Should you lock the fridge or lock the pantry?
If you’re dealing with excess snacking or worried about your toddler doing too much snacking in the future, this may have crossed your mind. In this episode I answer when you may want to lock the fridge, and my top suggestions for preventing excess snacking.
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Question: Should you lock the fridge?
“Hi my name is Norma, my lo is 3 years old. I was just wondering if you do a lock on the fridge or not? For them to not go in and snack all day. She doesn’t usually but as she gets a little older or starts becoming a habit? Would you do a lock or not?”
How to prevent excess snacking for toddlers
From the time they’re around 12 months old, be sure to establish a good meal and snack routine. I recommend 3 meals and 2-3 snacks. This post goes over daily schedules in depth, including what to do about nursing/bottles.
Some people use the term “eating zones” to define the times when it’s okay to eat a meal (or snack). The kitchen is generally closed outside of eating zones.
I recommend allowing them to eat as much as they like at meals. Their body will adjust to the routine and know that this is when they need to fill up. This doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to eat a big meal every time. It means that they will have the ability to listen to their body’s cues about how much they need.
How toddlers can avoid snacking all the time
You will have success following Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility (sDOR). This is a framework to develop good eating habits.
The basics of sDOR define the parent’s role in feeding vs. the child’s role in feeding. This applies from the time they are about 1 year old.
- WHAT food is offered
- WHEN food is offered
- WHERE food is offered
- WHETHER to eat
- HOW MUCH to eat
When you use this framework, your child will know the boundaries and expectations.
Foods that help prevent toddlers from asking for snacks all the time
Make sure to offer balanced meals with protein, carbohydrates, and fat. When you are often missing one or more of the macronutrients, it’s harder for them to be fully satisfied at meals.
At snacks, aim for at least 2 of the 3 macronutrients to help keep them satisfied. The main thing to avoid is only offering “crunchy air” snacks. Things like saltines, goldfish, potato chips, pretzels. These are not foods that you can never offer. But they do usually need an additional item to satisfy hunger until the next meal.
Asking for snacks out of boredom
Just because they ask for food, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re hungry. It’s common for toddlers to ask for a snack when they’re feeling bored or need help transitioning to a new activity. You’re not depriving them if you say “not right now” to snack requests when it’s not snack time.
If they seem really hungry, of course go ahead and give them something to eat. But if it seems to become a habit that they ask for snack all the time, or they’re asking for a snack and they JUST ate, it is okay to say no.
What about Montessori style snacking?
Montessori homes and Montessori preschools often have a snack station set up so kids can independently serve their own snacks. This is still possible to do while following the Division of Responsibility.
Limit to just a few snacks vs. free access to the pantry. Leave out snacks within a certain timeframe vs. leaving them out all day. Encourage them to make a snack plate and sit down at the table to eat, vs. grazing while playing or walking around.
Downsides to locking the fridge or pantry
The main reason I don’t recommend locking the pantry or the fridge is that it creates an unnecessary feeling of restriction, deprivation, and distrust.
If they feel deprived — even from healthy foods — they end up eating more than they otherwise would have. They start to override their natural signals for hunger and fullness.
There was a study that looked into this. They restricted one group of kids from sweets, one group from fruit, and one group had no restrictions on which foods they could eat. Both of the restricted groups ate more overall.
This is another study that showed restrictive feeding practices lead children to eat more.
We want to foster a trusting environment. We want kids to learn how to trust themselves around food. Locking up the snacks can be a barrier to building that trust.
If you worry about excessive snacking, restriction will not improve it. Instead, your action items are to:
- enforce the meal and snack schedule or “zones”
- allow them to fill up within these zones
- do your best to offer 3 macronutrients at meals, and 2 at snacks to help make sure they’re satisfied
Meal and snack schedule I recommend is here
Research I mentioned in the episode:
If you want ideas for healthy meals, grab the Mama Knows Nutrition Meal Planning Bundle. I also have a store bought snack guide for toddlers (with nut-free options) for all of my grab-and-go favorites.
You can also check out this post for 48 healthy snack ideas for kids!