Do you ever feel like your toddler is eating ALL DAY long but never actually eating that much? Do they constantly beg for snacks? OR maybe they ask for snacks then refuse what you’ve offered? This is SO frustrating!
The problem with snacking all day long is that food regulation becomes difficult. Your toddler will most likely eat just enough to SUPPRESS their HUNGER but they never really get the opportunity to work up an appetite to eat. There is then very LITTLE INTEREST or motivation to experiment with more challenging or new foods.
Toddler’s that tend to graze over the day typically get used to eating more ‘snack’ type foods. Think pre-packaged snacks, quick easy options like yoghurt pouches, corn puffs, popcorn, crackers and biscuits. Whilst there is nothing wrong with offering these foods it may limit their exposure to foods with more challenging textures, smells or tastes which we know in the long run reduces fussy eating.
Creating a feeding schedule for your toddler is one of the MOST EFFECTIVE ways to minimise constant snacking or grazing type behaviour. It is also critical in OPTIMISING APPETITE. When they are hungry they will be much more likely to entertain the idea of trying NEW FOODS.
What is a Feeding Schedule, and Why Does it Matter?
Put simply, a FEEDING SCHEDULE involves providing three PLANNED meals and two snacks at regular intervals throughout the day. YOU decide the times that these are provided. The aim is to create where possible, a 2-3 HOUR GAP between each meal and snack. Ideally, only water or breast milk would be offered outside these times.
Although it might sound like a rigid routine it is in fact the opposite! You can create your own schedule based on your toddler’s needs including their sleeping patterns as well as your family’s routine.
Implementing a feeding schedule is recommended from 12 months old.
5 reasons why a feeding schedule is ESSENTIAL!
- Toddlers need regular opportunities to eat throughout the day as their energy needs are high and their stomachs are small.
Including snacks between main meals (which are in fact like mini meals) gives us 5- 6 opportunities to offer a RANGE OF NUTRITIOUS FOODS from all the food groups across the day.
- A feeding schedule provides structure and predictability for your toddler and they will feel more secure when things are CONSISTANT. Toddlers learn from repetition and consistency so this creates the perfect LEARNING OPPORTUNITY (remember they are still learning how to eat!)
- The structure of your routine will support and reassure them. Managing the timings of meals and snacks will also help to ensure your toddler is CALM, clear-headed, hungry but not starving and ultimately IN THE ZONE for eating.
- Leaving a gap of roughly 2 -3 hours between each meal and snack helps your toddler to arrive at the meal feeling hungry and ready to eat. This is critical in developing their ability to listen to HUNGER and FULLNESS cues (a life long skill!). This is a foundational skill in developing a positive relationship with food and eating.
- Arriving at a meal or snack with some hunger on-board will increase the chances of your toddler taking an interest in and even experimenting with any NEW FOODS presented to them! Woohoo!
How to create a Feeding Schedule
There are a few things to consider before implementing a feeding schedule.
Think about your toddler’s current routine. What time do they usually wake? Go to bed? How many naps are they taking and what times are these? If you are breastfeeding how many feeds are they having?
Then consider your family’s routine. What times are other family members going to or coming home from work? Are meal and snacks eaten with others? How do your day care days play out? These are all important to consider when creating a feeding schedule that will work for your toddler and family.
Finally, plan out some rough times you think your meals and snacks will be best suited to allow for a 2-3 hour gap in-between. You are all set! Give it a go, see what does and does not work and troubleshoot from there!