I have four little ones, ages 6, 4, 2, and 9 months. The older ones want to eat all the time! I’m sympathetic because, with pregnancy and nursing, I’m hungry often, too. But it’s too much to clean up 5-6 times a day after so many snacks. Being home all day makes easy access to the refrigerator…how should I discipline ourselves regarding meals and snack times to make life easier?!
I think every mother can relate to kids with constant hunger and the continual prep and clean-up that snacking can require. I gave up on the idea of an “open kitchen” (meaning everyone can eat anything anytime). We are much happier with meals on a schedule. I require my kids to ask before they get a snack or access the fridge. That way I can prevent the 5:30 pm fill-up and then refusing to eat at 6:00 pm dinner. When my kids ask, generally, the answer is “yes” for anything healthy like fruit, veggies, nuts, whole grain bread, cottage cheese, cheese, etc. as long as it is at least an hour before dinner and they clean up. If it is close to dinner, then I encourage them to eat veggies–which don’t fill you up so much. The answer is generally “no” to junk food. When we eat junk (if they bring home candy from their baseball practice or we have ice cream or something) I encourage them to eat it at the end of a meal, when it won’t affect their blood sugar or create cavities as likely (because we brush after dinner).
I make sure breakfast is substantial. When I am cleaning up breakfast, I try to put a bowl of fresh veggies such as celery, baby carrots, olives, cucumber slices, jicama pieces, cherry tomatoes; or a bowl of grapes and almonds on the dining room table, covered with plastic wrap loosely. Then by-passers can grab a few bites. I am amazed to see all the food gone when we come in to make lunch.
I don’t like to interrupt school time for a sit-down snack around the table. I just can’t seem to manage gathering children back in to the school frame of mind again. I figure they can go from 9 to noon without perishing. If anyone gets too hungry, I have a bag of almonds in my school area and I will pass them a handful to munch on—a good protein source that will help them think well, plus get to lunch time. At my house, if kids eat a hearty snack midway through school, nobody is very thrilled about eating lunch and then they are all starving at 2 pm. I like them to come to meals with an appetite because broccoli and beans and other healthy foods sure look a lot tastier when you are hungry! And the constant clean-up, and just the plain distraction and amount of time eating takes from school discourages me from doing a snack time, except for a toddler.
One suggestion: avoid dried fruit for a snack! I learned this lesson the hard way (as usual). We had dried apples from our orchard in the autumn and all winter long I gave my children dried apple rings for snack time. By the time spring came, every child had several cavities! The dentist told me that even caramel is not stickier than dried fruit and it really promotes tooth decay terribly well.
Ideas from Experienced Homeschoolers about Snacks
- I have a shelf in the pantry that they can reach that is always stocked with healthy snacks. Raisins, crackers, and such. But the rule is, if Mommy has to clean up the mess, the snacks go away. After a time or two opening up the pantry to an empty shelf they began to remember the put their wrappers and things in the trash. As they got older, I included wiping up the counters and sweeping crumbs on the cleanup list. I also insist that the snacks stay in the kitchen (no wandering the house with it).
- I keep anytime access snacks around. Things like sliced carrots and cucumbers, in the fridge. Apples, bananas and oranges are on the counter. And homemade popsicles (juice and yogurt pops) in the freezer. Everyone is expected to clean up as they go—at least to get any dirty utensils or dishes to the sink. (My youngest is 5.) I tidy the kitchen after meals and before bedtime. We rarely get through a day without at least a morning and afternoon snack besides breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- I find that if I have fed them something filling, I do not have the problem of snacking all day. Hot cereal for breakfast then a fruit for snack in 2 hours. Filling lunch is whole wheat bread, peanut butter and jam, and milk for lunch. I also do not stop them from eating—who knows if it is growth spurt or a craving to fulfill (as long as it is healthy food in between. Then they have a slice or two of whole wheat bread for snacks and dinner around 5 or 6. I then make sure they have something like a fruit and yogurt smoothie or more bread for a before bed snack. Again, I feel like if the choices are healthy and filling they are not eating as often. It is usually when it is junky snacks (Goldfish, ritz cracker included) that they need to eat more and more.
- On the mornings that I make a good breakfast (with a nice amount of protein), the kids forget about snack time. On those cold cereal mornings we are all hungry earlier. I schedule snack time into our day and plan on crackers and peanut butter, apples, etc. to fill tiny tummies that empty sooner. I find it works well. I have one daughter who is a grazer. She eats bits of food all day long, but not enough at one sitting to keep her full very long. She also gets very grumpy if I tell her that snack time is in ___ minutes. She doesn’t think that she can last that long! Protein meals make a huge difference for her. Also, she loves oatmeal and will eat three bowls every time I serve it (as opposed to picking at her food other times), so finding something that she will really gobble up has helped. I make boatloads of oatmeal and keep the leftovers just for her to microwave.
- On Saturday evening I make a menu for the coming week including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and morning, afternoon and evening snacks. That way I know what they are eating and there is not whining about being hungry or arguing about what to have. I have been doing this for about a month and it is soooooooooooo nice!
- My children want to eat or snack every two hours (they are 5 and 3). I have no problem with that so I keep easy to handle snacks around. My youngest is a grazer also. So I keep a bowl on the table with snacks in it (crackers or raisins, etc.) and she can run by and grab some whenever she needs it. I also have a rule that food can only be eaten by the table or in the kitchen, so I don’t have cracker crumbs around the house.
- We have a routine…breakfast at 7:30, snacks at 10:00, lunch at noon, snacks at 3:00 and dinner at 6:00. As long as I stay on the routine, things go okay. Snacks are quick and easy with no clean up. Cheese string and pretzels, crackers, handful of cereal, raisins, apple slices.
- I actually schedule mealtime and snack time into our day. You eat at those times or you wait till the next time. That way kids are hungry and eat properly. If I allowed kids to graze all day even on good food, they became very picky and complaining at meal time. If they were allowed to get a little hungry, then they ate what was put before them and commented how good it was. Meals are at 8, 12, 5 . . . snacks are 10, 3, and 7 . . . so no one has to go more than a couple hours without food.
- Scheduling snack time has been a lifesaver in our family. and posting the “menu” for the day also reduces whining. Having the kids drink plenty of water also helps reduce snack-begging!
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