It’s 4:30pm and your kid is hungry. You know dinner is in an hour.
The Big Question: Do you give your toddler snacks or tell them to wait for dinner?
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Rachel Says | Give All the Toddler Snacks!
My son loves to eat. I’m sure he comes by this naturally as his dad and I are pretty big fans of eating too.
On a typical day, he eats breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner. But if he’s hungry in between, I let him have toddler snacks.
Feed Toddler Snacks on Demand
Even as an infant, we fed on demand. This meant I was nursing every 2 to 3 hours for most that first year.
After switching to eating all solids, he still ate nearly as often.
He has always been on the smaller side, usually weighing in around the 25th percentile, so I’ve never really been concerned about overeating. I trust that when he says he’s hungry, he is.
Pick Your Battles
It comes down to picking my battles and, for me, this one is just is not worth the fight.
I know that I am not always on my best behavior when I’m hungry, so I don’t feel like I can expect that from my toddler either.
Telling him he can’t eat is likely to start a hangry meltdown that will last until the next designated mealtime.
Obviously, I will inevitably feed him again at some point, and it feels like giving into the tantrum then.
We struggled with this before dinner for a while: we’d walk in the door and he would immediately want to eat. Since I had nothing ready yet, he had to wait and you would think that we had been starving him.
It felt like reinforcing this behavior when I did give him his food.
Giving him a small snack before his freak-out gives me time to get dinner ready and everyone is happier.
I do make an effort to give him something healthy. If you need some inspiration, we’ve got a great free printable with 40 Easy & Healthy Toddler Snack Ideas.
Limiting Toddler Snacks Doesn’t Work
Any time that I have forced a strict eating schedule it has gone poorly for us.
I try to keep snack foods on hand (these are my favorite) and carry them out with us, but sometimes it is just not possible to have food ready, and he has to wait.
In the end, he’s upset and I’m upset.
If he’s hungry and I can feed him, it is not worth the tears just to stick to my schedule. Ultimately, he’s happy and healthy and copious toddler snacks works for us.
Jo asks | Do you feel letting
them snack makes him a
pickier eater at meal time?
He does pick out the foods he wants to eat and try to leave the less desirable ones, but it’s not correlated with snacking.
For instance, he’ll eat all of the mac and cheese and even ask for more while ignoring the green beans.
I pretty much just expect this, and tell him to eat the veggies before he can have more and he will.
I usually give a small portion to start out and if I’m concerned he will fill up, I only give him whichever food I think he may resist first.
Jo says | Skip the Toddler Snacks, Wait Until Dinner
For the record, I’m not against ALL snacking – just letting the kids decide their own schedule for eating.
But then again, I’m a mama that’s a big believer in routines.
My toddler’s eating schedule includes breakfast, a morning snack, lunch, an afternoon snack, dinner, and usually a very small before-bedtime snack.
Too Many Toddler Snacks Can Lead to Dinnertime Struggles
For starters, I’ve noticed that when my kids eat snacks late in the afternoon then dinnertime can be a challenge.
It’s brings a whole slew of issues:
(1) They don’t eat well
(2) Then tend to pick out what they DO eat, and it’s rarely the veggies on the plate
(3) Since they pronounce they’re “done” early, they’re more prone to outbursts and less-than-desirable behavior.
Let me walk you through an example of this nightmare I’m talking about…
My mom generally picks up my kids from preschool once or twice a week when I have to work late.
When that happens, she’s trying to survive and often resorts to snacks… even though it’s almost dinnertime.
I should add that she does this even after I’ve asked her not, BUT she’s also providing free childcare (which I am SUPER appreciative of – hi mom!) so I can only push so hard.
We get home, I’m tired from working and the kids are starting to get tired. I spend 10 minutes like a hurricane in the kitchen getting dinner ready.
I pick up the baby, plop her into her highchair and shovel food in front. I call the toddler and he refuses to come.
I’m exhausted, so I let him be for a few minutes, hoping he’ll magically walk over like an angel for dinner. When he doesn’t come I go over and pick him up from the living room, put him in his chair, and set his food in front of him.
He pushes it around with his fork for a little, maybe picking up a tiny piece of bread, then the second I look away to put something on baby’s tray, he’s either turned his adorable plate upside down or he throws it off the highchair.
I usually get mad, then he cries, and the baby cries, and then I cry too because my husband isn’t home yet.
Now obviously bad days can happen any time, but for me they tend to be most predominant when my mom has stuffed him full of crackers, nuts and applesauce while she waits for me to get home from work.
Schedules Encourage Better Eating
I feel keeping a regular eating schedule encourages them to eat better because they’re not counting on a snack later on.
For example, I try to give the kids dinner between 5:30 – 6:00pm most days.
If one of my kids starts complaining they’re hungry around 6:30, I don’t raid the pantry for a snack – I march them right back to their plate for leftovers.
Sometimes they eat it, sometimes they don’t. If they don’t, I usually assume they’re not really that hungry.
Toddler Snacks Are Often Junk
In reality, toddler snacks don’t tend to be the most nutrient-dense foods.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes snacks are healthy items like fruit, yogurt, or veggies.
However, a lot of the time it’s more “junk” food like goldfish, pretzels, animal crackers, gummy snacks, etc. My kids eat those things regularly, but I prefer to limit them so more of their calories are spent on more balanced meals.
Before you go, remember to download our free printable that gives you 40 Ideas for Healthy and Easy (No-Prep) Toddler Snacks!
**Ugh, I feel like a sanctimommy after writing my piece. I promise I don’t look at myself as “holier–than–thou” or judge other moms for giving their kids snacks around the clock.
I’ve just found this routine makes my life easier and works best for my family. If you’re struggling with some of these issues, maybe it’s worth a try.
Don’t give up if your kiddos push back in the beginning, establishing any new routine can take time.**
Rachel Asks | Is there any
time you relax on the snacking?
Oh yeah, in the car on long trips.
I’ll do [almost] anything to keep them quiet and happy.
I also have lots of books and busy activities in the car, but those only get you so far.
This is so funny because
I never let mine eat in the car!
Yet another reason why
we are “The Moms At Odds”
In conclusion, toddlers are monsters and prone to tantrums that revolve around food. Would you prefer your meltdown before or during dinner?
Just kidding, we hope you find what works best for your family.
But seriously, not kidding, toddlers are crazy.