As kids get used to eating on a schedule, you can offer choices, Davenport said, like “would you like peanut butter and apples or cookies and milk?” Don’t stress if they pick the same snack every day. It’s normal for kids to go through phases of intensely loving certain foods; they will habituate and be ready to try something new in a few weeks. “Parents put so much pressure on themselves to serve something different for every single meal, and you just don’t have to do that,” Davenport said.
Make snacks a sit-down affair
The easiest way to make a snack schedule stick is to have clear ground rules around where snacks get eaten. This is the mistake I made when handing off that 9 a.m. cookie bar, which Beatrix would then eat as she danced around our house to the “Moana” soundtrack. It can also be a problem if kids are eating most meals or snacks in front of screens, because distraction makes it difficult for kids to tell when they’re getting full.
To correct our morning snack-athon, McNamee suggested moving Beatrix to two morning snacks at first, but making them both sit-down affairs. “You can change up the location; have one at the table, and one on a blanket on the floor of the living room,” she said. “But if she’s sitting and having a substantial mini-meal, she’ll feel more satisfied.” Then when she’s ready to leave the table, I can emphasize that we’re now done eating until our next meal.
McNamee also noted that kids tend to focus on eating better when an adult joins them. This may be unwelcome advice if you’re juggling your own work with remote learning or a general lack of child care right now. But if you can set aside small breaks in everyone’s Zoom schedules to sit together for snacks and lunch, you may find this eases your snacking stress and improves everyone’s moods. If you know that’s not an option, consider packing lunches or snacks ahead of time, so kids can help themselves. Or, for older children, have a designated drawer in the fridge and shelf on the pantry that they can reach for snacks.
“Then you can say, ‘grab yourself a yogurt and some Cheez-its and find a place to sit and have your snack,’” Davenport said. “This way, you’re still providing structure but giving them more responsibility. We’re all juggling so many roles right now — it makes sense to give kids a little more autonomy around food than you might otherwise.”
Virginia Sole-Smith is the author of The Eating Instinct: Food Culture, Body Image and Guilt in America, and co-host of the Comfort Food Podcast.