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Do Your Tots Wage War Against Mealtime? Embrace Snacking

01/22/2015 05:12 EST | Updated 03/24/2015 05:59 EDT

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The holidays are over, and many of you have resolutions to help your family eat better. The first thing I'd like to put on the table, so to speak, is encouraging parents to embrace snack time. If meals have become a battlefield in your household, getting your child to eat a variety of healthy foods can be tough.

Snacks can be our arsenal. I view healthy snacking as added insurance that picky eaters are getting the necessary nutrients when they push their dinner away. Below I give you five (hard-won) tips to say bye-bye to battles.

1. Avoid using "rewards." While it may be tempting to use sweets to reward good behaviour, this can send a message that less-than-nutritious foods are better and more valuable than their healthy counterparts. This behaviour can start a pattern of unhealthy eating. Remember, you are the director in the development of their relationship with food.

2. Portion control. This is important to ensure snacks do not to interfere with the next meal you have planned. Serving breast milk, formula, water or milk alongside a snack will help with consumption balance.

3. Timing. A well-timed snack will be just a couple hours after one meal and a couple hours before the next. For example, if your child eats breakfast at 7:30 a.m., then perhaps snack time is at 10 a.m., with lunch at 12:30 p.m. (every two to three hours is a good rule). A structured snack and meal schedule provides consistency and allows your child to determine what they would like to eat and how much.

4. Balance. Choose nutritious snacks that offer a good balance of protein, fruits, vegetables and grains. Snacks are usually high in sugar and fat, which is not what we want to be introducing to sensitive little palates. We want to encourage babies to develop a taste for real, clean, nutritious food.

I like to freeze homemade baking or leftover meals in little containers for quick on-the-go snacks. If serving pre-packaged foods, please read the labels and look for more natural products with no added sugars, artificial ingredients or unnecessary ingredients.

5. Present options. It may seem like a lot of work, but it takes just a little extra time to dice cheese alongside your apples for baby or ask your toddler if he'd prefer bananas with peanut butter or crackers and cheese. Older babies and toddlers are becoming independent eaters, and they like to make their own choices -- they're more likely to eat when they have chosen what they are eating.

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