To snack or
not to snack

We often find ourselves frustrated because our children “won’t sit” at the table to have a meal. We spend so much time planning our meals, going to the grocery store, picking the right choices for our families, preparing meals, and setting the table, so that we can have our children sit, take two bites and say “done!”. They then ask for a snack precisely 10 minutes after. Grrrrr.
When we find our children are going through a cycle of refusing meals and asking for snacks, we might feel tempted to either eliminate snacks or get into a punishment/reward situation (if you eat your food, you can have a snack or treat). I don’t find these options helpful because we try to hide, convince, bribe while getting more resistance from our children. By delaying, hiding, or using “snacks” and “treats” to get our kids to eat the “healthy” food, we are unintentionally giving value to some food over others. When we say you need to eat your vegetables if you want to have that chocolate, we are unintentionally saying: you have to eat this yucky (broccoli) food to get the good stuff (chocolate). We missed an opportunity for our children to engage with the broccoli, which they might or might not have enjoyed, but ultimately, we ranked the food in the exact opposite order than we intended.

When parents say: “I want my child to eat healthily,” I question what is “healthy.” Its’ meaning is continually changing by culture, time and guided by the billion-dollar diet industry. “Healthy” is not a precise term under which we want to attach our parenting anxieties over feeding our children. I am more into exploring food relationships. There don’t get value by external labels of good or bad and are more centered on internal guides of what feels right for each person and is conscious of each family’s unique position. I believe all parents want their children to have a good relationship with food and their bodies. To have a real conversation about food relationships, we must consider the following: accessibility, values, responsibilities, and boundaries.

Accessibility: We must acknowledge that accessibility to fresh, high-quality foods is a privilege. Although access to these foods should be a right in itself, it is not; it’s called food injustice. Honoring this truth is essential for having an honest conversation about privilege and food being one of the elements of social injustice that positions some families with the possibility to buy fresh produce while others not.

Values: Giving some thought to what the family values are around food can help clarify your goals. An example of this might be respect, wellbeing, or peace. Exposure to the conflicting messages from the dieting industries can make those values blurry. Still, we must stay true to what is important to us and challenge society’s obsession with thinness to trust that thin does not equal “healthy.”

Responsibility: Your responsibility as a parent is to provide your children nourishing food, honoring your accessibility, culture, and personal preferences; it is also your responsibility to decide: when and how you will offer those foods. Our child’s responsibility is to eat when they are hungry and to determine when they are full.

Boundaries: boundaries can be challenging to apply because they bring up feelings for our children. Our ability to hold them will follow if we are clear with ourselves and our children about accessibility, values, and responsibility.

We can start setting boundaries by organizing a schedule:

  • Three main meals, B/L/D, and two or three snacks in between meals
  • We offer every meal at a table; no food is allowed to leave the table.
  • We let our children know that we won’t be offering other food until the next meal. We don’t ask them to take another bite.
  • I like to refrain from calling some foods “treats.” When we categorize foods as “special,” we are reinforcing the pattern of preference. Food can be referred to by their names instead: Chicken, Green beans, Chocolate bar, potato chips. Try serving dessert together with your main meals to lower the anxiety.

When we, the parents, are clear about our access, values, and responsibilities, we can hold our boundaries with more confidence and empathy. No matter how young, children are born with a natural regulating mechanism of hunger and satiety that we need to honor by respecting what and how much they choose to eat. When we lose sight of this, and we bribe, punish, force, ask them to take “just one more bite,” we are doing three things:

  1. we are letting our children know that we don’t trust them to understand and listen to their bodies
  2. food is not something that deserves their full attention.
  3. we are setting ourselves to continue feeding the cycle of all-day snacking and not sitting for mealtimes

Our parenting is more comfortable when we trust ourselves to make the right choices and trust our children will do the same.