As parents, an important part of our job is to help set up an environment where our children can grow and thrive. Here’s why a little bit of structure can help when it comes to meal times.
As much as we may hate to admit it, kids actually do better with structure. When there is a reliable routine in place, this can help kids feel more secure in their surroundings and better able to thrive and develop. Whether you consider yourself a free-range parent or the type who likes to live more spontaneously, I bet it’s safe to say that even the rule breakers among us tend to fall back on some type of structure or routine.
Think about from your kiddos’ earliest days – you likely followed a schedule, be it something you loosely implemented or stuck to without fail.
It may have been when you nursed or bottle-fed your baby, how you scheduled play time, and let’s not forget – that all-important sleep routine.
The truth is, when kids can reliably understand when things are coming during their day, like sleep, playing and eating, they build better trust with their caretakers and overall, learn to develop healthier behaviors that will help them for years to come. Some parents fear the word “schedule” because it can be misinterpreted to be rigid or strict. But in actuality, having a schedule with your meals and snack times can actually free up more time during your day to focus on the things that are most important to you.
Having a meal schedule for your family does not mean you can’t:
- Be flexible or spontaneous
- Enjoy eating at other times
- Eat on the go when needed
- Be adaptable (because #lifehappens)
In fact, a meal schedule is simply a routine set of times that you serve meals and snacks to your kiddos. Ideally, this can also serve as a time for you to check in with yourself to see if you are needing to eat as well. Here are a few reasons why it helps to put together a meal schedule.
1. DEVELOP A POSITIVE FEEDING RELATIONSHIP
The feeding relationship between a child and their caregivers will influence how a child feels about food and their body. Raising a healthy eater involves more than the types of foods we’re serving. Our behaviors and attitudes toward feeding also play a part in how a child will learn about food. Establishing a routine with eating, such as with a meal schedule, helps a child trust that food is consistently available. Promoting self-regulation for your child with the help of a meal schedule is an effective feeding approach that can support a healthy eater.
2. DEMONSTRATES THE IMPORTANCE OF EATING
Eating well should be a priority, and kids will learn this from a young age if time is made for family meals and eating regularly. Sometimes, we can inadvertently pass on our own behaviors toward food and eating to our kids, but this may not be in their best interest. For example, some adults may go several hours before eating; however, because kids have smaller tummies and need energy to fuel their growth, they consistently need food about every 2-3 hours. Having set times when you are having meals and snacks keeps nourishment a priority, even on your busiest days.
3. HELPS REGULATE THEIR APPETITES
Many kids may come to meal times with poor appetites or unwilling to eat or try different foods. Sometimes, if a child has had the opportunity to snack frequently throughout the day, they won’t feel hungry come meal time and be less likely to eat nutritious foods you are offering. When a child is used to eating consistently and at regular times throughout the day, they will be better able to regulate and tune in to their hunger and fullness cues and more open to trying different foods.
4. SUPPORTS ADEQUATE NUTRITION INTAKE
When you have multiple times throughout the day to feed your child, you are also given many opportunities to serve a variety of foods. This increases the likelihood that your child will better meet their nutritional needs and intake adequate amount of food to support their growth.
So does this mean you have to be a stickler to a meal schedule? Not by any means!
But having and building a routine with meals and food is only going to help your children thrive and grow up to be healthier adults. Remember, having a meal schedule should serve as a “guideline” for your family, as to intentional times you are planning to offer your kiddos meals or snacks, but this isn’t something that has to be followed meticulously.
When you have a meal schedule in place, you can spend less time worrying about what and when you’re going to feed your kids, have more peaceful family meals, and help create a foundation of healthy eating behaviors for yourself and your kiddos.
At the end of the day, that’s really all we want for our kids:
To be healthy and happy.
Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: JARED SLUYTER
Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Board Certified Lactation Consultant, & mama of 5. With a virtual nutrition practice, Crystal helps overwhelmed mamas nurture a peaceful relationship with food & their bodies, end the battles at the dinner table and transform their kitchens to place of peace & joy. Learn more at Crystal Karges Nutrition.