How to get children to cut back on snacking

DETROIT – She also said it’s a good idea to serve dessert as a part of the meal instead of separately.

Many parents are struggling with days where their children refuses to eat lunch or dinner, saying they’re not hungry, only to have them grab a snack from the fridge or pantry.

If you feel like your little ones are constantly asking for snacks these days -- you’re not imagining it.

“So for kids, everything is out of control. Everything has changed in their life and they’re going to naturally look towards areas where they can control," said Dr. Cara Fenster. "Snacks food, all of that is a natural area to move towards.”

Fenster is a mother of two who teaches classes on children’s relationships with food.

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“They can’t spend time with friends, they can’t hug grandparents, they can’t go to school and learn certain things, right? So everything feels out of reach for them," Fenster said. "So when they ask for food and they’re able to get food, it’s an immediate need that’s met and so many of those needs are going unmet right now.”

She believes that if you find your child snacking more than usual, there’s a good reason.

“When you feel out of control, that leads to a lot of anxiety and fear," Fenster said. "I think kids are trying to combat that with knowing that ‘OK, I can access a snack when I want to. I can get my need met when I want to by saying I’m hungry.’ They can’t do that with anything else.”

What can parents do to relieve some of that snack stress?

“It’s really hard because parents are juggling so many things. You have one or both parents working. There’s so much stress that’s happening,” Fenster said. “Iftentimes I think what occurs is just this knee jerk reaction. It happens for me to where if I’m overloaded and tired, I just say, ‘Just go to the pantry. Just go, go get go get whatever you want, it doesn’t matter.’”

She said one way is to do a little kitchen prep ahead of time.

“If it’s at night or in the morning, just cutting off a few things that the kids can easily access. So having cut up cucumbers or peppers or apples, berries -- whatever it is, have something that you can easily serve them or that they can easily access," Fenster said. "I think prepping is a really good way because it just automatically relieves that stress when the kids are asking for something.”

Another way is to set up structure around regular mealtimes. While we’re all homeschooling, she said parents often make the mistake of not starting the day off with a good breakfast.

“If you make sure to start with a staple meal, rather than school. Get a cereal or go get like a granola bar or something like that," Fenster said. "It sort of sets the tone and it helps them feel satiated right away so they don’t feel this constant need to be snacking throughout the day.”

Another thing she teaches families during her class is using something she calls the ‘Party Plate.'

“We set out a bunch of different foods on a plate. Some that are nutrient dense and others that are sort of fun food," Fenster said. "That that gives them a sense of control because they can choose which foods they’re eating.”

That’s how she serves lunch at her house.

“We’ll put a mixture of food on there. Apples, cucumbers, hummus, some cheese, sometimes some nuts, olives, we love peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s so that’s always a staple on the tray," Fenster said. "Sometimes yogurt so there’s usually a balance of different foods that they like and ahead of time we’ll also ask them, ‘Is there anything any food requests for the party plate?’ So that they also again feel engaged in it.”

Fenster also said it’s important to not label snacks as good or bad.

“All food is food is food and some foods do more than others, right? So you have to look at what the food is doing for you," Fenster said. "And that’s why I typically refer to food as like nutrient dense, or food that gives us energy and health or fun food -- because all of it is important.”

She also said it’s a good idea to serve dessert as a part of the meal instead of seperately.

“Oftentimes, when kids think or adults think of dessert, we think of like this grand thing," Fenster said. "So offering one cookie or one piece of chocolate or something like that that is a part of the dinner, they’re still getting the access to something that they consider fun, but it isn’t this big event after dinner.”

When all else fails and your child is still asking for a snack every two minutes, dig deeper to find out what’s really bothering them. But be careful -- experts say the words you use can make a big difference."

“There’s already enough to fear right now. So I think if you can avoid statements like ‘That food will make you gain weight’ or ‘That food is unhealthy’ or any kind of statement like that where kids are feeling scared of food like, ‘Wait, that’s going to do something bad to me,’" Fenster said. "That is not going to be helpful for long term body image and weight related issues but even just in this current situation, it’s not going to be helpful for their fear levels.”

She also reminds families that it’s OK to say no to children and tell them they will not be able to have their favorite snack.

More information on Dr. Cara Fenster can be found on her official website here.

About the Authors:

Dane is a producer and media enthusiast. He previously worked freelance video production and writing jobs in Michigan, Georgia and Massachusetts. Dane graduated from the Specs Howard School of Media Arts.