My two-year-old knows where I keep the snacks. In fact, he regularly pulls a step stool into the pantry and points to a bag of veggie chips or Annie’s Bunny Fruit Snacks. He sucks down yogurt packs at least four times a day and forgoes scrambled eggs and chicken nuggets in favor of salami sticks and pretzels. Yup, snacks are the glue that keeps our day together—my solution to 6:45 a.m. breakfasts when I’m too tired to even start a K-Cup, the in-car sustenance between errands and the pre-bedtime comfort food that gets everyone into their jammies.
When I look back at it, I realize I gave in to snacking because, most days, my attempts to serve a balanced meal proved to be too much effort. I’d make oatmeal and he would take one bite and run off. Even fixing a bowl of cereal was tiresome: He’d fish out the Os, arrange them on the table and leave me with a mushy mess. No wonder snacking spilled into dinner—at which point I didn’t have the energy to care, as long as he nibbled on something.
But ultimately, snacking started to unravel our day. My once adventurous eater became picky about what was on his plate. His mood dipped and he wouldn’t sit during dinner. His behavior even rubbed off on me, as I started prowling the pantry for snacks, irritated and hungry as afternoon approached.
We needed an intervention and we needed one stat. Which is why I vowed to go one week with mandatory sit-down breakfast, lunch and dinner and no impromptu snacking throughout the day. The rules:
First, I placed all the pantry snacks into a brown takeout bag and banished yogurt packs and salami sticks to the back of the fridge—no temptation! Then, I made a schedule: breakfast at 8:30 a.m., pre-nap lunch at 11:45 p.m., post-nap snack at 3:45 p.m., and dinner at 6 p.m. The only thing we’d take on our outings was a sippy cup of water or milk. No exceptions.
Here’s what happened.
There were fewer tantrums than expected.
My fear of meltdowns drove the snacking routine. I thought, “If I give him a salami stick before story time and a fruit pack after story time, I’ll be able to squeeze in a grocery trip.” To my surprise, we had no hunger-induced tantrums in the car. When he asked for pretzels, I said “later” and distracted him with The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.
However, there were a few refrigerator stand-offs. He’d be screaming and pulling at the doors, demanding yogurt packs, and I’d stand silent like the Mountain. Eventually, we’d negotiate a milk (sometimes with a splash of chocolate syrup). Still, dinner was a success: He ate chicken and broccoli, followed by a green tea mochi. This experiment showed that my toddler isn’t exactly a picky eater (by Saturday, he was scarfing down soup with shiitake mushrooms and pork dumplings), he’s just stubborn.
My car was way cleaner.
The “no snacks in the car” rule had a pleasant side-effect—a cleaner car! I had vacuumed up old popcorn and dislodged a suspect-looking salami stick from the back seat at the beginning of the week—and by the end, the only things littering his chariot were crayons and Legos.
I finally ate a decent breakfast and lunch.
Dinner is pretty much the only constant in our family. Breakfast and lunch, on the other hand, are a different story. Since becoming a mom, I’ve resorted to grabbing drinkable yogurts and granola bars (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, huh?). And by late afternoon, I’d be staring at the pantry, stealing some pistachios here, some chocolate squares there. My son’s sitting down to breakfast meant I was sitting down to breakfast, and this seriously changed my mood, and left me less prone to unhealthy noshing later in the day.
Our pace slowed.
These days, stay-at-home moms rarely stay at home, and part of me thinks I traded sit-down meals for snacks just so I wouldn’t miss Pilates or story time. Designating meal times, with plenty of wiggle room, made me less crazed overall. We decided that 8:30 a.m. and 11:45 p.m. were reasonable breakfast and lunch times and worked our schedule to fit around these time frames. Likewise, the official 3:45 p.m. snack and 6 p.m. dinner meant our afternoons and evenings were accounted for. We still did plenty of activities, minus rushing out the door like crazy people. Planning = peace of mind.
The kid did sit down and eat his dinner (and didn't ask for a snack 20 minutes later).
I wasn’t expecting the experiment to turn my son into a mini-gourmand. But with the exception of the first day when he insisted on eating his dinner under the table like a puppy, he really did put a solid ten minutes into every meal. He still might not eat what I’d call a well-rounded dinner—on taco night, for instance, he picked out all the chicken from his taco, loaded up on chips and stole half of my horchata—but he didn’t run to the pantry when we got home.
The takeaway from my little experiment? It is possible to have a sit-down meal with your toddler—he might even like it.