Getting Your Family’s Eating Habits Back on Track

Toddler Feeding

These past few months have been chaotic to say the least. New baby + caring for a toddler + moving = something’s gotta give!

Even if your life is not as chaotic as mine has been recently, there are always going to be times when you are thrown off from your routine, whether it’s the arrival of a new baby, moving, traveling, starting a new job, even ending a relationship or enduring the loss of a loved one.

I’m of the opinion that, whether you are an adult or a kid, it’s okay to let your eating habits slide a bit during these irregular times. Especially as parents, we put too much pressure on ourselves to do everything right. Trying to make sure you offer your kid her five requisite servings of fruit and vegetables during these times just might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Saying goodbye to our Jersey City neighborhood right before leaving for the airport! Well, I was saying goodbye…my toddler was more interested in the Cheez-Its!

So during our recent transition, yeah, I kept my diaper bag stocked (although the photo up top is an exaggeration…) and my toddler ate a lot of snacks and treats! And I ate my fair share of (non-dairy) ice cream, too. But I allowed these treats knowing that soon we would be back in a routine and these would not become our long-term eating habits.

Try telling that to a toddler, of course! As far as she was concerned, multiple snacks and treats a day was our new normal. So I had to be very intentional with my strategy of getting us back on track. Here’s what worked for us:

Don’t go cold turkey on treat foods

It’s easy to think, “We’ve been having too many treats! No more treats for awhile!” But eliminating highly desired foods can lead to your child feeling insecure and overindulging next time s/he has a chance to consume them. Instead, establish regular times to enjoy these foods. For us, I introduced the concept of “snack time” and limited it to once a day, between lunch and dinner. So whenever she asked for a snack outside of this time, I would remind her when snack time would be or emphasize that it had already happened. In either case, I’d offer instead a nutritious option she’d been known to enjoy in case she really was hungry (generally fruit and her favorite vegetables). Sometimes a meltdown ensued, sometimes it didn’t. I powered through and the meltdowns started to occur less often.

Note: I do believe that there’s a difference between snacks (which should be a nourishing source of energy between meals) and treats and ultimately I want my kids to understand this concept, too. But I decided that now was not the time to get into semantics with a two-year-old. For our purposes, a “snack” was a treat item like Goldfish or cookies.

Set aside time to stock up on nutritious foods

I totally get that making time for this can be the first thing to go when things get crazy. But once you’re beyond the height of the chaos, prioritize taking some time to plan out what you need to stock up on. Then, go shop for these items and prep a few easy foods to keep on hand. Consider it an investment in your family’s sanity! In my case, I was so excited to have my full kitchen back after we finally moved into our new house after weeks of takeout and frozen meals, so grocery shopping and a marathon food prep session were some of the first things I did!

Always have fruits and veggies on hand

This is combination of the first two tips above. Offering fruits and veggies freely is a great strategy both to help your kids learn to enjoy them (exposure!) and to reassure yourself that, indeed, you’re not letting your kid starve if he or she is truly hungry when asking for a snack. So stocking up on my daughter’s faves and – this part is important! – remembering to pack some whenever we went out¬†stopped me from buying a less ideal snack on the go, rummaging through my diaper bag for a squished granola bar when she asked for a snack on the go.

Some travel-friendly items we relied on were bananas, clementines and pre-cut sliced bagged apples (from Trader Joe’s).

Establish (or re-establish) routines in other areas of your life, too

Eating is just one of many things that happen in your child’s life every day. We know that kids thrive on routine, so getting back onto your schedule – or establishing a new schedule, as the case may be – will help make eating the nutritious food you offer something your child expects to do every day. Of course, exactly what your routine looks like will be different for every family, but some other areas to consider are limiting screen time and adhering to a regular nap and bed time schedule (these took nearly as much effort to re-establish as our food habits did!)

At least, this is what has worked for us. If you have another tactic that works for getting your family back on track, I’d love to hear about it!

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