Demystifying Snacks and Meals

Every parent and caregiver in the world is always searching for that snack that’s economical, delicious, nutritious, and child appropriate. It seems only a fraction of those qualities are ever available with any snacks we manage to find. Just when it seems we have found something, the children grow tired of it or decide they never liked it at all, and into the trash, it goes when the lunchboxes return home each day.

Parenting books and blogs, even pediatricians, will stress the importance of well-rounded, wholesome snacks and meals as if children would ever actually just eat what we give them. Seasoned parents know, sometimes we have to let go of things and just give them something to eat. The one time we acquiesce to the processed crackers, it will be the only thing they want for months and weeks after, and no whole-food knock-offs will do for substitution.

It can be said that there is no development without nutrition, children cannot learn if they did not eat. A more realistic look at the way young children eat will help parents who are stressed about about their children who seemingly don’t like anything.

When it comes to toddlers and young preschoolers, take the long game. Look at the diet over the course of a week, rather than over the course of one day or even one meal. There are days where toddlers and preschoolers are only going to eat one thing, and it probably won’t be the most nutritious food available. So, yes, for one day they may not have eaten good fats or hearty protein, but they will. Maybe tomorrow or later in the week they will pick up a banana! It’s okay. They’re still getting food, their still getting nutrients, they’re just exercising their evolutionary skills. Toddlers who stayed with “safe” foods back in the cavemen era lived to breed and survive. Picky kids are the descendants of those pre-civilization kids who did not diversify their tastes, and lived!

Portions are such a minefield. What it says on the package can seem either like a too-large or too-small amount, but those portion sizes do not take into account the widely varying sizes of children! Many parenting experts advise the one year, one tablespoon portioning method. A child of two needs two tablespoons of pasta, with two tablespoons of avocado, and two tablespoons of yogurt. Once they’ve eaten, they can always get more, but putting uneaten food back isn’t always possible.

When multiple textures come into play, some young children are put off by textures and flavors combining together and will reject foods like sandwiches because of these factors. A sandwich doesn’t need to be served in sandwich format, though! Putting a slice of cheese, some deli meat, bread, and tomatoes or cucumbers on a plate allows children to take it one texture at a time. They get the same food, they just need to process it differently.

There will be days when preschool parents will open lunchboxes late at night to see the carnage wrought upon the lovely foods they sent to school that day, and other days when the lunchbox comes back clean and empty, and the kids run into the house looking for even more to eat. This is all within the realm of normal. Relax, parents. Don’t cater to fickle tastes, but do offer your child whatever everyone else is eating. If kids are hungry, they will eat. Sending them to preschool, nursery school, camp or pre-kindergarten programs will encourage more diverse eating in many children, once they see what their peers are eating and enjoying!  Family style seating that allows for social opportunities can be just the thing for kids to finally believe that trying new foods usually won’t harm them. So, expose them to new foods, offer them tastes, and model great mealtime behavior. With some patience, the table behavior is bound to improve, and parents can breathe a little easier when that picky eater finally matures.

This article is part of a young child health and wellness series posted for the benefit of parents by Prime Time Early Learning Centers.  Prime Time is a family owned child care company that provides Infant Care, After Care, PreK, Prekindergarten, and Summer Camp programs for children from six weeks to 10 years of age in Paramus, Edgewater, Hoboken and East Rutherford New Jersey, and in Middletown (Wallkill) and Farmingdale (Babylon) New York.  See what parents have to say about their experience with Prime Time Early Learning Centers on Google and Yelp!

Prime Time serves families in zip codes: 10940, 12589, 07652,07653, 07630, 07649, 07450, 07451, 07020, 07024, 07010, 07047, 07030, 07086, 07307, 07302, 07310, 07306, 07071, 07073, 07094, 07072, 07074, 07094, 07070, 07071, 11735, 11737, 11704, 11703, 11747.