Your child always wants to eat. They will have dinner and then ask for a snack right after. They are driving you nuts! At first, you thought it was a growth spurt, but it’s been going on for months now. If you don’t give them something they’ll throw a fit. You’re having trouble telling if they are actually hungry?
Can you relate?
First and foremost, it is important to acknowledge that a child asking for food frequently is very normal. However, while it’s normal for them to keep asking for food, it doesn’t mean they are always hungry.
Young children struggle to understand their feelings. While sometimes they will understand hunger, other times they will have a feeling that they can’t pinpoint and mistake it for hunger. They may actually feel tired, bored, sad, etc…
Since we don’t have a crystal ball that allows us to know exactly what and how much our children need, there are some things you do to ensure you are helping your child to know hunger, fullness and separate those feelings from other emotions.
Here is what you can do:
Have Consistent Meals and Snacks
I would recommend to have consistent meals and snacks on a schedule. Also, let your child(ren) know when they will be eating next. Children need and want to feel food secure. Food Security for them means now what and when they will eat again. It means having structured meals and snacks, and can depend on their caregiver to feed them reliably. Children who feel more food secure will do better at filling up at meals and snacks, staying full longer.
Allow Your Child to Fill Up
Children are naturally intuitive eaters. As parents, the more we can preserve their intuitiveness around eating, the better your children will do with listening to their bodies in the long run. This means trusting them to regulate their appetites and listen to their fullness. Children will eat different amounts at each meal or snack, day to day and even week to week. Since their appetites will vary, we need to trust them to fill up and eat enough. If your child seems to have a big appetite and acts like a bottomless pit ask yourself if they are getting enough to eat at meal and snack time. Are you allowing them to fill up on the food they are wanting to eat? It’s the best way to ensure they are getting what their body needs.
Children feel lots of emotions during the day. To name a few – in the span of just a few hours a child can feel happy, sad, mad, bored, tired, and the list goes on and on. What young children struggle with is understanding these emotions, however they are very good at deciphering between them. It is very common for children to misunderstand their feelings for hunger (because truth be told hunger is a feeling too). As parents, the only way to know if it is hunger or some other reason is to know when and what they ate recently.
For example, the first time I realized my daughter wasn’t able to tell the difference between her emotions was when she was about 2ish. I had fed my daughter a snack and then 30 minutes later she was saying she was hungry. I was certain she wasn’t hungry because she just ate. I thought about it and realized it was nap time. So I gently said, “No, I don’t think you are hungry right now because we just had snack, but I think you are feeling tired.” Helping your child to separate the emotions they are feeling will be helpful in the long run. However, if you feed your child every time they say they are hungry and really they are tired, you are teaching your child “when I feel like this I eat or need food”. It can start early emotional eating.
Have Balanced Meals and Snacks
What you serve your children can impact how full and satisfied they may feel. Children need to have a good balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat throughout the day. Fat actually helps to satisfy our children and fill them up. Carbohydrate is important for their fast acting, constantly moving bodies, and protein helps them stay full. If you find your children are getting truly hungry sooner and can’t seem to last 2-3 hours between meals or snacks, you may want to check into what you are serving. Are you providing meals and snacks that taste good and are filling?
If you want to double check to make sure you’re meeting a balanced meal you can download my free downloadable, 5 Foods To Serve at Meal Time.
Remember, all children are different. Some children will have big appetites while some children will have smaller appetites. Children who enjoy eating do better nutritionally. If your child(ren) feel like they are bottomless pits, make sure you are following the above; if they are still eating a lot then trust that your child is getting exactly what they need!
From my experience, toddlers are the hardest age to figure out how much they need, feeling like they are always wanting to eat. Do you have an age that your child seemed like a bottomless pit??