How to Stop Kids from Snacking All Day
How we’ve put an end to constant snacking in our house, including the simple daily routines we’re following this summer to encourage healthy eating.
“What can I eat?” “I’m hungry.” Or, even better, the two-year-old goes straight to the cupboard to help herself to a granola bar.
Does any of this sound familiar?
My kids recently got into the habit of asking for snacks constantly. And what happens when the kids snack all day long? They hardly touch the food on their plates at mealtimes.
Yes, I have a blog dedicated to healthy recipes for busy families. And yes, my own family has been struggling with picky eating. (I’m not fond of the term picky eater, but it gets the point across. Let’s just say my kids are reluctant to eat new foods and foods that are not their very favorites.)
If you want to encourage your kids to try more foods at mealtimes, the first step is to make sure they are actually hungry at dinner time. Which means you need to limit what and when they can eat between meals.
Here are some ideas for how to stop kids from snacking all day and encourage healthy eating:
1. Stick to a (flexible) meal/snack schedule.
This summer, ours looks something like this:
Breakfast at 7:30
Snack at 9:30
Lunch at 11:30
Snack at 3:00
Dinner at 5:30/6:00
I’ve talked with the kids about the schedule, so they know that after breakfast we won’t be eating again until 9:30 snack. This means they need to eat enough at the meal so they’re not hungry again right away.
You don’t have to stick rigidly to a schedule, but it helps to have a general outline so you don’t fall into the trap of eating all day long.
2. Keep busy!
If you’re just sitting around the house, you get bored and head to the kitchen, right? It’s understandable that your kids will do the same.
Especially now, when we’re all home for summer break, it’s important that I plan activities to keep the kids engaged each day. A morning outing to the park or pool, an afternoon trip to the library, time spent in the backyard or playing with play dough… it doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy. Simply plan a few things for your kids to do to break up the day.
Let your kids have some downtime to play or read at home, too. You’ll find that once you’ve kept them busy, they’ll play better by themselves when the time comes.
3. Limit the number of packaged snacks in your cupboard.
When the options abound, your kids will want to try all of them. Keep a few quick options in your cupboard, like granola bars and crackers, for when you’re heading out and need something quick and portable. And the rest of the time offer fresh or homemade options. Our favorites are fruits and vegetables (with dip), smoothies, whole grain muffins, yogurt, cheese, and homemade granola bars.
4. Plan ahead.
Besides meal planning your dinners for the week, make a list of healthy snack options for the kids (and yourself!). A few ideas written on a post-it on your refrigerator will jog your memory and help you to offer a nutritious snack at snack time.
I’ve tried going all out and planning exactly what we’ll have for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks every day. It took quite a bit of time to make such a detailed plan… and we didn’t end up following it. With young kids, schedules are always changing and sometimes making a smoothie on Wednesday afternoon doesn’t work once Wednesday afternoon comes around.
Keeping a short list of the options, and having the ingredients on hand, is simpler and just as effective.
5. Prep ahead.
Spend some time on the weekend, or whenever your schedule allows, to prep a few healthy snacks for the week. Wash and slice carrots and bell peppers. Make a batch of whole grain muffins. Slice some oranges. Make some hummus or white bean dip. Hard boil eggs.
Put these options front and center in your refrigerator where you’ll see them and remember to eat them.
I like to have a weekly snack prep session and put everything into a snack station in our refrigerator so it’s ready to go.
6. Don’t allow snacking close to mealtimes.
My kids always start asking for something to eat right before dinner time. Makes sense, right? They haven’t eaten in a while so they are hungry.
You don’t want to give them a snack right before dinner though, or that snack will likely end up being their dinner.
Instead, suggest an activity they can do. Take out the Legos, play dough, coloring books, or matchbox cars. Keep a few toys and activities put away and only take them out during dinner prep time. The kids will be excited to play with something they haven’t yet seen that day, and you’ll be able to cook with less interruption.
If the kids really are starving and won’t let up, offer them a veggie plate. I don’t mind if my kids fill their tummies with vegetables, even right before dinner. If you’ve prepped a few vegetables ahead of time and have the ready to go in your refrigerator, you won’t have to stop cooking dinner – you can just put them on a plate on the table for the kids to munch on.
What’s working for you right now to encourage your kids to eat healthy meals?