Archive for September, 2008

Timing of Meals and Snacks

Timing of Meals and Snacks


Now that my son is in school, I have had to adjust our dinner time to one hour later.  By the time he gets home from school and has a snack, a few hours need to pass before he is hungry for dinner.  What happens when kids are brought to the table when they are not hungry? Manners go right out the window, goofing around occurs and parents or caregivers find themselves negotiating with kids with the “one bite rule” or find themselves saying things like, “You have to eat something or you won’t get dessert.”  Another one of my favorites is resorting to spoon feeding your child who is more than capable of feeding themselves. Sound familiar? 


That has reminded me of the importance of the timing of meals and snacks. I know that kids need to be offered food every 2 to 3 hours.  Kids burn a lot of calories in a day moving, playing and learning, and typically don’t eat a lot at one time.  They need to know that food will be there at regular times to fill their hungry stomachs.  However, if we let them graze on food and drinks all day long or right before a planned meal, they will refuse to eat the nice meal you have prepared. 


Our weekday meal and snack schedule:


8 am – breakfast


10 am – snack (at school)


12 pm – lunch (at school)


2 pm – snack (at school)


4 pm – snack (at home)


6 pm – family dinner


Weekend schedules and your schedule might differ but the general timings (every 2 to 3 hours) and frequency (3 meals and 3 snacks) should be the same.  What if your child asks for something in between these times?  Offer water only and remind your child of when the next meal or snack will be.  Plan your meal schedule and stick to it.  This simple task will go a long way towards making life easier for you and creating positive eating habits for your kids!


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Simple School Lunches

Since school started, I have been a regular volunteer in the school cafeteria for the kindergarten and first grade lunch time.  I have to admit that my main motivation for being there is to make sure my son eats something!  After all, I pack a variety of healthy foods for him to choose from.  We are talking about a couple options from each food group strategically stuffed into an insulated lunch bag.  How could he or I go wrong? 

On the first day, when I arrive in the cafeteria at lunch time, I have in my pockets; small scissors to cut open yogurt tubes, a bunch of straws for various drink containers, napkins to wipe up spills and a few tissues and comforting words to help dry wet eyes.  I view the food spreads that the lunch packing kids have open in front of them – that is if they can figure out how their lunch bags open.  My next observation is how many different storage containers there actually are in the world!  This includes the storage devices for yogurt tubes, string cheese, warm soup, chicken nuggets and applesauce cups – just to name a few.  I then take notice of the food choices that parents have made for their kids somewhat similar to my packing thoughts.  Send a lot of different things and let the kids choose what to eat.  Then the marathon begins. 

I will say that the teachers have a tried and true system to train these kids on how to survive lunch time (as I am sure they do for the rest of the day). Kids are to open their drinks first – that way they can quench their thirst and begin to quiet their rumbling bellies, insert the straw, find their spoon, fork and napkin, and then begin to eat.  The problem then becomes where to start.  A lot of kids seem to be overwhelmed by all the choices us conscientious parents have offered them and end up eating very little for lack of time and decision making skills.  My advice, both as a dietitian, a mom and a newly trained cafeteria volunteer; offer your kids a simple lunch.  As always, base it on the food pyramid.  Include no more than three choices from the following:

     · A whole grain – bread, crackers, tortilla, brown rice

     · A protein – in the form of peanut butter, beans, lunch meat, cheese, or nuts and seeds

     · A fruit – apple slices, a peeled or sliced orange, raisins, berries, grapes, a banana, or cubed melon


     · A vegetable – raw vegetable sticks, cherry tomatoes, vegetable juice,

     · Milk or water, or 100% juice to drink

Make it foods that are your child’s favorites.  School lunch is not the time to get your child to try new foods.  It is ok if your child wants peanut butter and jelly every day.  Give it to them!  Change the bread you serve it on or change other sides that you offer. Also remember, to pack in containers that your child can open easily!  With the short amount of time they have to eat, and the highly charged atmosphere, the goal is for your child to simply sit and eat. 




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As a registered, licensed dietitian, I used to counsel moms about how to eat right and feed their kids well…and then I had one! While what I taught these moms was correct, I did not realize before I had my son that every child is different and that these differences must be considered in order to offer helpful advice. Research has shown and experts agree that there are six key behaviors that, if we teach our kids, will help them grow up healthy and fit.


The six key behaviors are:

1. Keep kids moving! Encourage kids to be active for at least 60 minutes every day.

2. Show kids how to be active! Teach kids how to jump, kick, throw and catch in order for them to want to try sports and be physically active later in life.

3. Keep control of screen time! Limit TV, video game and computer time to less than 2 hours a day.

4. Make your best offer! Give infants and children healthy, kid-friendly food. Make the choice to breastfeed and support breastfeeding moms!

5. Let kids decide how much! Offer kid-sized portions of food that fill their growing body’s needs. Let kids decide how much to eat from what you are offering. 

6. Make every bite count! Help kids choose for themselves, healthy food and beverages.


My son, who is now 5 years old and ready to start kindergarten, did not come into the world loving his veggies! I also have battles with him over how much television he can watch and some days I have to chase him out of the house to get him moving. I have also heard stories from other moms whose kids present different challenges. Some kids only eat fruit, some only eat white food and some won’t eat if a food touches another food on their plate! Other kids live in neighborhoods where they cannot play safely outside. And possibly of biggest concern to the obesity problem in our country is that some families feel like they are too busy to prepare meals and end up eating out too often. 


All these differences and many more can be addressed within the six key behaviors. Here are some examples of how I use the key behaviors with my family:

· I always offer fruit and vegetables at every meal because if I don’t, we won’t hit the 5 to 9 recommended servings a day mark. I also know that repeat exposure to new food is the tried and true way to get my son to try the food and eventually like the food! 

· I set limits on how many TV shows my son can watch a day and he decides when he wants to watch them. And, no TV at meal times! This is the time I know I can ask my “mom” questions.

· We stay active by taking walks and riding bikes. I take him to a park where I know it is safe to play. Sometimes you may even see me going down-hill, too fast (for my taste), on a two-wheeled scooter.

· I make dinner every night, often in 30 minutes or less, using fresh, whole food. I like the challenge of buying different vegetables from my local farmer’s market and preparing them in a way that my family will try, and like!

· At a meal, my son chooses to eat what he is interested in based on the food I have offered. No short-order cooking in my house! However, I always have a food I know he will eat on the table, like bread or applesauce.


These are just a few ideas. Remember, keeping your kids growing well is about offering good things and being consistent. Set limits and rules, make your best offer, and avoid power struggles by letting kids begin to make choices for themselves. I now know that raising a healthy family is a tough job and one that presents new challenges daily! I am here to offer you insight into the world of raising healthy kids, nutrition, cooking quick and easy meals, and fascinating food facts, as simply as possible. Stay tuned!





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