How To Say No To Kids’ Food & Snack Requests
If your toddler wants snacks all the time, you might be at a total loss—or feeling like you’re about to lose it. 😅 Especially if your no’s have historically resulted in tantrums of major proportions. You’re probably thinking, “This can’t be the best way to handle incessant food and snacks, can it?!” And honestly, the answer is no, it isn’t!
You’re right to be a little frustrated at the fact that you can’t say no to your child without some kind of push back. For so many reasons, as parents, we need to be able to gently say no sometimes. After all, we have the experience and insight to know that it’s not always best for them to eat whenever—or whatever—they want. We understand that there are schedules, routines, plans, circumstances, and even emotions that are best handled without a snack or meal time interruption. And, it’s okay for us to help our kids to see this, too!
It might seem like kids want to be in control all the time, or sound like I don’t want our kids to become independent and autonomous around food, but it’s not that at all. Kids actually thrive when they know that you’re in control. It’s that feeling of knowing there’s an adult in the room who’s got their back—it reassures them and lets them relax. So yes, you can use schedules and boundaries around food and teach them to listen to their bodies. This episode teaches you how to balance their independence with your ability to confidently say “no” when it’s necessary.
In This Episode, We Talk About…
- Why it’s okay to say no to your child. (02:19)
- 5 reasons why you really SHOULD say no to your child sometimes. (03:55)
- The role of school, daycare, and preschool snack times. (07:44)
- HOW to actually say no to your toddler’s snack requests. (08:49)
- How to practice saying no with sample scripts to build your confidence! (11:32)
Food Schedules, Snack Times & Kid-Friendly Snack Ideas
Want more? Here are all the links you need to keep the learning going:
- Blog Post: All-Day Toddler Snacking
- Recipes: 48 Healthy & Filling Snack Ideas for Kids
- Product: Healthy Toddler Snack Guide
The Instagram Comments That Inspired This Post
The super-great discussion on the Mama Knows Nutrition Instagram page that partially inspired this episode. Thanks for your thoughtful comments @kindly.eden @carleigh_rabago and @gregoryalexandra
What Works For Your Family? We Want To Know!
If you have helpful tips for saying no to snack requests, or phrases you use to help you actually say not (and stick to your guns), I’m sure other parents would love to hear them! Comment below with what works best for your family!
Episode #32: How To Say No To Kids’ Food & Snack Requests (Complete Transcript)
On Instagram, @kandacelea asked, “How do you say no to snacks but honor/encourage them listening their bodies and voicing hunger?”
I told her I’d talk about this in a future podcast because it’s a common question! And today is the day for me to do it—to teach you how to say no to kids’ food and snack requests, WHY you should say no, when you should say no, and why this is definitely not child abuse or starving them.
Welcome back welcome back welcome back to Feeding Toddlers Made Easy, where I make nutrition for toddlers and young kids not be terrible. If this is your first or second time listening, I want to give you a special welcome because I am so glad you found me here! If you’ve been around for a while, you are amazing and I bet you’ve had some wins with feeding your little one. I’d LOVE to hear about it in a review of the podcast!
If you don’t know me well, I’m Kacie Barnes, Dallas, Texas-based RDN, MCN, mom of 2 (my mom would love me to have 11 more children but I’ve transitioned to baby holder from baby maker), and I’m an expert on feeding little kids! So if you’ve got a little one, you are in the right place.
It’s Okay To Say No To Your Child
Before we get into how to say no to kids’ food requests—and why it’s completely okay—check out this comment exchange on one of my most recent Instagram posts:
@kindly.eden said, “It’s really important to allow kids to eat whenever they ask (even if we’re choosing what they eat) because it’s one of their first exposures to autonomy and listening to their body. If we want them to learn when to go to the bathroom, we should aim to do that with food too! Not only are they directly linked but autonomy should be offered as much as possible so kids can grow into autonomous adults .”
@gregoryalexandra adds, “Ok yes THIS. I can’t imagine refusing to let my child eat when she tells me she’s hungry and needs a snack.”
Here’s what I said back:
“I def don’t believe in starving them! But I also believe in adults having schedules and boundaries that help the day go smoothly. Sometimes it’s not practical to give a snack, depending on what else you’re doing, and that’s okay. When you have a regular meal/snack schedule they never go more than 3 hours in between eating opportunities, which is frequent enough for the vast majority of kids. Of course you can parent in whatever way works best for you! This is just what I find to be my best recommendation, it’s also good from a physiological perspective to allow their body to naturally build up a normal level of hunger and then eat a meal. Hunger is usually not an emergency, in the context of a regular, consistent meal and snack schedule. So that’s why I don’t feel it’s a problem to say “not right now” sometimes when children ask. They also ask out of boredom or other emotional needs sometimes, it’s not always hunger, and I like to teach them how to manage feelings without using food. It’s fine if you disagree, just wanted to share more of my reasoning here.
And, I stand behind that! If you think I’m a complete wacko that’s fine, but I promise my recommendations are based off of what’s best for them physiologically—so scientifically, what is good and healthy for their bodies—as well as from a parenting standpoint, so that you can have effective boundaries in place and not be walked all over.
5 Reasons Why You Should Say No To Your Child
- Routines are helpful for both you and toddler.
- They feel safer when you are in control—even when it seems like they are demanding to be in control.
- You have the experience, insight, and maturity to realize that it’s not good for them to say “yes” to every single request they make, whether it be food or otherwise.
- You are absolutely not starving them when you stick to a regular routine of meals and snacks and make sure you offer at least 1 thing they like.
- It’s okay to say no, there is no one else in their life who is going to say yes to everything and it’s good for them to learn how to handle not getting their way.
Think of it like this: What do you think it would look like if your child ran the day? What it would look like if my daughter ran the day when she was 2 or 3: We’d eat chocolate chips for breakfast, and then maybe a chocolate croissant an hour later, then some juice an hour later, then some cookies an hour later, then some strawberries an hour later, then some goldfish an hour later…
See what I mean? There are times and places where it’s just necessary to say no to your child!
Why Snack Time Is Important In Schools & Daycares
Don’t get me wrong, snack time IS important and necessary. I’m not advocating removing snack time!
Preschool snack time, and really any young children’s snack times, should be both mid-morning and mid-afternoon. If they have “crunchy air” they likely are going to ask for another snack shortly thereafter so make sure it’s something filling. I’ll link some filling snack ideas in the show notes for you!
How To Say No To Your Toddler Or Child
If they are saying they are hungry, we don’t know FOR SURE if they are hungry—because they may have learned that they need to tell you they are hungry to get something to eat. They may want something to eat because they are bored or upset. I’m not suggesting that you should be distrusting of them, but usually you can tell by their behavior if they are truly hungry or if they want a snack for fun or distraction.
The more that you can be consistent with a routine of meals and snacks occurring around the same time each day, the less that they will ask you AND the easier it is to say no when they ask for random snacks outside of snack time. Because all you have to do is look at the time and say,
“You would like a snack now but it’s not snack time yet, snack time is coming after ___.”
(Insert whatever activity you’re going to do or finish up, or you can give them an amount of time if they’re old enough, or set a visual timer.)
If they are clearly very hungry or it just makes sense to rearrange the schedule to eat now rather than later, that’s totally fine. The point is that you don’t have to say ‘yes’ just because they make the request.
How To Practice Saying No To Your Toddler’s Food Requests:
When they ask for something you’ve decided they shouldn’t have:
“Can I have chocolate chips for breakfast?”
“That’s not on the menu this morning, you can choose waffles or avocado toast. Which would you like?”
When your child chose to not eat their meal, and is asking for a snack right after:
“You want a snack, but you just had a chance to eat at lunch time. The kitchen is closed right now. Snack time will be after we ______.”
When they are melting down because you won’t give the snack when they ask:
“I see that you’re not happy about this. Would you like a hug?” (Or use whatever strategies work well for them when they get into meltdown mode—anything else besides food.) It’s not any different just because it’s about food, but sometimes that’s a trigger for us as parents, especially those of us who have experienced true starvation or food insecurity.
When they say, “BUT I’M HUNGRY NOW!!”
If they’re calm, “You’re hungry! Tell me, where do you feel it in your body?”
If they’ve escalated, “Yes, I can see that you are hungry now. The problem is, right now is not snack time. I will not forget when snack time is. We can have peanut butter crackers or yogurt with blueberries when it’s snack time. Which will you choose?”
When they complain about what’s for dinner or refuse to eat:
“You’re not happy with this meal. You don’t have to eat, but this is the last chance to eat today. If your belly needs food, you’ll need to eat something from your dinner.” OR “Let’s take a break to calm your body and then come back to the table when you are ready.”
When they ask for a dessert that you’re not planning on having that day:
“Oooh I love ice cream, too. That sounds delicious! It’s not on our menu for today. But I’ll take a look at my calendar to see what day we can get some ice cream.” OR “Next time I go to the grocery store, I’ll pick some up. What flavor would you like?”
It’s up to you what you’re comfortable with! Or if you have some in the house but just weren’t planning to serve dessert that day, you can say simply, “That does sound delicious. It’s not on the menu today, but it will be on Friday! I’ll write it down on the calendar.”
If you have other helpful phrases that you say, share them in the comments on the show notes for this episode on mamaknowsnutrition.com, I’m sure other parents would love to see what works for you and your little one.