example, the parent may decide that dinner will be at 5:30 PM, spaghetti, broccoli, peaches, and milk will be served, and everyone will be seated at the dining table while eating. The child is responsible for coming to the table and deciding how much, or even if, they will be eating.

Once the child is showing signs of being done with the meal, they can get up from the table to go do other things and their plate should be cleared. It is ok to ask the child if they are done eating and remind them that their plate will be cleared now and a snack will be provided later. 

2. Set a schedule

A set schedule for meals and snacks will help your toddler’s hunger cues and trust that another food opportunity is coming. When your toddler’s food schedule is set up so that they begin to be hungry right around the same time the next meal is being served, it helps them be more excited about meal food and forget about foraging for their own snacks. An example of an eating schedule for a toddler may look like this: 

7 AM: breakfast

9:30 AM: snack

12 PM: lunch

3:30 PM: snack

6 PM: supper

7:30 PM: snack

3. Trust your child.

Try not to prompt your child to eat more or less. Avoid encouraging them to eat their vegetables. And don’t make a child clean their plate. When we do these things we’re telling our child that they can’t trust their own body cues when deciding that they’ve had enough to eat. Children are excellent intuitive eaters when well-meaning parents don’t interfere.

Remember, it’s your job to provide the food, it’s theirs to decide if and how much they’ll be eating. It’s normal for a growing child to have days when they eat next to nothing and other days when they can’t seem to get full, trust them on this.

How do you handle snack time vs meal time in your house? Leave a comment below to continue the conversation!

This information is for educational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for medical treatment or diagnosis. You should consult with your doctor before changing your diet or starting supplements for any health condition.

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