My child has a very small appetite and grazes throughout the day. She is not hungry at mealtime and does not want to sit at the table and eat with us. Scratching My Head

Dear SMH:

It's perfectly natural for kids to want snacks throughout the day. A healthy after-school snack is often a great way to stem the tide of impending disaster and doom. Still, their mealtime experience can often be sabotaged by excessive snacking.

This might sound strange, but ultimately, kids need to learn that they need to take responsibility for their own eating. How can we help them do this?

Often we parents try to have it both ways: we sit there, forcing our kids to eat "every last bite" of their mealtime food (when they're truly not hungry), but then we get all permissive between mealtimes and let them snack, snack, snack (if only to maintain our own sanity). But kids are smart: if they know they can grab a bite to eat after dinner by raiding the veggie drawer, why would they bother eating dinner (especially if it might not be their favourite)? I know I wouldn't!

Providing structure is an important way to help kids not only feel supported and safe, but also to teach them how to regulate their own behaviour. They should know when snack time is, when mealtime is, and understand what it means to miss the latter. We can empower our kids to understand and experience the effects of how they approach eating throughout the day. So, rather than pressure them to eat, let's instead be consistent with snacktimes and mealtimes (we recommend at least two hours between snacks and meals). They will learn to take regularly scheduled mealtimes more seriously.

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