“It’s not a snack, it’s just an apple!” she wailed at me. Clearly disgruntled with my offering, she proceeded to hang from my leg and cry to get me to change my mind, but I didn’t. It was about 30 minutes before I was planning to serve lunch and I just needed a few more minutes to type the last sentences into an article, but my five-year-old needed food immediately.
The only time she’s a holy terror is when she’s hungry and it’s not pretty. She becomes easily enraged, quick to cry, and sometimes she’ll even hit or scream to try to get her point across. When she acts this way, my husband and I point out to her that it seems like she might be feeling hungry, but she hasn’t been able to put the two together yet.
After about 30 seconds she let go of my leg and trotted over to the apple and inhaled it. It raised her blood sugar just enough to give me the time I wanted to complete my thought before diving into lunch prep. Crisis averted.
Our Eating Habits Philosophy
We’ve long been subscribers to the idea that parents decide what foods to serve and when to serve it (with flexibility when hanger strikes!) and the kids get to decide if they want to eat and how much they want to eat. While the twins don’t love it all the time, it’s a system that I can say with confidence has really works for us. We didn’t come up with it of course, I can thank some dietitian friends for introducing the concept to me when the babies were small.
I think it gives the kids the control they desire, while allowing us to offer foods we think are healthy for them to consume. The other key is to this concept is to keep presenting the same foods over and over, even if they insist they don’t like them. Sometimes kids need to try something up to 10-15 times before they will eat it. It’s all very relaxed, the food is offered on the plate and they can try it if they choose. If they don’t like whatever it is, we just say in a benign way that it’s okay and they don’t have to eat it if they don’t want to. They can fill up on the rest of what’s offered at the meal, we won’t make them anything else to substitute.
Healthy Habits from the Beginning
We adopted this mindset when they were babies weaning from bottles to table food. We hoped that it would help them learn to like a variety of foods and that it would help them develop a healthy relationship with food, and it seems to have worked, but it has required a great deal of consistency. They’re twins, but even with exposure to the same foods in the same way, their preferences are quite different from each other. While Claire will happily tuck into a goat cheese and beet salad, Frank absolutely will not. Claire likes meat and vegetables, and Frank definitely prefers carbs and might only eat the potatoes at a meal. Either way, we’re confident that they’re both growing at a normal rate.
Oh, and don’t go thinking that we’ve got it all figured out, because I definitely still hear “I don’t like this dinner,” or “This food is disgusting,” or “I only want carbonara!” most days of the week. But, in general, they’ll acquiesce and eat enough so they’re not hungry until the next meal or snack. At dinner, us parents can be heard saying, “Make sure your belly is full, breakfast isn’t for 12 more hours.”
This method may not work for kids who aren’t following the growth curve or for kids with oral aversions requiring SLT interventions, but I’d say for average kiddos it’s pretty great. (For a time Claire actually was one of those kiddos who was falling off the growth curve and tagged as “failure to thrive” so during that time our approach to feeding her was quite different).
Below, I’ve included some snacking tips and a list of some hearty snacks because who doesn’t need more snack ideas when they have kids at home all the time?
Tips for snacking success
-Offer a snack that combines protein and carbohydrates. This will keep bellies full for longer and will hopefully cut down on the number of snacks you need to provide per day. It may take a few more minutes to put together a hearty snack, but it’s worth it so you’re not constantly getting asked for snacks.
-Plan ahead. When you’re getting groceries, plan out the snacks like you plan meals so you’re not caught off guard when the kids seek you out and demand snacks. When you don’t have a plan for what to offer, it’s too easy to grab convenience foods that might not have the right nutrient balance.
-Set a good example by enjoying the same snacks as your children.
-Avoid snacking in front of the TV where kids are more likely to eat mindlessly and consume more than needed.
-Make snacks as convenient as possible. This might require a little prep work on a Sunday, for example, to have easy-to-serve snacks during the week.
-Include indulgent snacks in the right portion and not too often.
Snack Ideas to Consider When You Hear, “I’m hungry!”
-Pretzels, veggies and hummus
-Granola bar and apple slices (check the sugar and protein content of the granola bar and choose one with a good balance, or make your own.
-Peanut butter on celery with raisins
-Cheese and crackers and grapes
-Granola on plain yogurt with blueberries
-Chicken salad on cracker
-Cream cheese on a bagel
-Trail mix of nuts and dried fruit
-Protein bite (energy ball) and pear
-Popcorn and a mozzarella stick
-Mozzarella, pesto and tomato on bread
-Black bean dip with tortilla chips and veggies
-Honey-roasted or savory-roasted chickpeas (we like them roasted with olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and cumin).
-Hardboiled eggs or egg salad on cracker
-Almond butter on apple slices
-Banana muffin with nut butter
-Pita pizza with pizza sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese on a whole wheat pita
-Fruit and cheese mini kabobs
-Cottage cheese and peaches
-Slices pear with ricotta cheese
-Oatmeal with berries
-Homemade banana oat cookies (like this or this)
-Turkey and avocado rolled up in a tortilla
-Whole wheat bread with sliced cheese