When eliminating snacks was unsuccessful for improving dinnertime, I was back to the drawing board. First, I considered our goals for dinner, and with feeding in general.
- We wanted the kids eating a well balanced diet that was adequate for health and growth. This was critical since our family has experienced chronic constipation, food allergies, and our children are much smaller than same age peers.
- We wanted the entire family to have pleasant mealtime experiences.
Since banning snacks basically created hangry children, I decided it was time for everyone (adults and children) to redefine snacks. Over the past few years, we developed poor snacking habits. The majority of the time, snacks consisted of food with minimal nutritional value. Snacking wasn’t the problem itself, the bigger issue was these foods often became substitutes for meals and the kids weren’t getting adequate nutrition. Keeping this in mind, I tweaked the snack menu.
When our typical afternoon snack time arrived, I started offering several choices that included primarily fruits and vegetables, and other sources of protein such as nuts or dairy. In the beginning, the kids were NOT pleased with these options, and often on their own volition skipped snacks altogether. On many occasions they demanded off menu items. Instead of catering to their whims, I continued offering a variety of options that included items I knew they’d enjoyed before. We have two tiered basket on the counter top that is always full of fruit (often chosen by the kids during shopping trips), and these were consistently offered as snacks. In addition, if someone didn’t eat part of a meal, and it was an item I knew they liked, I put it into lidded containers color coded by child. Leftovers could then be added to the snack menu.
After the weeks trudged on, the kids finally started trying their new snack options and enjoying them. I could not believe it when Sydney chose apples for her snack, and then gobbled them with a huge smile on her face. This was a BIG deal, people. Sydney is a self proclaimed “carnival” (e.g. carnivore) who loves to nosh meat and carbohydrates. Fruit and veggies have never been atop her preferred foods list, yet she decided apples were indeed tasty. While we were shopping, she requested grapes. This was huge for her.
During this process of redefining snacks, our snack menu is somewhat limited. At the same time, our previously enjoyed foods are not “forbidden” either. I want the kids to learn how to enjoy a variety of food and feel satisfied with some of the most nutritious foods, but to also appreciate treats. I enjoy desserts and salty snacks, why shouldn’t they?
Even with better snacking habits underway, improving the kid’s nutritional intake, my second goal was not yet achieved. The kids were often fussy at dinner, claiming to be “very hungry” then refusing to eat anything presented to them. It was not uncommon for one or more children to proclaim something such as “This is DISGUSTING!” (Thank you, Pixar for Inside Out, and adding “disgust” to the children’s emotional vocabulary.) It seemed that the kids took turns having a dinnertime tantrum so we’d experience at least one per night. Even worse, tantrums occurred even when we served favorite meals and despite the fact we told them they didn’t have to eat anything they didn’t want. Dinner was an exasperating experience most nights.
At this point, we were on the cusp of accomplishing both of the feeding goals, but weren’t quite there. Stay with me, I know many others are having similar struggles and are eager to discover what finally made all the difference in the world.