How strict are you when it comes to meal time?

United States
August 7, 2008 11:59am CST
Lately, my son's appetite has been pretty sporadic. Some days he wants to eat everything in sight, other days he hardly touches food. I know that's pretty common, but because of that, I'll let him snack pretty often, and lots of times I'll let him carry his snack around while he plays. I worry that I am developing a habit that will be hard to break, and that eventually he'll refuse to sit at the table at all. Dinner is the one exception- he always sits at the table with us, whether he eats or not. But then I'll give him snacks again after dinner if he didn't eat much. For now I know this is fine, but when he starts preschool (still 2 years away) it may be a problem if he is used to eating whenever he wants. Should I be more rigid and try to get him to eat only at the table and at scheduled times? Or is that an easy transition to make when he starts school. He is almost 2 years old, and generally is a good eater.
5 people like this
20 responses
@ravinskye (8242)
• United States
7 Aug 08
If it were me I would cut out the snacks. He probably is not eating supper because he knows you will give him snacks later. My daughter is 3 and she tries that. She will not eat her supper then try to get me to give her snacks later. If you cut out the snacks he'll probably start eating his meals more. If he's snacking all day long then he probably would eat his meals once you cut it out. I would get him on a schedule of eating when you guys eat your meals. True he is a few years from starting school, but the longer he is allowed to go how he is now, the harder it will be to change it later.
1 person likes this
• United States
7 Aug 08
He does well at dinner most nights. It's breakfast most often that he doesn't want to eat. Then he looks for snacks before lunch. But sometimes he doesn't. Today he didn't touch breakfast, but didn't ask for snacks and didn't seem very hungry at lunch. I think some days he's just not that hungry. I think I will limit snacks when he doesn't eat at meal time, and make him come to the table when he has a snack.
1 person likes this
@dopey22girl (3324)
• United States
7 Aug 08
I'm not a parent but I do take care of children so hopefully I can be of some help. I would suggest really limiting the snacks...and then he will eat more at dinner time and other meals. But don't let him carry around food while he plays. If he starts crying for snack I know it's hard but you need to stay tough, and in the end it will pay off.
1 person likes this
• United States
7 Aug 08
He does well at dinner- it's breakfast when he usually doesn't want to sit and eat. I think when he wants a snack, instead of telling him no, I should have him stop playing and come to the table to eat.
1 person likes this
@markrobb (76)
• United States
7 Aug 08
Here's my opinion, snacks should only be allowed when regular meals are being eaten. Participation at regular meals should be mandatory, eating however should not. But if you don't eat there will be nothing later on. If you do eat, healthy snacks will be available later on. You'll want to make sure that the regular meals are not only healthy, but delicious. Don't be afraid to offer what you know your child likes more often than other things, the key is nutrition. As a child I was a very finicky eater, but my mother held to the above guidelines, and eventually my hunger won out and I started eating foods that previously I didn't like knowing that if I didn't eat there would be no food later on. Going to sleep on an empty stomach is no fun, but thankfully, I learned quick and adapted my eating habits. My mother tells me by the time I was ready for school. I would eat nearly any food offered except raw onions and nuts. The bottom line, you're the parent you get to make the decisions. It really doesn't matter what anybody else thinks as long as your child is safe and healthy.
1 person likes this
• United States
7 Aug 08
It's not that he's a picky eater- he eats most things I give him. That is why I am flexible- I know what he doesn't like it, and don't make him eat it. We always sit down for dinner together. I do offer healthy snacks. Sometimes he is not interested in eating breakfast, and I don't make him sit at the table. Then I do allow a snack before lunch, though. I think maybe I should be more firm and have him only eat at the table, at regular meal and snack times.
1 person likes this
• United States
7 Aug 08
when i was young it was you eat what was made for you or else you didnt get anything else for the rest of the day you had to eat was on you plate or else. you would get a spanking. and thats how i make it for my kids you eat what you get and that final
1 person likes this
• United States
7 Aug 08
Thanks for the response, but that's not really my style. I like to remain flexible, which I think is not only good for children, but necessary.
1 person likes this
@Ithink (10501)
• United States
8 Aug 08
I think since he is so young you do need to be flexible. Kids go through the growth spurts and then the not eating. Tessa is 19 months old and is also not a picky eater but she has gone thru the not wanting to eat at certain times she does sit with us for breakfast, lunch and supper. If she doesnt eat well thou I give healthy snacks too ( she loves breakfast bars). I have found with all 8 that they go thru these stages. Good luck!
• United States
8 Aug 08
Thank you. Flexibility is important, especially at this age. He does get healthy snacks- fruits, veggies, cheese. He just wants more on some days, and other days he hardly eats anything. I know this is common with toddlers, I just worry I'm developing a habit that will be hard to break, with letting him carry snacks around.
@Ithink (10501)
• United States
8 Aug 08
I wouldnt worry to much about breaking the habit, I have never had that problem. I think as long as he is sat at the table for regular meals all will work out.
@deebomb (15322)
• United States
7 Aug 08
Maybe your son won't eat breakfast because his stomach is still full from the snack he had before bed time. The stomach really doesn't work very much when your laying down and sleeping. If you feel he should have a snack before bed it should be fruit because it is easier to digest. Kids develop their eating habit at a very young age. If it were me I would have have him setting at the table to snack and if he doesn't want to set there to eat then you know he's not really hungry. I also wouldn't allow him to play at the table while eating. Kids learn the good and bad habits that they will learn in the first 5 years of their lives.
• United States
8 Aug 08
Actually, fruit is his snack of choice most often. He usually doesn't eat close to bed time, except occasionally he has some milk. Most of the time he does well with dinner. I think I will start having him take his snacks at the table.
@deebomb (15322)
• United States
8 Aug 08
You will save yourself a lot of grief down the road if you do.
@Uroborus (910)
• Canada
7 Aug 08
I'm fairly strict about it, without being too unreasonable. My kids have to come to the table at around the same time each evening. If they finish early and want to leave, that's ok, as long as they don't ask for more food a little while later. They used to not eat, or eat very little because they knew that they would have a bed-time snack, which they would choose, and they always chose something less healthy than the meal we had. So, now , if they don't finish they dinner, they are told..."that's it for food for the night". This isn't as strict as it sounds, since they go to bed not too long after we have dinner. So, if they are very hungry before bed, its because they are skiping dinner, or eating less than they should. After a few months, it started to work. They now eat a reasonable dinner, and if they want a small snack before bed, we allow that. We also don't insist that they "finish everything on their plate'. Just a reasonable amount.
@Essie119 (673)
• Canada
7 Aug 08
I'm glad to hear that there are other people who don't insist on the kids cleaning their plates. Training kids to eat when they are not hungry is part of the problem of obesity in the world today.
• United States
8 Aug 08
At dinner he does come to the table and most of the time he eats well. It's more breakfast and lunch that he doesn't want to stop playing long enough to come to the table, so I let him carry it with him, like a small bowl of green beans or a cheese stick. The snacks are healthy, things I would have served at a meal if he would sit. I agree that forcing children to clear their plates when they are not hungry contributes to obesity.
@michelled (326)
• United States
7 Aug 08
WELL i am not going to point fingers at you because my son is four and you know what i do the same thing, My daughter she was a good eater she would always sit at the table and eat dinner, But him i worry he is starving so i give him the snacks. I know what i am doing is wrong, very wrong , and i wish i could tell you it is a easy habit to break, but it's not i am trying really hard to break it now. He is so use to me giveing him the snacks , that he waits for me to give in and give it to him , so he don't eat . My doctor said , put you worries a side , stop the mentallity of thinking he is starving, some of it is in the parents head. Put him on a scheduled eating times {thats what i am doing now} I can only give him two snacks a day . One in the afternoon and one after dinner. Only if he eats some of his food at dinner. I guess the snacks do not give a child the ballanced nutriton they need. Also when they are eating all those snacks during the day , that is why they are not eating as much during nutritonal meals. SO i have cut down on the snacks. I do like the way my doctor put it thow , Would you pick reagular meals , or the snacks that taste better. Well for me i am not a big snack lover so i would pick the meals, but for kids it is usally diffrent. SO if he is snacking alot during the day that is why he does not eat alot at meals. I hope this helped you out , i am just passing on the info that i was told.
• United States
8 Aug 08
Actually the snacks he eats are often the same things I would serve at meals- cheese sticks, apple slices, oranges, grapes, even green beans, peas or carrots. It's not that he doesn't like the foods, it's that he'd rather not interrupt his play to eat. Some days he's like that. Other days he eats a lot. With my son, I'm not concerned about whether he eats enough or if the foods are nutritious, I'm more concerned with whether regular meal times are better than letting him snack throughout the day.
• United States
8 Aug 08
yeah i usally give my son healthy snacks to, put sometime he git's a cookie. I guess they say it's better to have meals on a time schedule, I am trying to do that now, because i want to git him out of the habbit of not eating lunch, My son is the oppisite he loves breakfast, anything breakfast. pancakes,waffles,eggs sausage,cereal, it's lunch he never wants, to sit down and have lunch. but your son is young yet only 2, I am sure with time, that might change. I don't know for sure, but good luck, i am sure it will all work out.
• Philippines
8 Aug 08
It is natural for your son's age to behave like that, it may give you a problem when he enters in preschool but kids adapts good to his environment.. It is good that he eats a lot just be sure that the food you are giving is nutritious..Kids is still exploring his capabilities, let him do his craft by your guidance..
• United States
10 Aug 08
Thanks, I do like to be flexible. He eats mostly nutritious foods, such as fruit and veggies.
• United States
8 Aug 08
As long as you make him sit at the dinner table wether he eats or not is a good idea, I don't think you'll have a problem. Kids eat when they are hungry so I wouldn't worry too much about his eating habit. What I would worry about is a toddler walking around with food while playing, they could easily choke. The doc gave me that info when I told him my child was doing this.
• United States
10 Aug 08
I worry about that, too. I do keep an eye on him, but I think just stopping the habit is better.
@maddysmommy (16235)
• United States
8 Aug 08
My son had an appetite like your son too when he was that age. Some days he ate al lot and other days he hibbled. I wasn't strict on what and when he ate his food. I mean I would make breakfast for him and he might nibble on one or two things and then drink his milk or juice and be off. I would do the same at lunchtime and dinnertime. If he wasn't hungry then I wouldn't force it. He snacked a lot on fruits throughout the day though. He never went to preschool so that never was an issue for us. He was fine when he started school though as all the kids snacked and ate at the same time and he had no problem with that. He is 6 now.
• United States
10 Aug 08
It's good to hear he didn't have trouble adjusting to the school schedule. Sometimes children are more adaptable than we give them credit for.
@cher913 (25890)
• Canada
8 Aug 08
we are pretty strict with meal times but during the summer, not as much. my daughters get up when they get up and eat, but we still have lunch around 12:30 (they have it earlier when they are in school) but supper is usually about 5:30 school or not.
• United States
10 Aug 08
Dinner is the only meal that is at a certain time. Sometimes lunch is 11, sometimes 11:30, sometimes 12. Breakfast can be anywhere from 6 to 8, depending on what time he gets up.
• United States
8 Aug 08
My two year old does the same thing and I let him snack most of the day. He eats good meals most of the time, but if he is hungry then he should eat. I also make him sit at the table with us. I don't know that it's that bad. As they get older it will be easier for their food intake to be controlled. However, at that age they are into play, easily distracted, and they have small stomachs. Of course, we are going to homeschool him so I don't have to worry about him fitting into a school schedule.
• United States
10 Aug 08
I agree that if he is hungry, I should let him eat. I'm not alway hungry at 'regular' mealtimes, so why should I expect that's when he'll want to eat? If I felt he was playing games to get what he wants, it would be different, but he eats the same foods as snacks that I serve for meals.
@izathewzia (5142)
• Philippines
8 Aug 08
My children are like your son, too. What I did is slowly putting everything in order. I no longer allowed them to play while eating. Not even watch tv. Or other destructive activities they are used of doing while eating. I am slowly teaching them to focus on their meals. And a sort of reward, after eating they can do what they want.
• United States
10 Aug 08
That's good. I think a gradual change is best.
@chileman (969)
• Australia
8 Aug 08
We are strict with our boys, everything that is put in front of them they have to eat but we do monitor their snacks they eat through the day as we know they will fill up on rubbish if we let them like chips and lollies. We try to give them fruit, but in the end they must eat their dinner and all meals!
• United States
8 Aug 08
He does eat healthy snacks- fruits and veggies, things like that. I don't make him eat anything, especially since he likes most foods. I know when he doesn't eat it it's because he really doesn't like it.
• Philippines
8 Aug 08
Its never to early to start making him eat and sit at the dinner table. You are definitely right, that will make the transition to preschool even easier. Make sure that he is rewarded when he displays good eating habits so that the behavior will be reinforced. Also, I agree with the previous comments. Lessen the in between meals intake and make sure that he doesnt get anything after meal times. (i know its hard, it breaks my heart knowing one kid get hungry).Cant think of any other natural consquence for not eating enough on time. Snacks can also be scheduled. This is gonna be easy since you already established the desired behavior during dinner time.Good luck!
• United States
8 Aug 08
Yes, dinner time is good. I will start to make the transition before preschool. I've got plenty of time, though.
@jaffna (778)
• India
7 Aug 08
am very strict...i prefer to follow certain timings pertaining to meal time...it should be followed very strictly...we won't get much energy if we take our to our own desired timings..at morning times,it's good to eat within two hours from the time you have woke up and eat as much as you can eat..lunch should be taken at around five hours from breakfast...you can eat a reliable meal...during dinner eat less when compared to oyher two meals of the day as it would help you make feel better while you sleep
• United States
8 Aug 08
I prefer to be more flexible than that. If I don't feel like eating, I don't eat. I'm not going to make him do things I don't do myself. I prefer smaller meals and a couple of snacks to 3 large meals.
@Essie119 (673)
• Canada
7 Aug 08
Well, I seem to agree with bits and pieces of the other responders. I have a three-year-old son, and a two year old daughter who have both gone throught their times of sporatic eating. If he doesn't want breakfast when he first gets up then give him a little while and then offer it to him at the table. I offer my children snacks either at the table or at the coffee table downstairs. (This is because it makes for an easier to clean house, and I don't need to worry about them choking.) My doctor doesn't agree with giving kids snacks if they don't eat their meals and I agree. If they do eat their meal then I'll give them a snack if they ask for one after a decent interval. Getting the kids to eat at the table is pretty easy in our house, because when it's time for a meal, everyone that is home eats the same thing, at the same time, at the same table. P.S. All transitions are easiest when done at the youngest age - before habits become ingrained.
• United States
8 Aug 08
I agree that earlier is better for changing habits. I usually wait about an hour after my son gets up to offer breakfast. I don't like to eat when I first wake up, and rarely does he ask for anything earlier. He does come to the table for dinner, that is the one meal that is not a problem. I have made that a priority since before he started solid foods- just for the family togetherness. And he has been eating what we eat since before his first birthday. It's lunch and breakfast when he doesn't like to sit. He is just too busy playing. So I let him eat on the run, so to speak.
@sunshine4 (8709)
• United States
7 Aug 08
I bet that it will cause a problem once he gets in school if he continually snacks. I run a daycare, and I can tell you the kids whose parents let them snack all day and give them treats even if they dont eat their full lunch or dinner. It is very annoying when watching someone and they are constantly asking for snacks!! I have a schedule for my kids and it works out great because they are hungry at dinnertime. If they don't eat dinner, they dont' get the nighttime snack. It also allows me to make sure they are eating healthy foods and not just snacking all day long.
• United States
8 Aug 08
I used to teach preschool, so I have seen that it can be a problem for some children. That's why I think I will make the adjustment before he goes- which is still 2 years away. I give him healthy snacks, so it's not like I give him treats when he doesn't eat his meals, it's just the schedule thing I'm concerned about. I'm not a rigid schedule kind of parent.
@IInsanity (290)
• Malaysia
8 Aug 08
i was raised with parents who is really strict about finishing meals on the table even when i go out. so i'm used to eat my meals til the plate is clean even tho i'm not that hungry. it works for some people, others.. not so much. just go with what you know of your kid. maybe make meals that he likes?