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Toddlers and Grazing

By Dinah Torres Castro

I get many questions about picky eaters from parents of toddlers. I hear their frustration and I notice that many of them think that the solution is grazing. Grazing is basically eating throughout the day, between designated meal and snack times. I get it…parents are tired of battling with their children over meals. Since they can’t get their toddlers to eat at mealtimes, they think “I might as well let them eat any time—at least they are getting something in their tummies!” Well…research tells us that a major cause of overeating in adults is eating too often. Just look at some of the reasons adults eat too often—boredom, loneliness, frustration, happiness, or just because they saw a plate of doughnuts at the office! Grazing is setting up your child for this. By allowing your child to graze, you are blurring signals like hunger and appetite (that drive us to eat) and fullness and satisfaction (that help us know when we’re done). Recognizing and responding to hunger and fullness require that we actually experience them. If your children graze all day, they will rarely feel hunger. And because they are nibbling on bits of this or that, they never feel full or satisfied. Grazing can interfere with the way their bodies learn to regulate food intake.

Instead of letting kids graze, plan regular meal and snack times. Having a set routine for meals, especially during the work week, helps your child recognize his body’s signs of hunger. Toddlers (children under 3) need to eat as often as every 2 hours. Older kids usually do fine eating every 3-4 hours. Decide what time works best for your family and stick to it. Being consistent is one of the best things you can do for your child. If your child consistently has breakfast at 7 am, a morning snack at 10 am, lunch at 12:30 pm, an afternoon snack at 3 pm, dinner at 6 pm and a bedtime snack at 7:30 pm; then that is the time his tummy will send him the signals that he is hungry.

I also recommend that parents of picky eaters become familiar with Ellyn Satter’s “Division of Responsibility in Feeding”. According to her philosophy, a parent’s job is to decide what to feed their children, when to feed them, and where to feed them. A child’s job is to decide how much to eat and whether or not to eat what you have offered. I know what you’re thinking…That’s not what I was taught/ that’s not how I was raised! I have attached the link to this helpful resource below…check it out:

Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding:

https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/handout-dor-tasks-cap-2016.pdf

Dinah Castro is a Bilingual Family Well-Being Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 351 or at dc258@cornell.edu.

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