It’s usually one of two things that will lead you to change your child’s grazing habits. #1 – they are just constantly asking you for snacks and you’re really freaking tired of that whole charade. #2 – you notice that they don’t really eat well at meals and/or they are picky, and you think that the snacking is probably interfering with good meals.
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Benefits of quitting grazing
I’m sharing how to break out of the grazing, all day snacking habit, and change the routine so that they aren’t just snacking the day away. That way you don’t need to have 100 snacks on hand, you can *actually* have a break from thinking about feeding them, and they will be more likely to eat what you make at meals. Honestly, you’ll feel better about their diet overall. It may even improve constipation, too, if that’s something they tend to struggle with!
If you’re still on the fence of whether or not you should actually quit the grazing habit, I’m telling you, your day is going to go much smoother, they are going to eat better at meals, and it’s best for their bodies, too. The digestive system is at its best when it has breaks and is not just cranking it out all day long, so it’s really beneficial for their system to get a rest, which means more than 2 hours between eating opportunities.
The easiest way to change a habit
Anytime that you are changing a routine or a habit you need to make it as easy as possible on yourself. Because you’re more likely to go the path with the least resistance. Especially if you’re tired. And I know I’ve been tired for the last 7 years, aka how long I’ve been a mom. You don’t need to go get more willpower. You’re not going to find it anywhere so you’re much more likely to set yourself up for success by doing a little bit on the front-end so that grazing is no longer the easiest path for the day.
Luckily, toddlers love routine and being able to predict and understand how the day is going to go. So even though you’re going to be changing the routine, they will still generally respond positively to the existence of a predictable routine. The way that it will become predictable is that you are going to tell them and show them exactly what is going to happen in their day. And you can reference it as often as necessary throughout the day.
The magic of a visual schedule
Make a visual schedule. By visual I mean that it’s going to have pictures to represent each major portion of the day. It doesn’t need to be a minute by minute play-by-play. I’ll walk you through an example.
And this can literally be like stick figure drawings, or you can use graphics like on canva if you would like, but in the past with my kids I’ve done stick figure type drawings and they still get it, you do not need to be an artist.
Here’s one that my daughter and I made together the other day!
Draw a picture of a cup and a bowl for breakfast time. Then draw what activity comes next, maybe it’s play time at home so you draw blocks, then you draw a banana to show snack time, then you draw a car to show you’re going out for errands. Then draw maybe a sandwich and grapes to show lunch time, crib/bed for nap or rest time, etc.
The template that I have made has the 3 main meals plus morning and afternoon snack, and then gaps in between for whatever activities you have that day.
If you’re going to use that sheet or make your own, laminate it, so you can use it every day and just wipe it off to start a new day. (You can get self-laminating sheets that just peel and stick on.)
It’s okay if you don’t know the entire day’s plans but at least plan through lunch time, and make sure they are aware that you will NOT forget snack time, it is on the schedule, and they don’t need to worry.
Using the schedule when they ask for snack
So when they inevitably ask for a snack before it’s snack time, you refer back to the daily schedule, and show them what still needs to happen. “It’s still play time right now, but after we clean up the blocks, then it will be snack time.”
Or even, “I’ll set a timer so it beeps at snack time, so you know when it’s time.” Another tip if they’re asking and it’s not snack time yet, is to allow them to choose what they will have at snack time so they feel more in control.
“It’s not snack time yet, I know you’re looking forward to it, let’s pick what you’re going to have, would you like yogurt or apple slices with peanut butter?” “I want blueberry yogurt!” “Okay, I’m going to write it down right here (on a piece of paper, in your phone, etc.) so we won’t forget.” That’s more for their benefit just to feel heard about their desire.
Meal and snack schedule I recommend
The general meal/snack schedule that I recommend is 3 meals and 2 snacks, with a possible bedtime snack if there is about 2 hours or more between dinner and bedtime.
They don’t HAVE to eat at all of these opportunities, but it is best to offer in this general routine.
I don’t want you to eliminate snacks altogether because for toddlers and preschoolers, it’s important for them to get an eating opportunity about every 3 hours, so they can get the full nutrition they need for the day. It’s very challenging and rare for them to be able to eat all the calories they need in 3 square meals and no snacks. So while it could be tempting to just say “to heck with it” on the snacks, I do still want them to have one. It does not need to be just snacky foods at every snack, though. You can absolutely serve more meal-type foods at snacks, there’s no rules against that.
In fact I really like for them to have something like a protein and/or a fat option and a fruit/veg at snack time to help them get all their produce servings for the day.
More about a toddler feeding schedule
If you want more info on what the meal and snack schedule should look like, listen to episode #15, the 12 month old feeding schedule, or check out the 1 year old feeding schedule blog post. This still applies if they are 2 or 3 or even 4, it’s mainly their naps that are going to change and shift times of meals a bit, but at 1 year old is when you really switch from the baby schedule to the toddler table foods schedule, so that’s why I emphasize 1 year old, it’s really just that is the starting age for the new schedule.
What if they don’t want to eat?
There is a possibility that they won’t eat their snack or meal or they won’t eat more than a few bites. AND they may complain about wanting something else. If they are not eating, listen to episode 14 for tips on how to handle it.
But the short answer to the problem is that you still stick to the meal/snack routine, even if they choose not to eat at one of those opportunities. You’re not starving them.
Starving them would be if you didn’t regularly provide meal and snack opportunities. You ARE offering so you don’t need to feel bad about it. You can shimmy the schedule a little so that you move lunchtime earlier, for example, if they declined their morning snack and you can tell they’re getting really hungry. That’s totally fine. But don’t throw up your hands and throw a snack at them whenever they say they’re hungry because then they WON’T be hungry at meals and they WON’T be more flexible about what you serve, and they WILL think that the rules don’t apply to them. I don’t want that for you.
To recap – you’re using the daily visual schedule to guide the day, not your toddler’s whims or random requests for snacks. You direct them right back to that schedule and show them when snack time is coming, and ensure them that you will not forget. I’m telling you, it works wonders to have the schedule be “in charge.” It takes the pressure away from you when they say I WANT A SNACK and you feel their demand, their urgency, it can be hard not to take that in and feel like you need to make them happy, but you can simply say “the schedule says it’s not time quite yet. I know it’s hard to wait.” And then you move on. It’s the closest I get to feeling like a magician as a parent, when you successfully diffuse the toddler situation with very little effort.
That’s all for today my friend! If you break the grazing habit I want to know about it! Send me a DM on instagram and tell me all about it, I 100% want to cheer you on in this parenting win.
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