Reader FAQ: Grazing vs 3 Meals Per Day

By : | 5 Comments | On : June 11, 2013 | Category : Blog, Fussy Eaters, Nutrition

Kids will be kids, and there will be times when their behaviour is just plain random and confusing but will often go back to normal without changing anything. Sometimes, the answer to your problem is over a coffee with a friend, posting the question in an online mother’s group, or secret forum. A fellow mummy with experience can often provide that little bit of wisdom, the glimmer of hope that you have been looking for or at the very least, a new idea to try.

We certainly don’t have all the answers. So these FAQ blog posts are to be seen like this…  if our closest friends were to ask our advice, these would be our answers. But don’t let it stop with us, If you have an idea that might help others, we would love to hear it. Leave a comment after this post, or join our Facebook page to talk to other parents.

“My toddler tends to graze on food rather than eat the standard 3 meals per day, is this ok?”

The simple answer is both yes and no.  The longer answer is…

If by grazing you mean your toddler happily eats 5-6 small scheduled meals each day that consists of a wide variety of healthy and nutritious foods and they are experiencing normal growth and development then yes, grazing is probably fine.

BUT, if your child grazes and snacks on mostly sweet treats, crackers, pre-packaged foods, juice or highly refined foods and generally is a fussy eater then grazing is likely to become a problem and could be a barrier to your child receiving a healthy, balanced diet.

The world is a busy place for young children, who has time to eat, right?

Children, especially those with small appetites, easily fill up on little snacks keeping hunger away.  This means when a main meal is offered they may not be hungry enough to be interested and will often refuse the food.  This is especially true if they know tasty treats will be on offer a little later.

If this is the case for you we have a few tips that may help you to get back on track and find better balance with a more scheduled, yet flexible, meal routine of 3 meals and 2-3 healthy snacks:

  • Start a mealtime ritual and make mealtimes calm and relaxing.
  • Try a tasting plate at main meal times, offering a range of healthy nutritious foods.
  • Keep kids busy between meal and snack times engaging them with stimulating activities to prevent them from eating out of boredom.
  • Don’t be afraid to let your kids experience hunger.  If your kids are hungry at mealtimes (not starving of course) they will be more likely to eat a good size meal, eat nutritious foods and try new foods.
  • Avoid offering snacks too close to meal times (e.g. 1-2 hours prior).  A single biscuit might just be enough to “ruin their dinner”.
  • Eat with your children at the table.  If they see you sitting down to enjoy your food they will be more likely to do the same.
  • Don’t become too rigid with eating times and allow some flexibility.  It is important children learn and recognize their own hunger and fullness cues.
  • Scheduling meal and snack times will give you the confidence to know when your child’s behaviour is food related and when it might be something else such as tiredness or boredom.

The key message here is: Regardless of whether your children graze or eat 3 meals per day make sure what they eat counts.  By offering a wide variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups you can be confident they will eat enough and meet their dietary requirements for healthy growth and development.

Don’t forget to read our disclaimer.  If you have any specific questions or concerns regarding the nutritional adequacy of your child’s diet or their health and wellbeing please consult a medical practitioner or an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) for individualised advice.

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  1. posted by Leanne on June 13, 2013

    Hi Jess, this is such a fantastic message to be getting out in the blogosphere. I know I don’t have a bub to feed, but the questions you pose sound so relatable, and the tips practical. Of course my favourite bit is “don’t be afraid to let your kids experience hunger”. Easier said than done I understand, but important to have it being thought about.

    • posted by Jess on June 17, 2013

      Thank you Leanne for your lovely feedback, we love your support! We at onehandedcooks are very passionate about creating and nurturing positive eating behaviours in young children and I believe teaching kids to recognise and appropriately respond to their own hunger and fullness cues is an essential part of that. Jx

  2. posted by Sarah on February 20, 2014

    Do you have any tips for young toddlers who refuse whole food groups (meat and vegetable) despite ongoing and calm attempts (with all of the above tips in practice)? Our first child was / is a great eater and my second child hardly eats outside of fruit, whole grain creal/breads and yoghurt/ milk which is very worrying. Gp isn’t overly concerned (development is fine) but I do!

  3. posted by Danielle on October 31, 2014

    A friend told me she was advised by a dentist that grazing is damaging to children’s teeth.


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