When I was a kid, I remember all our snacks and goodies being stashed away in the top drawers of the kitchen cabinets. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my (brilliant) mom strategically placed them there for a reason. Since becoming a mother myself, I completely understand why snacks should be kept out of reach of younger children.

As a dietitian and mom to three kiddos under five, I’ve come to understand the importance of boundaries in parenting, especially for toddlers and young children. Boundaries provide a framework that guides them when they’re still learning how to make decisions. Boundaries create a sense of security but also clearly define which behaviors or actions are acceptable and which are not. Plus, setting limits reinforces structure, daily routines, schedules, and a family rhythm.

If you’re on social media you’ve probably seen countless momfluencers post picture-perfect examples of their well-stocked and easy-to-reach snack drawers in the pantry or on the bottom shelf of the fridge. While I’m all for an organized kitchen, I’m not a fan of keeping snacks within reach for young kids. When snacks are easily within reach, kids are likely to grab and munch on them simply because they’re there. Their decision to snack may not be driven by hunger but rather out of habit, or because they see a sibling opening a snack drawer, or because they’re hyped up over their ability to make a snack choice. Toddlers and young kids haven’t quite mastered the ability to judge when it’s actually a good time for a snack. That’s why it comes down to parents to help them learn by stepping in and setting boundaries, like keeping snacks out of reach.

My snack drawer philosophy all boils down to The Division of Responsibility, a term first coined by registered dietitian Ellyn Satter. It’s the concept that caregivers and children have different jobs when it comes to eating. Caregivers are responsible for deciding which foods to offer, when to offer them, and where to offer them. Kids decide whether they want to eat and how much they want to eat.

You might be wondering why this is such a big deal, especially if you were a kid who had free reign in the goodie drawers. Here’s why keeping snacks within reach can be problematic:

They don’t have strong impulse control

Young kids aren’t the best at knowing when it’s time to eat. I’m not saying they’ll always eat when they aren’t hungry, but if there’s a snack drawer right there, it’s pretty tough for them to resist the impulse to grab a snack. It’s like putting a temptation right in their path and expecting them not to give in. So if your kiddo starts munching on cookies when they’re not actually hungry, a habit can form pretty quickly. Over time, constantly snacking can mess with their ability to tell when they’re genuinely hungry or full, making them rely more on external cues (like convenience or boredom) than their own hunger signals.

It will mess with mealtimes

Snack drawers are typically stocked with, well, snacks! You know, those individually wrapped bags of crackers, granola bars, or fruit leathers—basically, all the good stuff. I mean, can you really picture a toddler waiting 30 minutes until dinner when there’s a crunchy, sweet, or salty snack right in front of them? Constant grazing from the snack drawer might mean they’re less hungry when mealtime rolls around, messing with their appetite and making it harder for them to eat balanced, nutritious meals.

Let’s be clear: just because I’m not a fan of a snack drawer doesn’t mean I’m anti-snack or in favor of strict limitations. It’s actually quite the opposite. I love snacks and there’s no shortage of snacking in our household. But it’s all about timing and setting boundaries. I offer snacks during snack time, which falls in between meals. I’m not restricting snacks; I’m creating a boundary around them. While I don’t believe in snack drawers for young kiddos, I believe in teaching kids about food, their bodies, cause and effect (like understanding hunger and avoiding tummy aches), and making decisions—all within a carefully contrived set of boundaries. This sets them up for success if you decide to introduce a snack drawer for older kids and tweens when they might be better equipped to make food choices.

It’s not that we don’t believe in our kids, or trust them. They just need a bit more guidance in the early years. And they’ll thank you one day. Just ask my mom.

Your daily dose of joy and connection
Get the Tinybeans app