We have had many times when I have prepared a nice meal for my family, only to sit everyone down and find out they aren’t hungry because they snacked too much between meals. My youngest boy will often fill up on treats, and not leave room for the good stuff. Even my husband and I find ourselves reaching for snacks far too often between meal times.
This has been a source of frustration for me for years. There is so much conflicting information out there too. Study after study shows that many smaller meals (snacking), and nibbling is far healthier than 3 big meals. Studies also show that family dinners lead to smarter children, stronger family units, and better health. The biggest challenge for me was rectifying the need to let my children eat when hungry, but also hold regular meal times.
I would grudgingly make dinner, and then feel resentment when it did not get eaten. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want resentment to be a feeling I have towards my children and spouse. Thus, it was time for a change.
I knew I needed to figure out a system for snacking that would allow my children to:
- Eat when they felt the need to, teaching them to listen to their bodies, rather than just eating to eat.
- Not create a lot of extra work or mess for me.
- Would be healthy and somewhat controlled as far as quantity.
In other words, I did not want to clean my kitchen up all day long because my kids were hungry at separate times, and I didn’t want my kids eating endless amounts of snacks, and not save room for the meals we eat together as a family. I also wanted the snacks they did eat to be healthier.
This is the solution I came up with for my family. I am not saying it is perfect, but it works for us, so feel free to try it, it might work for you too.
1. Each kid gets his or her own snack box.
It is designated with their name. I bought these little boxes at the dollar store. They were in the craft section. I think they were made for holding crafting supplies, but they were perfect for what I wanted for my kids. And at $1, how can you go wrong? I then cut some vinyl out for their names, so that they would know which box belongs to them.
2. I fill the box each day.
This does take some work, but I have found that it is far less work then making and cleaning up a gazillion snacks all day long.
Sometimes I fill it at night so it is ready in the morning, and sometimes I fill it in the morning. It kind of just depends on my day. The boxes I bought have 9 holes. I usually do 3 fruit, 3 veggies, and 3 dry snacks like crackers, pretzels, nuts. Really it depends on what I have on hand. If I am feeling energized I sometimes fill celery with peanut butter, or make finger sandwiches, or something else that is more labor intensive, but usually I just go with standard fare.
This allows me to only make a mess once. And the mess is pretty limited too. It is usually a cutting board and a couple of knives. At the end of the day I wash out their boxes for the next day, so again, the mess is very limited.
3. I set standard meal times.
The kids get to eat out of their snack box at will. They do not have to ask, and there are no set times they can enjoy their snacks. If they feel hungry, they simply eat something, but it has to be from their snack box.
They can snack when they want, however, with that said, they know they are expected to eat dinner, and in order to help them be wiser with their snacking I had to commit to a basic time when I would serve meals. It was unfair of me to expect them to be hungry at dinnertime when I sometimes fed them at 6:00 pm and sometimes fed them at 8:00 pm. I committed to feeding them between 6:00 and 6:30 pm, and to give them fair warning if the meal time would be different that day (such as if it conflicts with a soccer game, or plans we have).
4. They don’t have to eat it all, but they do have to try it.
One of the things I love about the snack boxes, or nibble trays, is that it allows me to introduce new foods to my children in a way they are more likely to accept them. The compartments are small, and so when I put something new in, like jicama, or roasted edamame they know they are expected to try it. They have to eat a little, giving it a chance, but do not have to finish it. Because it is surrounded by familiar foods, they usually don’t bat an eye at trying it.
5. No refills.
The size of snack box we have works perfectly for my younger children’s ages, and snacking needs. I don’t feel as though they need more than that to be satisfied between meals. They get one box full a day, and that is that. They get to eat it however they want, spreading it out, or eating it all at once. But when it is gone, their snacking is done for the day. We will occasionally have a family “snack” after dinner, like a dessert, and that is different. However, in general, this is all the snacking they get to do for the day.
I have loved this system. It has not only accomplished the above mentioned goals, but there were some added benefits as well.
- I got more organized with my meal times, and shopping.
- My children get a wider variety of foods, and were more willing to try new things.
- It gave my children choice, as well as responsibility.
- It has saved me tons of money. Not only did we waste a lot less food, but my kids would grab their snack boxes as we headed out the door, and that meant fewer stops at the drive-thru, or additions to my shopping cart, because they kids were able to eat if they were feeling hungry.
- I started snacking healthier as well. Being a mom to four little ones often means eating whatever I can grab as I run from one thing to the next. I just started making myself a snack box at the same time I made my kiddo’s, and found that I benefits too!