Mommy, can I have some fishy crackers?
But, I’m huuuuuungry!
Can I have some now?
Kids are brilliant beggers. Persistent, convincing, and dramatic. They can make you feel like an outright neglectful mother because you’ve let them starve for an entire 30 minutes even though lunch was…um…30 minutes ago.
But for the sake of your sanity, crumbs-in-the-couch prevention, dental health, and better mealtimes, I’m going to give you permission to say “No.”
Just say NO to Food Begging!
It’s OKAY to say NO to munching between meals IF…
- Your child has eaten in the past 2 hours and another chance is coming soon. Wee little toddlers (under 3 years old) generally need to eat every 2 to 3 hours. So space eating opportunities that often. For older kids, every 3-4 hours is usually fine. Even if you think your child needs more calories, he needs structure in meals and snacks more. Constant grazing will make his eating worse, not better.
- You give her opportunities to enjoy the foods she likes at planned meals and snacks. Kids need to see something appealing on the table, a “safe” food, before they will feel good about meals. Bread, plain pasta, crackers, or fruit are easy for many kids to eat when the entree seems scary. Also consider that if your child’s favorite foods are foods that only come out during snack time it might make meal foods seem like a bore.
- You don’t pressure him to eat at mealtimes — Even if you think your child needs more calories or his growth is slow, he needs autonomy over what he puts in his mouth more. He will dig in his heels if you’re controlling at meal time. Pressure, bribes, coercion and attempts to get him to try or taste foods will spoil his meal and make him eat worse, not better.
If the above are not all true for you, what would it take to make them true? Where do you struggle with maintaining meal and snack structure?
How to Say No
“Wow you do sound hungry, you must not have had enough to eat at lunch time. We will eat again at 3:00.”
“Sounds like you’d like to eat some graham crackers, but it’s not time to eat right now. We can have graham crackers with dinner.”
Essentially, acknowledge your child’s feeling or wish when he begs for food. Let him know it’s not time to eat right now. Then give her hope, reminding her another chance to eat is coming soon.
If your child understands the basic works of a clock but can’t really tell time yet, you can tweak this fabulous idea for a DIY “Wake Up Clock” from MamaWise and create a “Meal & Snack” clock. Then refer to it when kids ask for food at non-eating times.
If you suspect (you can’t really ever know), he’s genuinely hungry, feel free to make a planned meal happen a little earlier than usual. Finally, it’s okay to work in the begged-for food into an upcoming meal too. If graham crackers are okay for your child at snack time, they don’t suddenly turn to poison at dinner. Give everyone a small serving or empty the box into a serving bowl and let everyone serve themselves. Get the picture?
When you do your feeding job well by planning and serving reliable meals and snacks, you will, for the most part, eliminate in-between meal begging in the first place. And for those occasions when it happens anyway, you can defer to the next meal or snack. If you’ve provided ample opportunities to eat appealing food throughout the day, hunger will not be an emergency. So when your kids whine for food 45 minutes before dinner, you can confidently just say…no.
If you’re struggling with your child’s eating, consider our 5-day Child Feeding Bootcamp over at FeedingBytes.com. It’s 5 days of individualized coaching to help you improve meal and snack times with picky eaters, veggie-haters, snack-a-holics and any other child feeding dilemma that’s worrying you. There’s a daily lesson, discussion forum, videos and intense online support from two dietitian mommies (I’m one of them!). And when I say “intense” I mean it. We answer every question and troubleshoot every dilemma thoroughly.