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How to Handle “I Want a Snack” Syndrome

Jun 05, 2022

One parent recently told me that the toughest part about pulling her child from daycare during the pandemic was the constant snack requests. 

Who can relate?! 

I think I saw every single hand go up …

So how do we handle this?

There are a few schools of thought on this. Some say to stick to a rigid eating schedule. Kids thrive on routine (#truth). Others say to help kids recognize hunger signals and support those. (Can some help me recognize hunger signals first?!) I say, do a little of both. I’m not big on rigidity, but I do think a semi-flexible routine is important for humans—not just the young ones!

When it comes to feeding the kiddos, our routine looks something like this:

  • Breakfast first thing in the morning
  • Midmorning snack window between 9 and 10 a.m. (kiddos can visit the designated snack bin for one to two items during this hour, whenever they feel hungry)
  • Lunch at noon
  • Afternoon snack window between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m.
  • Dinner at 5:30
  • Optional piece of fruit for a bedtime snack at 7:30

Now do we ever do evening s’mores for a snack or eat a granola bar as a late-morning snack at 11 because we just returned from the Children’s Museum and lunch won’t be ready for a bit? Absolutely. That’s why I say this is flexible. But for the most part, we loosely plan our day’s activities around this routine and help the kids recognize hunger cues and pick something to satisfy their hunger in their snack windows. We talk about it some: ”Did those two items during your snack window fill you up too much to have lunch? Let’s try just one item tomorrow.” But we don’t obsess. We know that having snack bins (we have one in our pantry for shelf-stable protein bars, fruit, popcorn, nuts, etc. and one in our fridge with Greek yogurt, hummus, veggies, etc.) with a variety of healthy options means the kiddos are generally getting the nutrition they need while still being able to select what their body feels like having at that moment.

We find it’s helpful to have the routine posted somewhere the whole family can see. That way it takes the fall for us, so to speak. When a kiddo asks for a snack at 8 a.m., we point to the posted schedule and say, “Good news--the midmorning snack window opens in an hour, so I bet you’ll be first in line at 9! Can you come find me when it’s time and show me what you’ve picked?” 

Oftentimes the kiddos are playing hard and don’t want to stop their LEGO building or sprinkler play for snack time. That’s the beauty of the snack window—you don’t have to interrupt them at 2:30 on the dot to give them afternoon snack. But I do recommend you mention when the snack window will be closing in 15 minutes so they have an opportunity to munch on something between lunch and dinner! That way it’s their choice. And if they don’t have hunger cues, that’s OK, too—as long as they feel they can wait until dinner for their next feeding! If you find that they skip the snack window and then want food before dinner, you could adjust the snack window according to the trend of their hunger or you could remind them at snack time that the next meal is a couple hours away and the past few days it’s been hard to go that long, so maybe a nibble would help!

The best part about this strategy is that it can be altered for YOU and YOUR FAMILY. Find what works (it’s OK if it takes a few tries!), build in flexibility, and write it down for everyone’s reference! 

I bet other families would love to see what works for you, too. Share your snack and scheduling tips in my private Facebook group, Raising Good Parents Community!

 

Dr. B

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