Meals, snacks and being 3

Since the pre-K post was so popular, I thought I’d put out another query and see what you all think. If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that we used baby led weaning with Keeley. We try very hard not to force her to clean her plate, but rather we give her small amounts of everything we want her to eat. If it’s something new or something she clearly does NOT want to eat because of the taste or texture, she has to at least try it. When we go visit family, one of us tries to make her plate. Mostly, because she just doesn’t eat with all the excitement. We go by tablespoons of food, basically, not a serving spoon size, ever pretty much. Now, if we’ve barely given her anything to eat, she’s not had a late snack, and she’s just messing around, we do pretty much tell her just to eat for the love of God. Occasionally she’s ‘rewarded’ for having eaten her food. You know, like a frozen fruit bar or raspberries, because she loves them and she needs fruit, anyway. Unless she truly doesn’t like something, she rarely leaves food on her plate.

The bigger problem is getting her to STOP eating. She never eats so much that she makes herself sick, it’s more of an inconvenience thing. You can’t just give her a bowl of cereal and call it a morning. She wants cereal or something else about FOUR more times before lunch. She gets up around 6 and has breakfast as immediately as I can throw something together. She almost always gets juice and milk. She has lunch between 10:30 and 11. In between there, though, she’s GRAZING. I’ve been stopping her at around 10 am, but is that odd behavior? I try and keep the tv off until 8 am so it’s not completely mindless eating in those first couple of hours, but she just WHINES about how hungry she is. It makes we wonder if she’s actually that hungry or if she’s fallen trap to the bo0b tube ‘it is on so I must eat’ trap. For a long time we didn’t even allow food in the living room, but enter a completely nauseated mom who becomes an ‘I don’t/can’t move mom’ and then ‘I’m so busy with a newborn’ mom that the rule has gone by the wayside. I’m trapped between the whole ‘natural’ idea of letting your kid eat when they are hungry so they know their own cues and the ‘planned’ snack idea– so she has breakfast at a certain time and then a snack that she can count on at another time, but she doesn’t like being put off. Matt just wants me to do what I have been doing, just letting her eat up until a certain time, but I’m a little tired of being a short order ‘cook’ even if it’s just pretzels or peanuts or what have you. She whines and complains and throws enough tantrums every single day that I don’t want food to be a fight, too. This is a huge fail, I wanted to ask her doctor about it, because I would say if anyone would have the correct information about portion size, it would be her doctor, but you know, I forgot. *rolls eyes*

So those of you that have had this experience, what say you? Should I give her a choice of say an egg and toast or a bowl of cereal at 6 and then plan a snack of fruit at 9, or just continue to let her graze? There’s only been a few times that it seems like it has affected her lunch appetite, but when is the 4th, 5th, or 6th time you’ve had to stop what you are doing to pour just a little more cereal into a bowl…that’s why I ask you guys. Is this just being a ‘pre-schooler’?


  1. Perhaps you can play the “big girl” angle. Give her her normal breakfast and while she’s eating, make up snacks for the morning (carrots or crackers or whatever it is you give her) and let her have a special shelf or spot on the table to keep this. Or maybe a bag – just make it a place that is her stuff. Tell her that because she’s a big girl now, she can get her own snacks from the bag – but she has to make what’s in the bag last until lunch time because once the bag is empty there won’t be any more, period, until after lunch when you set it up again. That will teach her a little self control and free you from the chore of worrying about it.

    My son was never a huge eater unless he was having a growth spurt – and then he was a bottomless pit. When he was old enough, he could get his own snacks.

  2. We are going through the exact same thing. No advice, but I will certainly be back to see more suggestions! I like the one above and might have to try it!

  3. I think the first suggestion you got is a good one.

    One of my kids grazed all the time, the other one ate sporadically. Can’t tell which one was which now, they eat when hungry and don’t eat when they’re not.
    Stuff like this generally does work itself out. It’s parents getting weird about it (not saying that YOU are) that can cause some eating disorders.

    It sounds to me like you’re doing fine, and if she can get food for herself, so much the better.

  4. Stacy Wolfmeyer

    I think I may be the only mom in the world who doesn’t really give snacks. I have found with my kids that snacks lead to not eating the next meal, so I don’t do it. I do use food to keep them occupied when doing things like shopping, where I need them to be quiet and let me be for a bit. That’s probably bad, but I don’t care.

    Here, the kids get a snack at 9:30 at preschool. Lauren eats her breakfast about 8, so I have a hard time believing she’s really hungry for a snack, but if she sees a “snack” type food, she wants it. So she usually waits to eat lunch until 12:30 or so on those days. In kindergarten, the kids at 11, and were given a snack about 2:30. We eat between 5 and 6, and that’s enough. If they ate a good dinner, they can have a snack about 7:30. If they didn’t eat a good dinner, but insist they are hungry, I will warm their dinner back up.

    Rachel is a whole different ball game, of course. She was 3 meals a day, plus a snack before bed, and a snack whenever we are somewhere and she needs a distraction! We go through Cheerios like mad right now, and she loves all of the flavors.

    That’s just how we do it at our house. I see two schools of thought for you and Keeley.

    The first is that she’s little, so her tummy is little, so she’ll need to eat more often. At this point, you both have the ability to do that, so why change it? But to encourage her independence, and to take the heat off you a little, you could designate a cabinet down low or a basket or bowl of snacks set on the tabletop (even an end table in the living room, if you want) from which she can help herself. I’m assuming you would buy a large bag of some kind of snack and break it down into smaller bags for convenience, instead of buying individual packs. Put a few bags of pretzels or peanuts or whatever in the bowl on the counter (I would replenish it every night, so I don’t have to have a huge bowl, but you can put as much as you want out), or put in small reusable containers. If she can’t open them herself, she can easily bring them to you, and you can open it quickly. Practice opening the containers or bags together. When I buy individually packaged things for the kids, I start them the best I can without actually breaking the seal, so it’s easier for them. That is one other awesome thing about preschool is they work a lot on being independent, so that is where my kids learned to do things such as put on their coats, zip their coats, and open packages. In the fridge, on a low shelf or drawer she can access on her own, keep string cheese or Baby Bel cheese, or a container of slices, and containers of yogurt. Or whatever else she snacks on from the fridge. keep a couple of cups of milk or juice on the shelf where she can reach and a cup of water on the table. And encourage all the water she wants to drink. She’d have to work hard to drink enough water to make herself sick, and a lot of times people eat because they are thirsty, so if she drinks more water, she may not snack as much.

    If she can’t reach the silverware, put a couple on the table where she can reach it. Or empty a low cupboard and put her stuff there. We do this with Jacob’s cold lunch. I make the sandwich while he goes into the pantry and gets his fruit cup and chips, plastic spoon, and juice box. If you don’t want her to have a lot to choose from, do what Sayre suggested and put one bag of snacks where she can get to it, and that’s that until the next meal.

    The other thought is that you may want her to eat more at each meal and less snacking in between. After all, someday she WILL be in school and she’ll have to adhere to the school’s schedule, not her own. If that’s a big deal to you now, then start working on it. Breakfast at 6, snack at 8:30, lunch at 11, (is there a nap still after lunch?), snack about 2:30, dinner about 5, snack about 7:30, bed.

    If you do decide you want to start her on more of a schedule, it may be in your best interests to contact the grade school she will go to and find out what time the kindergarteners eat. That will be the first time in her life when she has to have a meal at someone else’s command, so you could get her used to eating lunch at that time.

    If cereal is her typical breakfast, you may need to see about giving her something else instead. I know that cereal doesn’t fill me up for long, even if it’s the healthy, fiber filled stuff that’s supposed to fill you up. Give her an egg and bacon or sausage (they have precooked or microwavable kinds to make that faster and easier). or stick some lunch meat and cheese in it for a scramble. Or biscuits and jelly. We make a can of pillsbury biscuits in the evening sometimes when the oven is already on and then we have them for the next day, but don’t have to cook them. Or try an english muffin. Or instant cream of wheat or oatmeal. Lauren does lots of frozen waffles and pancakes, but it sounds like she needs something more hearty. If she has something heartier for her first breakfast, perhaps cereal would be a great 2nd breakfast or snack to hold her over until lunch.

    You aren’t doing anything wrong. You just have decide what way you want to handle it. If I were you, as long as she’s eating her meals, I’d let her snack on all the healthy (and sometimes just tasty!) snacks she wants, but I would do all I could to get her to get the food herself.

  5. At her age, I suspect she is really hungry – may be going through growth spurts. (also, some kids are grazers)

    I’m all about the healthy snacks. If she is really hungry – then she needs to have some food. But – if she isnt’ really hungry, a few apple slices or carrot sticks are not going to hurt her.

    And as far as visiting relatives (especially grandparents) – my kids know the “have to take one bite” rule so they do follow it – but I don’t really push the rule when we are visiting others. Sometimes I have to let stuff like that go.

    And I agree with Stacy on the breakfast. She may need a heartier breakfast in the morning.

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