Snacks or No Snacks?

Updated on December 01, 2010
T.G. asks from La Conner, WA
25 answers

Two of my girls are going through a very picky eating stage. They're 2 and 4. Some people say kids really need snacks, but if either one of them has snacks, they won't eat their dinner, unless of course it's something they love (ie pizza, or take out which we don't have often) My rule has always been, if they eat their meal, they can have one snack later. If not, they don't eat till their next meal. I've been catching grief from my mother about this and I was wondering if anyone else does this, or thinks I'm aweful for doing this.

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So What Happened?

Thank you all soooo much for your input! I actually just found this website and I think it is now my favorite with all the great advice I've received. I think I'm going to try light, healthy snacks, as well as saving their meals for snacks later. I can't believe how many of you replied. Thank you again!

Featured Answers



answers from San Diego on

I'm probably an oddball here. But I think snacks are fine (in between meals)as long as they are things like apples, 7 grain crackers, nuts, cheese, etc - meaning that they are healthy and hearty enough that if my daughter isnt hungry at dinner/lunch, I don't feel as if she missed out on a meal.

Personally, I am a grazer, eat when I'm hungry and allow my daughter to do the same. So if my daughter isn't hungry when we are, she can eat later or not. She's in the 50% of weight for her age. Most people need to have a more set schedule, but I work from home and she's not yet in pre-school, so it's fine.

I think either way you do it, they will be great! It's what works for YOU as the mom!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

As long as a child is fed healthy food on a regular basis, I really don't care about the details. We did it in reverse of you (and still do) with 5 or 6 small meals a day... but neither is "right". Healthy food, regular basis, loving parents who are concerned that their kids are eating on a regular basis, finis. End of argument. The details change in every individual family.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

This is easy. Break dinner into parts and serve them piecemeal as a snack. Imagine dinner ws going to be chicken, salad, and a baked potato? If they want to eat an afternoon snack, offer the salad. Even add some protien like cheese or chickpeas. If they are hungry, they will eat the salad. If they are okay, stick it in the fridge for dinner.

The main issue with snacking in my opinion is that we assume snacks must be soemthing sort of "fun" like fruit or crackers ..or for some people cookies, chips, and candy. Clearly, fruit is healthy, but my kids fill up on that so quickly, they would never eat any protein if I let them snack on it all day.

Grazing on small healthy meal sis best from a diet perspective and probably does make it easier for kids and adults to get through the day. However, there is no reason to give in and give them classic treats. Save sweets and treats for special occaions and just only offer them the healthy meals whenever they are hungry. .

4 moms found this helpful

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answers from Chicago on

Hi T.,
Well, I certainly don't think you are awful :-)

However, I'll tell you what I did, which is a bit different than what you are doing. But I will tell you I got a LOT of flack from my family for doing what I did - they would have preferred I do what you were doing, which didn't really work for my daughter.

First of all, my daughter was a huge grazer up until she was about 6. She did better mood-wise if she ate a little bit every couple of hours and NEVER ate an actual meal. I just made sure that her 'snacks' were foods that I didn't mind if she ate IN PLACE of the meal. So, she had the bottom right crisper drawer in the fridge as her 'snack drawer'. In it was cut up raw broccoli, celery, baby carrots, cubes of turkey or ham, yogurt, string cheese, small bottles of water etc. Because if you get right down to it, I don't care if she eats a couple pieces of broccoli, 3 cubes of turkey and a yogurt 1 1/2 hours before dinner and then eats less of the peas and chicken I serve for dinner or whatever.... It's pretty much the same type of food, but she doesn't have to digest the full 'meal' all at once.

I also wanted her to get a feel for when her body was hungry. so I never made her 'clean her plate'. I started out with very very small 'snack size' portions for dinner on her plate and if she was still hungry then she could have more. In between meals I just ONLY offered her healthy stuff to eat. snacks were NEVER candy or chips etc. she was only able to eat food that were healthy, so I didn't care when she ate it.... if that makes sense???

I didn't want meals to turn into something that was a battle. I have a kid with control issues - so the more control she had (but I had the 'actual' control over what she had access to) the better off she was. She was always consistent with height/weight increases so I never worried.

Good luck!

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

As a former nanny and mom, my solution for picky eaters is simply this: make a healthy snack box in the morning. (*DO NOT ask your child for their input in this venture!* Believe me on this...) I like a sandwich size box or a bit larger--if you are going quart sized, you've gone too far!--, and pack it with healthy snacks: carrot or celery sticks, red pepper slices, almonds, hard-boiled egg (already peeled, etc.), a few whole-grain crackers, some cheese, apple or pear slices, a few raisins-- in short, things with some nutritious value, because you are trying to replace the nutrients they'd be getting at their picky-eating meals. Then, they have their snack box for the day and THAT'S IT. No more snack food. This way, you will know they're getting a good variety of healthy food and how much they're eating. Then, serve your usual meals (I like to make sure there are two kid-friendly things at the table for each meal) and let the kids figure it out. If they eat all their snack before lunch and aren't hungry,(this may happen at first) then hold their lunch plate back in the fridge and give that to them as their 'snack' later on. But stick with your program: ONE snack box a day and regular meals. Oh, and if you do chocolate milk, limit that to one serving a day, as kids will tend to tank up on chocolate milk and juice in lieu of food.

I think this sort of plan will get you out of the doghouse with your mom too.:)

Kids need to snack, but not at the expense of regularly missing meals. Knowing that you are providing a reasonable quantity of snack foods will be reassurance for yourself too. Kids can be wacky creatures sometimes and *will* snack themselves out of meals if we let them. My little boy spends most mornings saying "I'm hungry"...I've had to teach him there are *times* to eat, and times to wait for the meal.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I’ll likely be in the minority here =-) I don’t do it your way but I also don’t think you’re awful! Each family does what they feel is best for their children.

In my house I don’t lay down strict rules about when my kids can have snacks. I try choose my battles carefully! LOL!

As long as they are eating and healthy, I’m happy. If they have a snack and only half their dinner, that’s fine. My kids eat when they are hungry and they have a very positive attitude about food. I’ve never had to fight them to eat healthy and I cook all our meals. We sit down as a family for dinner almost every night whether they eat or not.

The only time I would choose to make a battle out of this is if my kids were asking for a lot of sweet treats as snacks, which they don’t. I wouldn’t punish my kids though by not giving them a meal.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

To each his own, I guess..but remember, all you can do is offer your kids appropriate portions for their ages (pretty small sizes), of healthy foods. Its up to them to eat it. Also, any person, no matter their age..remember your tummy is roughly the size of your fist...and if kids are really active, they are burning alot of calories..also to grow requires alot.

I do home childcare and we have USDA standards for meal service on the Food Program for serving sizes for different ages and meals and for them to well rounded (like a lunch or supper has to have a protein item which can simply be so many ounces of yogurt or real cheese, then 2 fruits and/or veggies, plus a grain item of bread or fluid milk..always fluid milk).

But for a 1-2 year old, those amounts are as follows for a lunch/supper:
Protein: 1 egg/1 oz cheese/2 oz cottage cheese or "cheese food/spread" or 1 oz of meat or poultry
Fruit/veggies:(2 or more)1/4 cup total of each one
Bread/bread alternative: 1/2 of a slice of bread or equiv
Fluid milk: 1/2 cup

For a 3-5 year old the amounts increase about 25% on average?

Anyways, my point is for you to see, a 2 year olds tummy is small. Offer way less. Get small cute plates. Offer healthy snacks as an extension of the meals (like a few grapes and some whole grain crackers...not a pile of fishy crackers, or a Popsicle or??). Occasional treats are fun.....we do that here too, but mostly food is fuel and we try to find stuff we enjoy!

Good luck!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

HI Terese,

Kids do get picky at these ages, don't they? :-) Check out "Child of Mine" by Ellyn Satter. It's a great book on kids and food, and how to feed them so they develop healthy eating habits, all without driving yourself nuts!

At two and four, your kids really do need three meals and two snacks each day. (Breakfast, lunch, dinner, morning and afternoon snacks) And yes, they may choose not to eat anything at a particular snack/meal time. No big deal. YOU pick WHEN the feeding times are, and WHAT to offer them to eat. THEY pick HOW MUCH of any given food you've offered they choose to eat.

Keep in mind, that a "snack" can (and really should) be leftovers, cheese & crackers, small PBJ with fruit, etc., basically another mini-meal, not just cookies or other "treats". In fact, a snack should really have a mix of carbs, protein and a fruit/veggie offering.

The trick is timing the snacks so that there is enough time between them and mealtimes to give your kids time enough to be hungry. If you're feeding them well-balanced snacks, it's really no big deal whether they choose to skip a meal. That's pretty common, actually. Your job is to offer a variety of yummy, healthy (and sometimes challenging) throughout the day.

Really, get the book. You'll feel so much better after you read it!

Best of luck!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

We don't let our kids have snacks if they don't eat their meals either.

Grandma's will always find something we Moms do to think we're being terrible to their precious grandkids. I remember when my daughter was around 1 yrs. old, my mom was over when it was my daughters bed time. I took my daughter to her room, put her in her crib and left the door cracked. My mom was heartbroken that I left her granddaughter in her room all by herself and felt so sorry for my daughter. I'm like, Mom! She's going to bed! She's not even crying! LOL

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Wrap up their dinner and offer it to them when they want something to eat later. My son (3) has had dinner at breakfast time on many occasions. He too is picky and doesn't "like-it." Hasn't tried it, but... We do require one adventure bite of everything on his plate, especially if he is saying he doesn't like it if he hasn't taken a bite (often this is of foods he has eaten numerous times in the past- their palates do change). In order to get his most beloved cereal in the morning, he has to eat at least half of his previous nights dinner when it is served up in the morning. This usually works. I also only offer healthy snacks and pair carbs with a protein so the sugar levels don't spike too badly.

Any sweet treats they get, they must eat their meal first and then it is something small.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Whether you give them a snack or not depends in large part on how long it is between meals (and whether or not your 4 year old is at preschool as well since that will usually work up a good apetite in my experience).
We would eat lunch by noon and dinner at 6pm, with a nap around the 1-3pm timeframe, so I would offer a small snack after naptime.

Ideas (some already stated by moms below):
1. Offer a very light snack such as a few grapes or slices of apple and some water or watered down juice - don't offer filling foods like crackers, milk, yogurt or even celery with peanut butter. A light snack should take the edge off and will digest quickly for the next meal
2. Whatever they didn't eat for lunch can be their snack.
3. Watch your serving sizes. There are two aspects to this - the amount you expect them to eat and the amount you put on the plate (the first serving). As moms we always seem to think our kids can eat more than they actually can. My ped says the most is usually carb and veggie servings as big as their fist, protein the size of their palm. Put less on their plate and let them get seconds. This works really well with my daughter - I think she feels she can manage a small portion, but is overwhelmed if I put more on her plate.
4. Don't allow after-dinner snacks. If dinner is the last meal of the day, and no snacking is possible before bedtime, then they will learn that they will be hungry if they don't eat their dinner. At two it is a bit of a stretch to expect full understanding of this, so you may need to be flexible and let her have some of what she didn't finish at dinnertime a bit later. But at 4, there she should most certainly comprehend and learn the consequences of not eating her meal. If she is hungry to bed one night, she likely won't repeat that.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Although I don't think your rule (or you!) is "awful" I do disagree.
I've never encouraged my son to be a card carrying member of the Clean Plate Club and I think we could all learn a thing or two from the eating behaviors of kids. They stop when they're full and they might not BE hungry at the stroke of 6.
BUT my son has never been remotely a "picky eater" so that's where our situations differ.
What do you consider a "snack" if they haven't had their dinner? Pudding? Cake? Pie? Then I agree with you--no snack.
But of they would like a yogurt before betime or some fruit or cheese and crackers, I'd have no issue with a healthy snack if they haven't eaten dinner. I could not in good conscience put my child to bed hungry so I would allow a healthy snack.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

My rule is the same as yours, with one exception, they can always have fresh fruit when ever they want.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Lafayette on

what we do at my house is we save the meal, and if they ask for a snack later, they get the same plate. the kids don't like this, but sometimes they will eat more. if its something my 2 yo has trouble eating i might give her a different snack, but rarely. she just normally doesn't eat much. good luck with whatever you do.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

Our pediatrician insists on snacks for our 2yo, and says that that should continue till he's at least 3. Their growing bodies cannot take in all the daily calories easily in the traditional "3 meals per day" that we do here in the US.

We do this schedule: breakfast, snack around 10 or 10:30, lunch, snack after nap, then wait 1.5 to 2 hours and have dinner. Sometimes, if he naps late, we skip the after-nap-snack and instead have a snack an hour or so after dinner.

We try to make the snacks "mini-meals": a good carb or a fruit/veggie and protein; example: yogurt with fruit, or string cheese and whole wheat crackers, banana and some soybeans.

5 or 6 small meals are day are actually healthy for you than 3 large ones, and their tummies just aren't big enough yet (esp. the 2yo's).

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

You are doing the right thing. Stick to your guns. You are the parent of these girls, you know them best.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Bellingham on

My little girl is picky too but I am trying to get her to eat new things and eat her dinner. I usually make her try one bite of something new and if she will not eat her dinner at all, I save it and that is her snack later. If she does not want it then she does not eat. If it is night time I try to give her a piece of fruit so she does not go to bed hungary.



answers from Columbus on

I do it. You're not awful :)

The only way I can get my kids to eat is to limit snacks. If they don't eat, no snack. If I know they didn't eat well and will be hungry later I'll keep their plate out for them to eat when they do get hungry, then they can have a snack.


answers from Columbus on

That's the rule at my house now, and that was the rule in my house growing up, too :)



answers from Portland on

It depends on what time you serve lunch and dinner. 6 - 7 hours is a long time between meals, especially if they've been playing and burning calories. I give my boys a healthy snack around 4:30 - 5pm. Cuts the huge hunger pangs but keeps them hungry for dinner. (Cheese stick, celery w/ peanut butter, any fruit or veggie, etc.) If they say no to these and beg for chips then they get nothing until dinner since I know they aren't really hungry and just have the "munchies".



answers from Medford on

I constantly have to remind my daughter that not all food comes in nugget form!! My 5 year old goes through phases where all she will eat are snacks and doesn't want to eat meals. I try to enforce the idea that she will eat what the family is eating if she's not given another option, but my mom will make her a different meal at her house if she says she doesn't want what we are eating. I try to discourage that, but it's hard because my mom was raised to believe that every child has to eat dinner every night. There has been a few times when my daughter refused to eat what we were having for dinner and she had had a snack, so I let her skip dinner. As long as the snacks are healthy and don't require any additional prep on my part, I'll occasionally allow my daughter to eat a series of snacks instead of a traditional meal. It usually only lasts about a week and then she's eating with the family again. We always have a selection of snacks like low fat string cheese, baby carrots, raisins, dried cranberries, apples, yogurt, deli meat, hummus, whole grain crackers, etc. Our pediatrician also told us to not obsess so much on getting a certain number of servings of different food groups in one day. Think of it more over the course of a week. I find that if I can get my daughter to eat a decent number of fruits and veggies during the week, one occasional weekend day of eating ramen noodles and goldfish crackers isn't that bad.



answers from Cincinnati on

I give my son smaller meals. he eats a lot at breakfast than two small midday meals instead of lunch and a snack, but lately he as been eating alot of goldfish crackers because they seems to help the pain from his molars coming through



answers from Seattle on

I think snacks are important, but they need to be small, timed right and of quality. You have lots of good suggestions from other parents. My daughter is very much the same as yours, but mine seems to stem from pickiness and control versus actual hunger.

I know your question wasn't about them not eating, more about the snack, but My daughter won't eat dinner because it isn't what she wants 95% of the time, whether or not she has had a snack. She is 4 now and with her, I have decided to still give her the snack but if she refuses to eat her dinner I tell her there will be no more food for the rest of the evening, however, I will save your dinner if you decide you are hungry. She will always tell me she is full, but 5 mins after dinner is over she wants a treat or snack. I tell her, if she is hungry enough for a snack or treat, then she is hungry enough for her dinner. Of course there is a lot of drama over this pretty much every night, but I don't think it is mean or unreasonable for me to re-offer her the dinner she didn't eat.
Her pediatrician gave me some advice that if they don't like what they are eating, too take 1 or 2 bites of everything and then they can go make themselves a bowl of cherrios or a peanut butter sandwich (something they can do on their own that you don't have to assist). This of course would be for your older child. But what ever is the the "go to" item must always be the same - with the thought that eventually they will get bored with that and eat with the family. I haven't taken this road yet, but I might try it out.
So this might not be your case at all and without a snack they eat completely fine. If so, I would say limit the snack.



answers from San Francisco on

Sounds fine, they won't starve. If they're hungry, they'll eat their meal.


answers from Houston on

I second another mom that said snaclks are reserved for special occasions or for when a meal is eaten EXCEPT for fruit and veggies, the "rule" is they can have as many of those as they want, even if that means their dinner is smaller.

I have to keep strawberries, bananas, cherries grapes tomatoes and cucumbers on hand all the time, but its worth it

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