Guide Ten: Structuring Family Meals

Presenter: Natalia Stasenko


Hi everybody. I’m Natalia, one of the moderators and feeding professionals supporting you in this group. In this video, I would love to talk to you about structure, schedule, or routine of meals and snacks. Structure of meals and snacks is your ultimate foundation of good feeding practices.

I know that many of you come in this group and have many questions about why you should switch from feeding your child on demand to structuring meals and snacks? Why is it so important? Why would you need to bother if your child is perfectly happy, grabbing snacks from the little snack cabinets and eating whenever they’re hungry?

So, in this video, we’d like to explain why structuring meals and snacks is so important.

First of all “structure” is basically just establishing a rhythm for meals and snacks. This helps us feed our children at times where they’re most hungry. It’s different for different ages. Younger children need to eat more frequently, and older children can have a bigger gaps between meals and snacks.

So, what does structure do? Basically, it helps kids to stay more in tune with their hunger and satiety because children who are always grazing are never really hungry and never really full. That’s why we hear their demands for more and more snacks, because they may not just feel {completely} satisfied, although they’re grazing and eating something all day.

When they have and predictable routine and structure for meals and snacks that they eat, they have time to build the appetite for the next eating opportunity. And they eat in response to their hunger because we space their meals and snacks in a way that makes sense for their age and for your lifestyle. Therefore, when they’re the hungriest, we serve them their food.

Structure also prevents grazing. {Grazing} may cause dissociation between our children from their body signals. This is because they will not be really listening to their body as much. They will not stop. They will stop noticing their fullness and they will not pay attention to their hunger because they’re always kind of in between these two states. They don’t have opportunities to clearly experience hunger and satiety.

Knowing this helps us to say “no” to this endless snacking. Because we know that if there is structure in place, our children know that the rule is to eat at only certain times and not to eat it other times. It becomes really easy to say “no”, when they go to grab the fifth packet of chips half an hour before dinner. It helps us to stay in control the feeding schedule and ultimately encourage positive eating habits.

Next, I wanted to share an example with you. A few days ago, my youngest was offered a cookie in the park and it was about 45 minutes before lunch. She really wanted to eat it, but I didn’t want her to spoil her appetite for lunch. I firmly stated that it too close to lunch to eat the cookie right now and that we have our schedule. We packed the cookie away, we brought it home and we served it with lunch. This {consistency} resolves tantrums. We avoid tantrums. {Having a routine established} helped me solve this dilemma.

The same structure also saves money, of course, because you don’t need to be carrying all this packaged snacks around everywhere you go with your toddler! You don’t need to carry 300 granola bars and endless pouches because you know, there will be time for your toddler to sit down and enjoy snack. And you don’t need to be constantly prepared and caring packaged snacks in case they are hungry outside of the scheduled mealtimes. It also gives you peace of mind because, let’s face it, small children tend to skip meals. This is a very normal behavior, especially in toddlers. And if we have this well-established routine, schedule or structure for meals and snacks we know that our child will get the next opportunity to refuel very soon.

Children also get used to it very quickly. They stop stop begging for food all the time. They rely on this rhythm and on the structure. Believe me, it helps to avoid so many meltdowns and parental dilemmas! If you would like to, create your own meal and snack structure that makes sense for your family, for your child’s age and for your family’s lifestyle, make sure to check the your feeding team membership resources.

I will link to the subscription site below the video. {As a member}, you can download all the templates for some meal and snack schedules that we have created for you. Along with all the balanced snack ideas that help kids to not over rely on packaged foods too much, and get more of a balanced set-up when it comes to snacking. This means they also snack on the most nutritious foods instead of over-relying on packaged snacks. If you have any questions, make sure to ask them in the group, we’re here to support you and we will see you in the group.

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