I’ve heard this over and over again from parents of toddlers. My toddler only wants snacks, he/she won’t eat dinner.
While there can be many reasons for inconsistent eating patterns in toddlers most can be changed through consistent routines and healthy role modeling by the parent.
In case you are wondering, why does my toddler only want to snack?
This is because the toddler years are the first time the child is learning to assert himself. Alongside all the rapid developmental milestones the child is going through, the child is also learning to seek more independence.
These developmental changes aside, snack foods are usually more appealing looking and tasting compared to family meals. Especially if the family has introduced packaged snacks, these are consistent in texture (which takes away some of the mystery around what the bite would taste like which usually happens with Whole foods, sometimes an apple is sweet, sometimes not so much.), taste, and color.
Toddlers are seeking consistency and safety. Unknown foods and new food preparations come with unknown textures, tastes, and new sensory stimuli, a young child may not yet be equipped to deal with these flavor changes.
This combination of the suspicion of unknown foods and tastes and the need to assert independence can sometimes lead to the child only wanting snacks and foods that they view as dependable alternatives.
This leads me to the question I get asked most often,
“How do I get my toddler to stop asking for snacks?”
Do not stress if your toddler wants snacks all the time, you can bring them back into a consistent feeding routine and turn them into confident eaters with a little planning and intention.
Here is how we do it,
WHAT TO DO WHEN TODDLER ONLY WANTS TO SNACK
- Set a consistent meal routine
First, let us understand that toddlers have smaller tummies and can’t eat as much as we do at each meal, so they will have to eat more frequently compared to adults.
Most toddlers need 3 meals plus 2-3 snacks spaced 2-3 hours apart.
The parent’s role is to set a consistent meal routine.
If snacking has become out of hand, observe your toddlers’ eating patterns for a day or two and then decide on a mealtime routine that suits the family and start implementing it.
2. Offer leftovers as snacks
Changing our mindset from what “snack foods” look like to offering the main foods as snacks also help. One of the ways this can be done is that leftover sabzi/sides from lunch can be used in a whole wheat tortilla/chapati wrap for the next meal instead of offering cookies or chips.
Rice and vegetables mixed in a bowl with chutneys and sauces can become a veggie rice bowl at snack time. Use what was not eaten at lunch and either plate it out differently or pair it with other filling snacks at the next meal.
Related reading: Food ideas for busy moms
3. You are in charge of shopping for the family
There are many exciting snacks that children get exposed to in due course of time. And while it is perfectly okay to enjoy all types of foods, what you need to remember is that you are in charge of shopping for the family. Children will ask for more of their favorite packaged snacks, but if that food is something that is not typically part of family meals you don’t need to buy it every time just because your child requests it.
Related reading: How to reduce junk food consumption in kids
4. Offer favorite foods along with every meal
Make a list of the foods you know for sure your child likes, and then design your weekly meal plan including 1-2 of your child’s favorite foods alongside every meal. Seeing their favorite on the plate encourages the child to try other foods in time.
Remember even seeing and touching not liked foods is considered an exposure to variety.
5. Snack lunch/dinner – snacks as mini-meals
Consider offering a snack lunch or dinner. It has been drilled down to us over the generations that snacks are “treats” and that snacking is an undisciplined way to eat. But in your toddlers’ case, a mini meal may do better than an elaborate meal.
Children pick up on our anxious energy around foods and sometimes the tantrum is more to do with the toddler challenging our energy around the food.
You can have breakfast for dinner or a snack for dinner, it’s okay. There are ways to plate up nutritious foods outside of the designated meal template.
You can even offer your toddler’s favorite cookie/chocolate alongside other healthier snack options and reduce some of that scarcity mindset around foods.
6. Limit juice and milk
Many parents also unknowingly overdo milk and juice for toddlers. As per the recommendations toddlers need about 2 cups of milk a day. Juice is not an essential food that needs to be offered to young children, you can skip it and offer real fruit instead.
Liquids take up stomach space and limiting it to recommended amounts ensures the child has an appetite at mealtime.
Changing any habit takes time and consistency, don’t expect to see a change in your child’s eating behaviors in a few tries. Even routines that worked originally and then went into disarray can be reestablished by setting boundaries, clear explanations, and consistent efforts. All is not lost if your child seems to snack endlessly.
Hope these tips work for you as you try to regulate your child’s meal routine. Share with other parents who may find such a post helpful and comment below to tell me how you changed your toddler’s snacking habits.