How to prevent a hangry toddler! When our kids reach the point past moderate hunger, things can go awry fast. Tips for keeping kids satisfied while also creating space to make dinner.
Have you ever had 4 pm roll around and your toddler is suddenly famished, yet you haven’t exactly started making dinner yet?
Neither have we.
In addition to living their best lives as snack monsters, our kids tend to march to the beat of their own hunger cues regularly.
What can you do to help prevent the tantrums, the grabbing of all the snacks on the shelf, and also give yourself the space you need to intentionally prepare a meal?
Here are some things to try.
3 Tips for Preventing Hangry Toddler Tantrums
1. Follow a regular meal and snack routine
Kids need routine, and this is also true with what they’re eating.
If you’ve noticed that your child tends to get super-hungry before dinner, it could mean they’re not getting enough opportunity to eat earlier in the day.
Adding an extra snack in could help, or perhaps bulking up some of their meals – especially if you’ve noticed them eating more or going through a growth spurt.
Make sure meals and snacks all have a nice balance of protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates. These macronutrients are all important for supporting a child’s growth and development, as well as keeping them satiated between meals.
- Oatmeal made with fortified soy milk and topped with chia seeds, raspberries
- Smoothie made with fortified pea milk, almond butter, blueberries, frozen banana, spinach
- Slice of whole-grain toast with mashed avocado, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, diced tomato
- Banana sliced lengthwise and slathered with peanut butter and sprinkled with hemp seeds and cinnamon
- Broccoli florets served with a cashew cheeze sauce and mandarin orange slices
For more examples of well-balanced meals that meet plant-based kiddos’ needs, see the PB3 Plate.
For sample meal schedules for toddlers, see this post.
2. Prepare healthy grabbable snacks ahead of time
Think about the last time you got super hungry, maybe to the point where you started to feel like you’d pretty much eat anything in sight.
In those moments, we tend to crave things that are energy-dense but not always nutrient-dense – it’s a survival mechanism, and our kids can experience this too. And while we’re certainly not anti-sweets, these types of snacks have a way of filling up little bellies right before a nutritious meal.
In order to help curb some of those less healthy snacking decisions and also give your toddler some independence, it can help to have some healthier snacks ready to go.
Some examples include:
- A bag of sliced bell pepper strips and carrots with a small container of hummus
- Sliced berries in a small container
- Homemade trail mix in a little cup (nuts/seeds, raisins, dried mango slices, dark chocolate pieces)
- No-bake PBJ balls
- Apple “sandwiches” made by placing two thin slices of apple together with nut butter slathered between
These types of before-dinner snacks could be kept in the door or bottom shelf of the fridge, or somewhere in your kitchen where your toddler’s snacks are kept and they can reach.
3. Provide some distraction
When babe is feeling clingy around mealtime and you need the space to prepare food, here’s our secret go-to: the “I’m Making Dinner” Bag.
A little bag filled with special, fun, age-appropriate items that they can use by themselves.
Don’t get us wrong, we’re all for putting on an episode of Daniel Tiger while we get dinner on the table, but some days you want a screen-free solution.
Keep your bag at kid level so they can easily grab it without adult help, but make it a bag they don’t have access to all of the time. In other words, put in items that they ONLY get during this time to keep it more novel.
Some ideas include:
- Thinking putty or kinetic sand
- Mini notebooks
- Play Doh with mini cookie cutters
- Stamps or stickers and paper
- Coloring books with mess-free markers
- Matchbox/Hotwheels cars
- A mini set of building blocks
- A special character or two
Let them play, create, solve, and clean up by themselves while you make dinner. Then the bag goes back until tomorrow night.
Chime In: Have other tips for preventing hangry toddlers in your home? Share in the comments!
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