5 Easy Ways to Tame Snacking in Children with Food Allergies

Let’s face it, kids like to snack, and many of them like to eat—all day long. For children with food allergies, this can be a problem. From eating too much and gaining extra, unwanted weight to accidentally eating a food allergen and having an allergic reaction, extra, unregulated eating can pose a danger to children with food allergies.

The best way to feed all children is from an authoritative vantage. In other words, feeding with love and limits. Many parents I know have no problem with the love part! It’s setting limits that can become challenging. Feeding a family with food allergies isn't easy!  

Here are 5 no-fail limits designed to tame extra, unmonitored eating in children with food allergies: 

Use an “Ask First” Policy

Asking first prevents overeating and allergic reaction. Luka/Cultura/Getty Images

When 5 year-old Sam was hungry, he would go to the pantry and get something to eat. Pretty soon, this was happening throughout the day, even when it wasn’t time for a meal or a snack. The problem with this was twofold: Sam was eating more than he needed, elevating his risk for weight gain, and, he was selecting food without a parent monitor which made it risky for food allergen exposure.

What Sam needed was a filter, or rule, that would help curb his free-range eating. Enter the “ask before you take” rule. This rule simply states that children need to ask an adult before they eat food that isn’t scheduled as part of a meal or snack. This rule places the parent as the filter of food intake, allowing or disallowing certain foods and off-schedule eating. 

Close the Kitchen

Close the kitchen to help regulate children's eating. Lyn Holly Coorg/Photographer's Choice/ Getty Images

Closing the kitchen helps children eat at the designated times for planned meals and snacks. Essentially, after a meal or snack, the parent closes the kitchen until the next meal or snack. This can be announced or the child can be reminded of the status when he or she asks for an unscheduled snack.

“Lunch is over and the kitchen is closed. We’ll open back up at snack time, which is at 3 pm. Here, I’ll show you on the clock what 3 pm looks like.”

Closing the kitchen can help curtail grazing and excessive eating, while keeping children with food allergies safe from allergen consumption. It also sends a clear message to children that eating occurs at regular times (meals and snacks), while placing the onus on the parent to stick with a routine of meals and snacks.

Set a Food Schedule

It's time to eat!. Daniel Sambraus/EyeEm/Getty Images

While you don’t have to be rigid about the timing of meals and snacks, a set schedule helps build predictability and rhythm in children’s eating, and helps them be better at regulating their appetite. Be flexible with the schedule, but not loose. That is, allow some wiggle room around the timing of meals if needed, but don’t be unpredictable. Kids like to know when they can expect to eat, and generally what will be served.

Sample Dialogue: “We have a lot going on tonight, so dinner will be a little bit later than usual. You can expect to eat around 7 pm. We may want to plan a bigger snack after school to carry you to dinnertime.”  

Be in Charge

Feed with love and limits. Paula Danielse/Moments/Getty Images

It’s not always easy to be the nutrition leader of the family, but it’s important to fortify and stay consistent with the boundaries you have set around nutrition and food. Sometimes children need a reminder of who’s in charge. And when children turn into teens, it may become even more important! Don’t be hesitant to have conversations with your child about your role as provider and their role as consumer.

Sample Dialogue: “I appreciate that you want something else to eat, but this is what we have on the menu today. Let’s talk about how we can work your request in over the next day or so.”

Allow Food Choices within Reason

Let children make a reasonable choice. Ann/Flickr

One of the cornerstones of parenting is to give your child a say when it comes to their food preferences and how much they want to eat. But some parents make the mistake of giving too much choice, and that makes staying in charge of feeding children harder.

A good rule of thumb is to offer two or three choices within the same category. This is effective with all ages, as you can see below, and if your child is resistant, it can open up dialogue for an alternative. Bottom line: it gives children the indication that you remain in control of food and feeding, but they have a say in the matter.

Sample Dialogue: “Would you like sweet potato or corn with dinner tonight?”

“Do you want me to make a plate and save it for later, or do you want to make dinner yourself from the fridge when you get home?”

“Before you leave for school, do you want a smoothie or toast with peanut butter?”

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