Structured Eating Versus Grazing

Your goals (during toddlerhood and the preschool years) are to preserve food regulation, expose your child to a variety of foods, and keep mealtime positive. These five must-have feeding practices not only help you achieve these goals but also make life easier now and in the years to come.

Let’s peek into two different houses and the meal structure each one has (or hasn’t).

In the Grazing House, there is no structure or plan—the kids are able to go to the kitchen cabinet and grab crackers or goldfish whenever they want. They snack in the car, while watching TV, and in the grocery store. The main meals happen, but the kids eat too little or too much because they are either not hungry or starving. In the Structured House, there is a rhythm to meals and snacks—and between meals the kitchen is closed. These kids understand when meals happen, request food less often, only eat in the car or in front of the tube occasionally, and gather at the kitchen table for most meals. The parents make sure that eating times are not too close together, or adjust the size and type of each snack so the kids have a good appetite for meals.

These are the years to establish the habit of structured eating with your child. You want your child, similar to kids in the Structured House, to learn that meals are reliable and that hunger is the reason to eat. It’s important to be flexible, not rigid. For instance, if there’s less time than usual between meals, then single snack items like fruit or a cheese stick might be fine. If there is greater time between meals than usual, go for the hearty snack of cheese, whole grain crackers, and fruit.

Having structure doesn’t just help children manage hunger and build an appetite for meals—it helps you prioritize food requests. You can let your child know that the food she wants now will be coming at a future meal or snack. You will be amazed at how much better this works than saying “no”!

A Word on Snacks

Snacks help fill in the nutritional gaps that occur at mealtimes. Does your child skip fruit in the morning? Offer some again at the midmorning snack. Maybe your child didn’t eat her turkey at lunch. Serve another protein source like peanut butter with apple slices for her afternoon snack. Although it’s smart to keep sugar intake as low as you can, sweetened, nutrient-dense foods, such as cereals and flavored yogurts and milk, can improve a child’s overall nutrition. If your child already accepts plain yogurt and milk, keep serving it to her, and boost nutrition with a side of fruit. If she doesn’t like it, try adding your own sweetener, like honey, or look for products that offer the least amount of sugar for the most taste.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Fearless Feeding by Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen  Copyright © 2013 by Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen

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2 Responses to Structured Eating Versus Grazing

  1. Avatar
    bulimia free June 5, 2015 at 5:25 am #

    thanks for making this article. it is very helpful and a lot of learning

  2. Avatar
    Yosepha August 13, 2015 at 7:14 am #

    Don’t think I’ve commented here beofre, but I had to this time – my Korean husband buys a box of Choco Pie and those Oh Yes! cakes every.single.time we go to the store – I laughed when I saw your husband has both in his lunch too. Boys!

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