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"snacking" vs "eating a good dinner"

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
All in all, I feel pretty good about what goes into my kids' tummies. We have a generally relaxed attitude towards food, and keep a variety of healthy foodstuff readily available to them whenever they want it. However, sometimes I've begun to wonder whether or not this type of arrangement might prevent them from widening their food horizons. Let me explain...the kids I'm speaking of are 3 and 6, by the way. As I said, they snack all the time on healthy stuff, but often when they sit down to dinner, they aren't very hungry. Then they eat a bit of the carbohydrate on offer, and that's that. Then, lo and behold, they are hungry just minutes later and tuck into the bread, fruit, cheese, yogurt, you get the picture!

My question is this: Should I continue to let them feed as they please, and trust that they'll get what they need and eventually ease into more adult eating habits and join in more at the table? Or should I try to limit the snacking, hoping they'll be more hungry at dinner and more likely to eat what I'm serving? Dh has an irregular working schedule, so a predictable family dinner hour is a tricky one. Any thoughts or words of wisdom would be appreciated!
post #2 of 11
Well, the good news is that metabolically speaking, snacking is actually healthier in many cases than eating meals. I don't think your kids will necessarily change their eating pattern as they get older, but they will mature in terms of how they handle it. For instance, they might take a little bit of what is offered at dinner and then continuing to snack throughout the evening rather than totally rejecting dinner. I other words, to participate in the event of dinner, they will opt to make dinner one of their snacks, kwim?

As for expanding their horizons, is there a way to try a new snacking food every couple of weeks? Or can some of your dinners be reheated and served as a snack later on?

Perhaps it would also help if you make dinner into more of an "event", if possible. Try some different ways of doing this. Some kids really like it when mom turns down the lights a little and lights a candle and sets the table really nicely for dinner. Other kids might like to have a "special conversation" at dinner time. Or maybe you can have a pre-dinner and post-dinner ritual, such as a song or a prayer, or everyone still sitting at the table at the end of dinner getting a turn to help light a candle for something meaningful that happened in their day.

Just a few thoughts off the top of my head.
post #3 of 11
It sounds like they are nutritionally doing fine.. I guess the question is would you like them to be more regulars eaters at dinner? If you do then maybe liniting snacks is what you need to do. I also loved Sierra ideas on making dinner time special.
If it's not bothering you that they don't eat much at dinner, then you offering healthy choices in betwen seems like the best thing to do.

post #4 of 11
Thread Starter 
Thanks for responding, guys! Ever since I posted this morning, I have been thinking a lot about what this is *really* about. It is not about nutrition, because I feel they are getting whatever they need to grow healthily. Thanks for the ideas on making mealtime special, Sierra. I do try to make the table experience positive for all, and I think we'll give some of these a try. In answer to your question, Peggy, I guess I'd like to see them eat a bit more at dinner. But I feel bad saying to them, "No, you can't have anything...wait until dinner" or something similar. I wonder how else I could limit snacks?

So what IS it about? I was reading somewhere earlier that maybe I feel the kids don't value me when they reject my meals. I do put a lot of thought and love, not to mention time and energy, into our dinners, so maybe I'm feeling a bit rejected? I know I shouldn't, but maybe I do. In that case, it's MY problem and not theirs. I guess I've got to deal with that myself, then.

Also, I was a picky eater as a child, and didn't usually enjoy what my mom prepared for dinner. I don't want my kids to be the same. I know that sometimes when you particularly DON"T want your kids to be a certain way, then you're setting yourself up for trouble! Oh, maybe I have a few food issues here...

Any more thoughts, anyone?
post #5 of 11
We don't have kids yet, but I read a book where someone said they had "family hour" instead of "supper." (It may have been Natural Family Living.) Anyway, she didn't make the kids eat--they just had to sit and converse with the family.

I really like that idea. My mother-in-law has kids who are much younger than my DH, and those kids drive me nuts because they refuse to sit down during meals. They walk around, and then they whine at breakfast because their milk is hot and the cereal is soggy. I think that the ability to sit and have a conversation is much more important than eating a big meal.
post #6 of 11
That is sort of what we do at our house. The kids have to come to the table and they have to have a little of everything on their plate, but they don't have to eat anything.

We used to allow the free range snacking, but decided that it was no longer working. The kids could get out most of their own snacks, but would leave them all over, and they more the ate between meals the less they ate at meals. Although their diet was reasonably healthy, it was very limited.

Now they get 3 meals and 2 snacks a day. If they are hungry at other times, they have to ask before they can have anything. They don't asks that often now, because they eat more when they eat instead of just nibbling. (They are still eating every few hours).

Although eating smaller quantities more frequently is healthier than eating large quantities a couple of times a day, nibbling all the time (or sipping on juice) is really bad for kids' teeth.

Different things work for different families.
post #7 of 11
Wow...I love everyone's ideas on this subject! Like willibug, though, I also worry about limiting my kids 'food horizons.' I would like them to be willing to try, soups, cassaroles, new fruits etc. If they are coming to the table full on wholesome snacks, I am afraid they will not grow into adventurous eaters! I think it takes time to develop a taste for something. After years me of slipping spinach into his omlets, pizzas, etc. my six year old finally says "mmmm" at the green stuff instead of grumbling. My mom used to always say "You'll learn to like it", and she was partially right! That said, I would *never* force my kids to eat anything they did not want to. I guess the bottom line is for your children to have a good attitude about food as well as the nutrition they need. How you serve it, is up to you.
post #8 of 11
Willibug, It's funny, I also feel rejected when ds or dh don't like my food. It doesn't happen often, tho. I have been known to get a little testy when dh adds pepper to my spaghetti sauce. Anyway, I was raised as a grazer. My mom always had healthy snacks, we never sat down to meals. I could probably count those occasions on one hand. Now, with ds, we always sit down for our meals, dinner always we are all three (now 4 with the baby) together, no tv, just us eating. When ds is done, he gets down and dh and I get a chance to visit. Ds is quite an eater and I rarely have to worry that he is full and won't eat supper. If he says he is hungry while I am cooking, I tell him to wait, if he says he can't, I let him have a couple of crackers or something so he is not starving. My feeling is that your kids are probably getting a good diet, and if your arrangement works, fine. For me tho, I missed not sitting down for dinner with my parents, and now that I think back, the marriage was not so good anyway, so maybe sitting at the dinner table is for me reassuring that our family is OK. (I'm talking about my issues here)

Anyway, I have a friend that lets her kids always pick out one veggie each week at the store. That might work for getting them to try new things. Also, bringing them to a farm stand might get their curiosity up. I have no problems getting ds to try new things. I always ask him to take one bite, if he thinks it is gross, he doesn't have to try it again, but I tell him that I'm proud of him for trying something new, and remind him that he used to not like pancakes, which are now his favorite. Also, we tend to quote Dr Suess a lot "I do, I like green eggs and ham, thank you thank you sam I am"

We also make a big deal out of breakfast on Sundays. Pancakes, of course. Now that I am really thinking about this, I sure do idealize the happy family eating at a table together.

At three and six, I would also get them involved in the cooking. I bought ds a pumpkin carving kinfe that is also sold as a kids safe knife and let him cut things. He helps add ingredients when I bake, he mixes, etc. Makes a huge mess, but he always eats what he makes.

post #9 of 11
there are some really great thoughts in this thread! jtsmom, you gave some really practical advice that sounds like it works..I really enjoyed sierra's ideas for how to make dinnertime more special, too!! The ideas being generated about feeling rejected if one's food is not accepted are great!! I know that I feel "rejected" when my baby doesn't like my pureed homemade baby foods!!!( how bad is that?!!!)
anyway, I work at a waldorf-inspired preschool, and there is a lot of interesting theories about mealtimes there, so I thought that I would share some here.
first, it must be stressed that meals are above all a social occasion. we serve the snacks and lunch "family style" meaning that the children pass drinks and food down to the last child and so on..everything is passed...this teaches them awareness of others and a little patience. If a child is finished, or does not want to eat, that's fine, but he or she must sit at the table until all are done...this practice stresses the social nature of the meal and also teaches the child that he'she is part of a larger group of children...a sense of belonging then develops.
I really appreciate these steiner-influenced ideas for a variety of reasons, but thought I'd share one of my more heartfelt reasons with you guys...that reason is my husband. He is a wonderful man but has no CLUE how to socialize at mealtimes!!! I have to eek any conversation out of him at the table...it's like getting water from a stone because all he wants to focus on is his plate of food...it's almost the same when we eat out! He was raised in a very fly by night existence, with two very grazer-orientated parents....he has a great relationship with both of them and is happy etc, but I come from a much more "sit at the table" background and find it hard now that mealtimes are more of a brief affair...we have talked about this at length and have decided that the more "sit down" approach is how we will raise our son, more for the social aspect than anything else!! I want my son to be able to wine and dine his dates and converse at the same time!! ( yes, I know this is the ultimate in planning ahead, and I'm half joking, but you get my drift!)
post #10 of 11
laura, I love the idea of meals being a social thing. However, do you have any suggestions as to keeping the 3 yo from driving me crazy after he is done eating? I usually let him down after he is done (he has to wait to eat til we are all sitting and have our food) He just cannot sit still that long. I want to relax, and really can't until he is down, because he is figity and gets all without the smile. Drives me nuts. It is just such an effort, I give up. At a restaurant I can hold his attention a little better, but at home I feel like not making it a battle. Any ideas?

post #11 of 11
Hi, I haven't read through all the replies yet but I just wanted to add that I'm a 'snacker' I've always had great difficulty in sitting down and eating a a large meal...My dd is the same so fortunately it works out well...although we are constantly nibbling at something or other we eat healthy food and have one very small meal in the evening where we all sit down together...my dh's portion is usually 10x larger than mine though as he doesn't snack at all during the day!

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