by Dana from Kansas
When my oldest child was a toddler, I insisted on healthy snack times, but as our family grew, I found that snacking was taking away from my kids’ meal-time appetites and was requiring too much time of me. Imagine serving breakfast and having each of five children coming into the kitchen at various times before lunch calling. . .
“Mo-om, I’m hungry!” I felt like all I was doing was working in the kitchen, and it wasn’t working for us, or for me at least!
We homeschool, so I have all of our kids at home, nearly every day. Our youngest daughter is 4 now, and the others are 6, 8, 9, and 11. Snacks for us have changed over time. When my oldest was 4, we had a 2-year-old, a 1-year-old, and a baby on the way. During that season, I
was sure to pack Cheerios or Kix for the little girls to eat if we were out running errands or playing at the park close to mealtime to help avoid meltdowns. This was also a requirement for long drives to visit family that seemed to help with the boredom that came from hours in the car (and was relatively easy to clean up). The free fruit offered at our local Kroger store seemed like a lifesaver to help entertain the little girls while I shopped.
But time passed. The kids grew. After my last baby was born, I took a class that highlighted the benefits of only eating when you’re hungry, so I sought to find solutions that let the kids eat if they were hungry, but didn’t provide a snack for all of them when they may not be hungry (but wouldn’t turn down food). My oldest LOVES food and will eat (with gusto!) most things that are presented to her, regardless of if she feels hungry. My next oldest has a smaller appetite and stops eating when she is full, without prompting (with the exception of her favorite food – chicken-fried steak). My third child is a rather picky eater these days, and my fourth, the only boy, seems hungry more often than all of his sisters.
My solution was to try to set specific times for meals and designate certain foods for “anytime” if there was legitimate hunger. Once “Dana’s Diner” closed for that meal, kids could help themselves to easy “Anytime Foods” that could help tide them over until the next meal. Our list of Anytime Foods includes fresh fruit, mozzarella cheese sticks, and water. I have one child who isn’t keen on cheese sticks, but she loves peanut butter, so we may add a spoonful of peanut butter to our list (with a little supervision for the size of the spoonful!). These options give them good protein choices to help satisfy any real hunger, or healthy produce that I feel good about. Raw veggies don’t come to my mind quickly, but some of my kids are excited about carrots or broccoli with Ranch dressing, so that is also a choice that they can help themselves to.
So, how has this change worked for us? It has helped give our days more structure, me more freedom to focus on teaching and other tasks, and the kids better appetites for the meals I put more effort into. I also save myself from the expense and exasperation I hear from some other parents as kids eat up all the more traditional, pre-packaged “snack foods” that may
be available in the pantry. I rarely buy those kinds of snacks. My kids know what to expect and what their choices are. I know that I won’t end up with dirty pans from an older girl cooking ramen whenever she craves it, the kids will be more mindful in their eating, and the kids will eat more during our meal times together, extending that precious time a little bit.
Would this approach work in your family?
Do kids come home from school hungry or snack a lot on the weekends? What kinds of foods would they like that give them good protein or vitamins and fiber – and that are so easy they can help themselves to? Maybe a slice of whole-grain toast with butter will help if they’re craving something sweet. Would water with a splash of juice help them realize they’re thirsty, rather than hungry? Consider how you might change snack time to meet your family’s and your children’s changing needs as they grow. It’s helped in our home immensely!
This blog was written by one of our guest bloggers, Dana.
About Dana. . .
Dana is a wife and homeschooling mom of 5 amazing kiddos, ages 4 to 11. As a mom who’s been a part of WIC for 10 years and a trained industrial engineer, she likes to work to optimize her family’s budget and nutrition.
She enjoys reading, teaching, knitting, and serving healthy, home-cooked meals like she grew up with.
In this week's guest post, Dana shares her experiences and tips for making anytime snacks available for her children. If you would like to explore more ideas for how to make your meals and snacks easier, consider taking our online lesson called: Make Meals And Snacks Simple. You can find this lesson in the Planning Simple Meals And Snacks category of wichealth.org.