Today, there is the great debate among parents to whether or not put their kids on a schedule. Should I give my child a daily routine or go with the flow of what they want, when they want it? In terms of feeding, schedules are very important for kids that are over 6-12 months old. Prior to 6 months old, feeding really should not be done on a schedule, but rather on demand. Breast or bottle feeding on demand helps infants learn to respond to hunger and satiety cues. In addition, it allows them to eat what they need to grow to their potential. At this age, eating is very instinctual and babies know best how much to eat and when to eat, with the exception of some cases of medical or developmental issues.
During the transition to solids, between 6-12 months of age, I advise parents to introduce a routine of “meals” from the beginning. Feed the infant at the same time as the rest of the family’s mealtime(s) every day. Then, as the child gets older, continue sticking to regularly scheduled family mealtimes and snacks that occur around the same time each day.
Below are three reasons why a meal schedule is crucial for children:
- Teaches good mealtime habits. Ask any parent and they will say that they have experienced mealtime struggles at some
point. One way to eliminate mealtime struggles is to have set expectations from the beginning of introducing solids. Teach your young child that when it’s time to eat, we come to the table, sit in a high chair or booster seat and have a variety of healthy foods to eat. It makes the connection for them from the very beginning that sitting at the table means that it is time to eat.
- Prevents “grazing”. Grazing happens when we eat randomly all throughout the day. This can lead to over-eating unhealthy foods for older kids and it may actually lead to under-eating for younger kids. When children eat little amounts here and there, they fill up just enough to decrease their appetite for well-rounded meals.
- Promotes healthy digestion. Eating on a schedule means that we are filling up the gut at meals and then giving it time to empty before filling up again. The rhythmic filling and emptying of the gastrointestinal tract is the ideal pattern to stimulate regular bowel movements. Furthermore, a regular pattern of meals helps keep blood sugar balanced throughout the entire day, which helps to improve energy, concentration and moods.
If your family struggles with implementing mealtime schedules or routines, contact one of our registered dietitians to schedule an appointment. A registered dietitian can help you implement ways in which you can get your family back on track and address any nutrition concerns.