When it comes to toddlers, their favorite word tends to be “no.” My toddler, on the other hand, has a different favorite word, and it’s “snack.”
As a snack-loving adult, I’m not surprised that my 2-year-old also loves to snack. Who doesn’t enjoy a bite of this and a bite of that between meals? As much as I might snack throughout the day, it drives me bananas that my toddler has turned into a snack monster, as it means she’s full by the time she should be sitting down for a balanced meal. Plus, her snacks of choice are hardly nutritious, and at the end of the day, I’m not sure if a serving of fruit or vegetables has gotten through to her.
I’m not alone in this struggle. Plenty of other toddler parents have encountered a similar snack monster like the one that lives in my home. So how can we break the cycle of endless snacking and encourage eating during proper meal times? I spoke with Alisha Grogan, a licensed pediatric occupational therapist who runs the site Your Kids Table, which is devoted to expert advice and actionable solutions when it comes to all things feeding and sensory.
Read on for common toddler snacking issues and tips on how to end the struggle.
My toddler helps themself to snacks. A meltdown ensues if I say no.
As the parent, it’s your job to set a boundary here. “Direct them away from the cupboard, keeping snacks out of reach,” Grogan said. She explained that it may require putting childproof locks on the pantry, and though it will take some time, eventually, your toddler will realize they can’t access or demand snacks whenever they want. You may deal with some meltdowns at first, but your toddler will come to know the rules.
Grogan also shared that you should redirect your toddler when a snack meltdown is about to occur. You can do this by offering them water and redirecting them to a toy or an activity to take their mind off the snack.
My toddler snacks so much that they aren’t hungry by meal time.
Snacks can be a part of a toddler’s routine; they just shouldn’t be so big and so often that they take over meal time. Grogan recommended serving one or two scheduled snacks a day, one between lunch and dinner and the other either in the morning or before bedtime. It’s important to set a routine and stick to it. Many toddlers thrive with a routine, and knowing what to expect and when to expect it often works well for toddlers. Make meals and snacks consistent in their daily schedule.
Eating together as a family can help build that consistent routine. When your toddler asks for snacks outside of the proper snacking window, do your best to redirect what they are doing and remind them when their next snack or meal time will be.
My toddler only wants processed and packaged snacks.
It can take some time to wean away from overly processed foods, but if this is your goal, Grogan recommended serving small amounts of these types of foods with meals so your toddler still has them. At the same time, encourage your toddler to help with cooking, which can in turn make them more open to trying new foods and less likely to ask for processed options.
Not all packaged snacks are created equal. Look at labels and aim for products that don’t have artificial colors or preservatives. Just because you are serving a packaged snack doesn’t mean it’s not healthy, so be sure to check and compare labels as you shop.
And even healthy (non packaged!) snacks can be fun. Aim to include a fruit or vegetable in their snacks as well as a protein. Grogan recommended smoothie popsicles, hummus, whole wheat pretzels, and kale chips as nutritious snacks for toddlers.
My toddler refuses to eat an actual meal.
Finding the right schedule for your toddler and your family is important, and consistency is key. Work on finding the right times for your toddler to enjoy snacks so that they don’t get too hungry in between meals but also will be hungry when it’s time to sit down for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If your toddler demands a snack close to a meal time, redirect their attention to keep them occupied until meal time rolls around.
Serve specific snacks so your toddler isn’t given free reign to mindlessly eat. This can cause them to not be hungry when it’s time for a meal. Pay attention to how much your toddler is eating at snack and meal times and adjust serving sizes as needed.
Much like anything with raising toddlers, things take time. If you feel like you’ve been giving into excessive and unhealthy snacking habits, go easy on yourself. We’re all doing the best we can to keep our kids happy and healthy. If you want to make a change, know that it’s not too late to turn things around. Slowly work on bringing healthier options within a set structure for your toddler and hopefully, over time, you will see your snack monster fade away.