how to encourage 3.5y old to eat what he is served but not over eat? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 8 Old 01-08-2014, 08:08 PM - Thread Starter
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My son is 3.5 and overall a good eater. Our meals consist of a lot of vegetables and fruits and not much processed foods ~ but... he has taken a liking to saltine crackers and jello that developed when he was really sick his winter. Every day he asks for them after dinner. For a while I let him control his meals but he was mainly skipping dinner and going for jello and crackers even when healthy. I cut it back and said he could have it after dinner ~ two bites and he is "full" and ready for crackers. Ive been pressing him to eat his dinner and then later in the evening he can have a snack if he has eaten all his vegetables or eaten his food well. Im worried this is making him overeat though ~ trying to stuff everything I give him in and then make room for the snack later.

I do think he needs some snack before bed, as we eat at 5:30 and he is hungry again before bed. I dont think a small snack of 4~6 crackers is a big problem, I just dont know how to mak it so he isnt overeating.


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#2 of 8 Old 01-08-2014, 08:18 PM
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When we've gotten into similar patterns, I've just stopped having whatever it is in the house. We eat dinner, and then we do offer a bedtime snack, but it is either whatever wasn't eaten from dinner or another healthy choice, like a piece of fruit, cheese or yogurt. If the snack is way more appealing than dinner, dinner gets skipped, so I try to avoid that. We do have dessert sometimes, and it's not based on eating a certain amount, but it is not an every night thing.

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#3 of 8 Old 01-09-2014, 08:48 AM
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I would switch snacks to something he likes but isn't so obsessed with. Something with some more fat and protein in it maybe, that satisfies for longer. Save leftovers from dinner to reheat if he's still hungry. If you still want to allow the crackers, only keep a little in the house then when they're gone they're gone.

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#4 of 8 Old 01-09-2014, 06:00 PM
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I would tell dk: we'll have jello and crackers every other day, or every Tuesday (or watever frequency you are comfortable with). Then on that day, I would put them on the table and let dk eat his fill.
That way, the food loses its appeal of "forbidden fruit" and you put a stop of negociating how full he is after dinner, or how many crackers he can have.

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#5 of 8 Old 02-03-2014, 10:19 AM
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I have had this happen when we're traveling and eating different foods than what I normally have at home.  If it is something I don't mind my kids eating I will tell them they can have it once a week and they can pick the day.  Or, if it is something that I do not want them to have, I explain that I just don't have that item at home.  Another thing you could do is make a healthier version of the food(s) you don't want him to have and have him help you.  You could even get him involved in helping you choose the recipe. 

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#6 of 8 Old 02-03-2014, 07:27 PM
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I would consider dinner and snack two separate things. Just like lunch isn't dependent on breakfast, dinner and snack have nothing to do with each other.  At dinner time, serve dinner.  He can eat what he likes.  At snack time, let him have the crackers and jello.  If he asks for crackers and jello during dinner, just remind him this is dinner and that's snack.  Snack comes before bed.  If he's hungry now, he can eat whatever is on his plate (some, all, none, whatever) but snack isn't until later.


I don't think it's a good idea to set up food as a battle ground, or to make kids force down one thing to "earn" another.  Everything I've read about kids and food says that parents decide what and when, kids decide if and how much.  Dinner is ONE meal in a day.  I'm guessing he's not eating junk all day long, so it's not a huge deal if he doesn't eat a perfectly well rounded dinner and has a few crackers and jello at bedtime. That's perfectly fine.  I'm guessing it won't take too long for crackers and jello to lose their allure when they're always dependably available.

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#7 of 8 Old 06-05-2014, 02:00 PM
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Personally, I would move beyond those snacks totally. Jello is never going to be a healthy and should be a very rare treat. Jello would cease to be a snack.

Crackers are a snack for a kid who wants a little bit between meals. They are high in salt and offer little to no nutrition. I would be fine with a few in the afternoon but not every day, especially since he seems to be really focusing on them and seems a little controlled by them. If he needs a bedtime snack to feel full, this isn't a good choice.

Our kids love a little bedtime snack but we keep it routine and boring. We usually use greek yogurt, unflavored with a little honey or dipping or flavored yogurt mixed with plain greek or kefir. Another option is cheese. If you don't eat dairy, a bit of tofu with soy sauce, peanut butter with fruit, or a hard boiled egg are all good bedtime snacks. I also leave the dinner scraps on the table until after the kids go to bed; one of kids likes a bit more snack.
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#8 of 8 Old 06-18-2014, 01:13 PM
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If you give the jello and crackers with the meal, what happens? Some kids will eat more rounded when they have the "treat" at the same time. Obviously, this isn't all kids. If you've already tried that and it didn't work, you may need to just get it out of the house and figure out another option for when he's sick (broth is really good- if you eat meat, bone broth, but vegetable broth can also be quite good, go homemade, you can make a big batch and freeze it for when he's sick). Don't push him to finish his meals, if he doesn't finish it and later asks for crackers- say "If you're still hungry, you can have the rest of your dinner". If he does finish it, I would offer healthy alternatives instead, even if you don't say "if you finish your dinner, you get crackers" he can learn it very quickly. If he starts eating better, you can add crackers or jello to meals occasionally, a small portion that he can't fill up on, but it's your call.

You might want to be careful that he isn't craving it out of need. In retrospect, I think I may have had a sodium deficiency as a child because my mother had to cook REALLY low sodium due to her heart condition, and I craved salt (I'd eat play-doh and straight butter). I also had sugar cravings that I think were just unhealthy and I craved gluten even though I now know it caused me loads of problems, so I know that cravings are not always good signs- I just wouldn't immediately discount them.

They both are also foods that kids may just like the taste of, but the fact that he seems to be craving salt and/or calories and/or sugars might be worth considering. It sounds like you mostly eat fruits and vegetables, you may want to make sure he's getting enough good fats and sugars in his diet. Again, you don't want to overdo it, but it's worth considering that his body is saying he needs something he's not getting.

You don't want to be a total short order cook, but he's also old enough to be involved in meal planning, which may help him be willing to eat it more. Give two or three options you feel good about ("Do you want broccoli, spinach, or green beans with dinner tonight?"). He could probably help with cooking a little bit as well, which also can help kids to be better eaters because they feel more involved.

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Last edited by sillysapling; 06-18-2014 at 01:20 PM.
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