Is Snacking Making Your Child Picky? 5 Steps to Implement a Schedule

Your child eats frequent snacks or seems to prefer to eat throughout the day and not at meals.  It is common for parents to let children graze between meals.  It is even more likely when a child is a highly selective eater.

Snacks are an important part of a child’s diet but can also create meal time difficulties when an unstructured approach is taken. A child that isn’t hungry at a meal or knows that a snack will be available soon after a meal may lack interest or eat very little.

While this may seem to give a poor eater more opportunities to meet their nutritional requirements, it hinders your child from responding to his internal hunger and satiety cues.  In order to be adequately hungry at meals, your child needs a feeding schedule.

The step-by-step approach described will equip you with a plan and confidence to implement a meal and snack schedule.

The Truth About Grazing

A common reason why parents allow frequent snacks between meals is because their child doesn’t eat well at meals.  It is a natural reaction to be concerned that your child isn’t eating enough and offer snacks to provide a chance to make up what was missed at the prior meal. 

However, this approach creates a situation where your child isn’t hungry at meals.  It also makes it more difficult to ensure that intake of key nutrients are met.  Meals often include the most nutrient dense food options each day.  Remembers, snacks serve to supplement meals, not to replace what wasn’t eaten at a meal. 

Establishing a Snack Schedule

The number of snacks that a child needs depends on their age, but in general toddlers need 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day.  Older children need 3 meals and 2 snacks.

If your child currently eats frequent snacks or is grazing, you can use this stepwise approach to transition to a structured snack schedule. You will find that appetite at meals will improve and you will have more quality time to sit down and eat with your child.  This gives you the opportunity to model healthy food choices.  It also gives your child the needed experience with recognizing and responding to hunger and satiety.

Step 1: Create a Snack Schedule

If you don’t have a structured schedule for when your child eats snacks in relation to meals, this is the first step in the transition.  How to make the transition will be discussed in step 4. 

Mealtimes should be consistent, so your child’s snacks can be planned between meals. If your meal times are currently highly variable, you will need to plan the times for these as well.  Choose a snack time that is no less than 90 minutes before the meal to ensure adequate appetite for meals.  Remember that snacks serve to supplement meals, not replace them.  

It is best to write down your schedule and post it in the kitchen and keep a copy handy in your purse or wallet.  You will likely need to reference it, take notes and make updates as you make the transition.  It may be necessary to move the snack times by up to 30 minutes based on your individual child’s needs.

Step 2. Explain the Change and Involve Caregivers/Family Members

If your child is old enough, be sure to sit down and have a conversation, share the new schedule and tell him about the change.  Answer questions and provide reassurance that he will have plenty of opportunities to eat and that the foods you’re serving aren’t changing, you’re just going to eat at specific times.

If there are other people that feel your child, be sure that you have a conversation and clearly explain the schedule so they can support your efforts.  Consistency is important and will make the transition easier.

 

Step 3: Make Just One Change at a Time

If you are implementing structured snacks as part of an overall revamp including types of food you serve, consider making each change separately.  Too much change can be hard for your child (and you) to manage.  By first implementing the change to structured snacks, you are creating an ideal environment for your goal of offering more nutritious foods at snacks and meals.  Your child will be arriving to meals and snacks with more appetite which is essential for meal time success.

 

Step 4: Make the Transition Gradual

For many families, a gradual transition is better accepted and creates less stress and protest by the child.  By increasing the length of time between meals and snacks over a few days or up to 2 weeks, you can help to blunt the response to the change. 

Determine the usual amount of time between your child’s snacks.  If the amount of time is less than 30 minutes or your child is currently used to carrying around a snack container, start with 30 minutes as your snack interval.  Otherwise, set this interval as your usual time between snacks, but not more than 90 minutes.  By avoiding too long an interval to start, you reduce the likelihood of tantrums. You can always increase the time quickly if there is little objection.

After serving a meal at the scheduled time, set a timer.  Be sure to explain to your child that when the timer is up, it will be snack time.  If your child asks for a snack before the timer is up, remind him of the schedule and let him know how much longer until he will eat. 

Be calm, persistent and consistent.  There may be some objection to this new routine.  To minimize, do not make the new interval too ambitious.  You can gradually increase over a period of a few days.

At the end of the interval, offer a snack and when finished, reset the timer.  Snack time should not last more than 15-20 minutes.   Ideally, snacks should be eaten sitting down with digital devices/screens turned off.

Be sure to prompt your child to check in with his hunger/fullness cues to reinforce these skills. If your child is old enough to verbally communicate, provide additional food only after asking your child if he is hungry and remove the snack when he says he’s full. For younger children, look for signs he is full such as pushing food around or a lack of interest in food.

For the snack interval before a meal, be sure there is at least 60 minutes before the meal to promote appetite.  As you lengthen your snack interval, you can transition to 1 or 2 snacks between meals and then to just 1 snack between meals. 

Step 5: Evaluate Results and Adjust the Schedule (if needed)

After you have settled into a routine with your snack and meal schedule, now is the time to evaluate and make changes.  While it may be tempting to make modifications within the first 2 weeks, try to give the new schedule time to become a routine so you can separate out normal issues with change, versus a true need to adjust the schedule. 

You may need to change the time you’ve selected for meals or snacks.  If your child is hungry before the meal, you may need to evaluate the composition of snacks and be sure you are including both protein and fat to provide sustained energy/fullness. 

It may take a few adjustments to find a routine that works best for your child and family’s schedule.  Keeping notes and recording your child’s response to changes will equip you with information to make decisions about how to best adjust the schedule.  

 

Summary:

A consistent structure with meals and snacks helps your child eat and gain skills to become a competent eater.   While making the transition can seem a bit overwhelming if your child is currently grazing throughout the day or your meal schedule is a bit chaotic.  However, taking a gradual approach and using information to make adjustment will ensure a schedule that works for your child.  The stepwise approach provided will make the process easier.

Engaging Podcast Episodes for Picky Eaters

There are a wealth of educational podcasts aimed at kids.  They are engaging, funny, and as a parent I enjoy learning and laughing with my children.   While answering questions like "Why is milk white?" or "How to make bread?" isn't a magic bullet, it can help to build curiosity about food. 

For younger children (ages 3 and under), podcasts with plentiful use of songs, silly sounds and short stories are a great option.  Older kids enjoy those that answer questions and explore science.

Some of my favorites are listed below with some personal insight about how they can help to foster conversation.

VPR But Why, November 22, 2016: Why Do We Like to Eat Certain Foods? 

This episode is perfect for science lovers and very curious kids.  It explores the sense of taste from food, brain and chemistry angles.  Experts answer questions submitted by kids and offer a number of fun activities to test your own sense of taste. 

My favorite part about this episode is when one of the experts shares "if you don't like broccoli then you shouldn't eat it."  My picky eater became excited, jumping out of his seat that he now had "real ammunition" against eating broccoli. 

Fast forward about ten minutes in the podcast when a different expert was addressing why flavor preferences vary with different cultures.  She focused on repeated exposures to foods creating a tolerance and affinity for certain flavors.  My son then stated "that's what happened with broccoli."  It is now a vegetable that he eats regularly although he is quick to share that he likes ice cream more.  

 

Sugarcrash Kids  S2E5: EAT! 

This episode explores what it means to eat healthy.  It tells a number of stories that will resonate with kids.  For example, getting asked to eat broccoli before being allowed to have another piece of pizza or eating so much cake at a party, that you start to feel sick and have to leave and miss the fun.   The style is very engaging and it does a great job of using different voices and background music.

I love the storytelling element which offers a natural transition into asking your child to share his own stories.   You might be surprised at the observations and knowledge that your child has about food and eating.  

The general message is "it's all about balance."  At the end of the episode you can transition into a great conversation with your child about making healthy food choices.

 

Ear Snacks Episode 1: Fruit

This is a fun, song-based episode that has a healthy dose of silly.  It is perfect for toddler and preschool age kids.  The episode begins with the ABCs of fruit and then some fun audio of kids talking about fruits and answering silly questions.  

While there isn't a strong educational element, there is an engaging conversation by one of hosts at the end of the episode.  She tries a mulberry and shares that she really didn't like it.  However, the focus was "at least I tried it!"

This episode was embraced by my toddler and we ad lib during the episode with out our fruit names and silly sounds.  You might find that your little one finds the hosts to be an overdose of silly!

 

Other Episodes of interest:

But Why, July 7, 2017 How Do You Make Bread?

But Why, June 22, 2018 Why is Milk White?

Wow in the World, July 27, 2017 Cuckoo for Cocoa: Journey To the Chocolate Forests of South America

The Past and the Curious Episode 7: Food Tales - Potatoes, Tomatoes, Ice Cream Cornucopias and Chicken Pie

Saturday Morning Theatre Episodes 111-113: The Prize Potato Caper Parts 1-3 - The Mysterious Mysteries of Toby Taylor, The Fruit Magician

Story Time Episode 74: The Snack Captain

Story Time Episode 48: Buffy Bunny Can't Cook

 

Conclusion

Podcasts are a great way to strike up conversations with your picky eater about food in a no pressure and fun way.  You might be surprised what your learn and I'm pretty sure you'll get a few belly laughs, too! 

 

MY FREE ONLINE WORKSHOP TEACHES KEY FEEDING PRINCIPLES TO REDUCE PICKY EATING AND HOW TO CREATE A POSITIVE MEALTIME ENVIRONMENT.

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Is your child getting enough Vitamin D?

As we say goodbye to daylight savings time, it’s a great time to think about vitamin D, dubbed the “sunshine vitamin.”  While adequate amounts can be attained by spending some time with Mr. Sun, current practices including application of sunscreen and infrequent exposure to midday sun make it more difficult than you might think for children to meet these requirements.  Food sources of vitamin D can make up the gap, but knowing how much and which foods to include is essential.   Food allergies, intolerances or eating behaviors can make this challenging in some children.  While “food first” is an excellent mantra, supplements do have application to treat and prevent deficiency.   

Vitamin D requirements for children under 12 months of age are 400 International Units (IU) and older children and adolescents require 600 IU per day.  A deficiency of vitamin D can lead to rickets, a bone-softening disease which is most often reported in infants under the age of two.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfed infants receive a liquid supplement that meets the daily requirement.  For infants receiving formula, 32 ounces per day is required to meet the recommended amount and supplementation should be provided if intake is below the recommended amount.  A comprehensive review of vitamin D is available here.

For older children food sources of vitamin D should be included in the diet.  Vitamin D is not found naturally in large amounts in many foods. The flesh of fatty fish, egg yolks and mushrooms contain high amounts of vitamin D, but may not be commonly consumed by children. Most of the foods that provide vitamin D in large amounts are fortified, and milk (whole, skim, lowfat) is the best example of fortification.  Each 8 ounce serving of milk provides about 120 IU of vitamin D.  Other foods such as orange juice and breakfast cereals are often fortified with vitamin D. 

Determining the adequacy of vitamin D intake can be challenging as food labels are not required to list the amount of vitamin D per serving in IUs.  Often, vitamin D is listed as a percentage of daily value, such as 20%.  Reading food labels and considering your child’s usual intake of fortified foods can help you to determine adequacy of intake.  If your child has limited food selections or does not consume foods fortified with vitamin D, consultation with a registered dietitian for a comprehensive nutrition assessment and customized plan can help to ensure adequacy of intake. 

Disclaimer: Megan Boitano, MS, RDN, LDN, CNSC is a registered dietitian nutritionist. The materials and content contained on this site (meganboitano.com) are for general educational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Persons with serious medical conditions should consult a physician before beginning or modifying any diet, exercise or lifestyle program. The use of any information provided on this site is solely at your own risk.

How my picky eater brought joy back to mealtimes

As a Registered Dietitian and mom of a picky eater, I sometimes feel like a fraud.  How can I possibly help other parents if I'm not successful in getting my own child to eat adventurously?

I have 2 boys, and their eating habits and preferences couldn't be more different.  One eats everything in sight and seeks out complex flavors and new textures.  He is naturally curious about new foods and is always willing to try something new.  I didn't "teach" him to be adventurous.  He just is!  My other son is an incredibly choosy eater.  Even the wrong brand of string cheese is quickly identified and he will always just skip eating entirely if foods served don't appeal to him.  To appease my picky eater, I found myself doing the typical cajoling, bartering and cooking of multiple foods.  My educational background and professional experience told me that it wasn't the "right" thing to do, but my exhausted and worried mom self had me doing something quite different.  The experience left me feeling drained at meal times, focusing on how many bites, running around the kitchen like a whirlwind and generally feeling frazzled.  Meals were not joyful for our family.  They were like a pressure cooker and often I was just trying to "finish" and move on to the next, more pleasant task.  

After some unexpected family loss, I had a lot of deep thoughts and most of them centered around being present and being joyful.  I realized that I was squandering the opportunity mealtimes presented.  My best intentions had created a environment that wasn't routinely joyful.  I immersed myself back in my resources and primarily the work of Ellyn Satter.  I let go of expectations about if and how much my picky eater consumed at mealtime.  Instead I gauged my success by the number of laughs and stories he shared at the table.  I began to focus on feeling positive about the environment I was creating and not just the foods he ate.  A funny thing happened.  My picky eater relaxed.  In our now calm and often full of laughter mealtimes, he nonchalantly samples new items.  I don't even ask him to.  While I wouldn't describe his meal choices as wildly adventurous, it doesn't matter!  I would describe his attitude and our mealtimes as joyful, and to me that is all that matters!

My perceived "failure" as the mom of a picky eater used to be something I didn't like to share with others, out of fear of being judged or damaging my credibility as a Registered Dietitian.  In reality, the experience gave me great insight into the complex feelings of guilt and frustration that parents of picky eaters can feel.  Through my personal experience, I've developed great passion for working with families to implement sustainable nutrition strategies that focus not on "fixing" issues like picky eating, but instead put the spotlight on ensuring that eating challenges don't remove the joy of eating and family mealtimes. 

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Grocery Delivery Service: Hacks and Tips to Save Money

Grocery shopping.  It just isn't a task that I look forward to gleefully.  Usually it involves trying to keep a squirming toddler in the shopping cart or explaining to my gradeschooler why we can't buy every salty snack or sweet treat we walk by.  By the time the task is completed and I arrive home, I'm exhausted, realize I somehow missed a few items on my list and have many extras I didn't want to buy.  I came home with 2 pool noodles last time. =)

Grocery delivery seems like a frivolous expense and I resisted it for a long time.  However, I now use it regularly and find it to be an incredible time saver and have found some creative ways to make it cost effective.   I'm going to share my 3 favorite cost-saving "hacks."

1. Try out a few services and see what fits best with your needs.  You may use different ones depending on the week and/or items you're shopping for.  I have utilized Amazon Fresh, PeaPod from Stop and Shop and Instacart. Some allow you to purchase from a variety of grocery or stores while others are a service for a specific grocer.  Take advantage of the special discounts they repeatedly offer you if you play hard-to-get and don't sign up.  Also, each service has different benefits and depending on your week or schedule, one might be a better fit.  For example, I often use Instacart if I haven't been great about pre-planning my weekly meal.  I can just order in the morning and items arrive in the afternoon.  If you find one is just perfect, feel free to sign up for their special membership programs and enjoy extra savings. 

2.  Each service has different features and pricing.  For example, PeaPod provides a steep discount on delivery if you order 4 days in advance and more than $75.  Also, it offers a further discount if you choose a larger delivery window.  I can get delivery for $2.99.  That is well worth it to me.  PeaPod allows you to update your order until the day before and sends you reminders about cutoffs.  My little "secret" to save money is to create an order with $75 worth of items (I often just put in 30 gallons of milk), choose the delivery day and window with the best price.  The day before the delivery, I update the order with my "real" list of items.  This allows me to have the low cost delivery AND the day before ordering.

3.   Delivery services do cost extra and often the prices aren't eligible for the in-store discounts.  However, I find that I actually save money because I only order what I need.  I can sit in a comfortable place, look in my cupboard, refrigerator and review my cookbooks or Pinterest board and plan my meals.  It prevents those "buy it just in case" situations and buying things because "you think you'll use it" and it's a good price. 

Grocery delivery can save you time and not break the bank.  You might just start looking forward to a stroll down the grocery aisle from time-to-time. 

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Lunchbox how-to's that will make your kid's lunchbox an A+

Breakfast might be the most important meal of the day, but lunch runs a close second.  Studies have shown that children who eat a well-balanced lunch often do better in school and are more alert.  It can be difficult to get a child to eat, even when they’re at home.  But while they’re at school, you have to up your game to make sure your carefully packed lunch doesn’t end up traded or trashed.  Here are a few tips to help kids be happy and healthy at lunchtime:

  • First of all, remember that it’s not your lunch.  If you pack broccoli, and your child hates it, they won’t eat it.  Let your kids weigh in on what they want to pack in their lunches, and offer them a few healthy choices so they feel like they’re in control.
  • Avoid pre-packaged, processed foods for your kids’ lunches.  They might seem tempting with their convenience and kid-friendly sizes, but they are also expensive and loaded with sodium and preservatives.
  • Make a smarter sandwich.  Always choose whole grain or whole wheat bread, but feel free to mix it up with whole wheat tortilla wraps or whole wheat pita pockets.  Besides lettuce, try shredded carrots or avocado slides with turkey or lean roast beef.
  • Include protein.  If your child isn’t a fan of meat, that’s okay.  There are plenty of ways to get protein into their lunch.  It’s important to include protein because it will help keep your child fuller longer.  As long as your child is old enough to eat nuts and there are no allergen concerns, experiment with forms of nut butter.  Beyond peanut butter, there is cashew, almond, sunflower, soynut and even hazelnut butter.  You could also include a hard-boiled egg in their lunch, or make a tuna salad.  Hummus or black bean dip is also full of filling fiber and protein.
  • Think outside the lunchbox.  Did your kids love last night’s roasted chicken and vegetables?  Pack some in a thermos to eat the next day.  Pack leftover meatballs into a whole-grain hotdog bun for a sandwich.  Mix leftover rice and vegetables and top with chunks of pork or chicken.
  • Skip the chips.  Try healthier side options like cheese sticks, whole grain snack crackers, dried fruit, fruit salad, nuts, baby carrots and vegetable dip, or low-fat yogurt. 
  • Don’t forget the drink.  Water, milk and 100 percent fruit juice are the healthiest drink options to pack with a lunch.  Avoid sodas, energy drinks, and fruit-flavored juice pouches, which can quickly decrease the nutritional value of your child’s meal.
  • Be safe.  Pack lunches properly to ensure food safety and freshness.  Invest in a reusable ice pack to keep perishables cool, a thermos to hold warm foods, and a variety of different sized containers.

Check out my Pinterest board here for some great recipes/checklists, packing tips and my favorite brands of lunchboxes.