Do you hear this often? If you're a parent or caregiver, you've likely heard it in a really drawwwnnnnn out way.
What’s your response when you hear it?
While “I’m hungry!” can be genuine, there are times when it isn’t. And if you’re hearing it frequently, particularly after meal or snack times, it’s important to investigate why.
Snacks on demand or constant grazing have the ability to feed other problems and I’ll discuss them later.
But for now, here are some reasons your child may be feeling hungry or saying they’re hungry soon after eating.
Why your child might be saying it
1. They’re dehydrated - even just mildly
The feeling of hunger can be a sign of dehydration, even mild dehydration. So if you think your child hasn’t had enough water, a drink may solve the problem. Give it about 10-15 minutes following a drink to see if it makes a difference.
2. They’re filling an emotional void
Emotional eating affects kids just as much as adults. Have they had a rough day? Are they feeling okay? Do they just need a cuddle or some quality one-on-one time with you? It’s worth checking this out.
3. Boredom or sensory seeking behaviour?
Snacking is not just fun, it provides a good amount of sensory stimulation that the brain finds rewarding. You can test this one out by providing an engaging activity or doing something fun together. Just not something that involves food or eating. If the hungry complaints subside, then it probably wasn’t hunger.
If there’s persistent, genuine hunger and you’re concerned about it, it's wise to speak to your child’s GP to exclude underlying medical causes.
It can also help to make dietary adjustments to ensure your child is being provided with enough foods for lasting satisfaction. If you need help with this, why not book a consultation with me?
A routine can help break bad habits
To break the grazing habit, you need to set boundaries. Setting boundaries and expectations around food and mealtimes, is one of many things I help families with. One tool I encourage when doing so is a visual daily routine. So many kids thrive with a routine. They tend to feel more settled because the structure provides them with a better sense of security and safety through predictability. Instead of wondering the when of the next meal or snack, your child can see which part of the day they’re at and feel assured there’s another opportunity to eat coming up (well except for after dinner or supper). You can even write down what you’re going to have if your child prefers to have some notice over a complete surprise.
Want to try my visual routine in your home?
DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE ROUTINE TEMPLATE AND GUIDE
These are ideal for laminating so you can use them over and over.
Now it’s time to discuss why grazing can feed other problems and why we should avoid it as a daily habit.
Why limit snacks and grazing?
1. It has the ability to displace essential nutrients
If your meals offer a balanced array of nutrients and your child is filling up on less nutritious snacks throughout the day, they may not be feeling hungry enough and miss out on quality nutrients.
2. It can enable picky eating behaviours at mealtime
For most (unless there is an underlying problem), hunger motivates an interest in food and eating. If your child isn’t hungry enough, they will lack the motivation to try new or less favourable foods and top up on the bits they like.
It’s equally important not to let your child become too hungry as it can lead to low mood and irritability (i.e. hangry) and you don’t want a battle on your hands either.
3. It can lead to tooth decay
Most foods contain some kind of sugar, whether naturally occurring or in added form. While there is no problem with some sugars in the diet, tooth enamel can become compromised if continually exposed to dietary sugars.
4. It can lead to overnutrition (excess energy intake)
Of course, continually eating beyond our needs can lead to excess body fat, increasing the risk of developing dietary-related disease.
Need more help?
Struggling with a fussy eater or need more comprehensive assistance with establishing good eating within the home? Book a consultation today.