“I’m hungry.” Chances are, if you are a parent, you hear this very often. You may hear it more often than you should. Are you wondering if your child may be overeating?
So what happens if you have a toddler or preschooler who is always hungry? Is this normal?
In some cases, it is normal for your child to be hungry, such as if they are in a growth spurt. But in other cases, your kid may just be associating food with activities, such as watching TV; or your child may be trying to coax you into giving him something tasty or he may just be malnourished.
Check Out Our Other Articles on Hunger and Weight:
- Foods to Help Your Child Gain Weight Safely
- Why Food’s Marketed to Kids Causes Weight Gain
- How to Make Sure Your Child Doesn’t Become an Overeater and/or Overweight Adult
Why Is My Kid Always Hungry?
Here are some reasons as to why your kid may be hungry all the time.
Your Child Might Be Making Food Associations
Your child may be making food associations (1). Your kid likely is associating activities with food, such as watching television or playing games (1). If they are used to getting snacks during these activities, then they are more likely going to want these snacks, even if they aren’t hungry. These all cause overeating.
Most of the snacks manufactured and marketed for kids are high in fats, sugars, and calories and are addictive. Because food manufacturers have found that the perfect combination of fats, sugars, and salts creates the “bliss point” in food (2).
The “bliss point” is the optimal amount of sugar, fat and other factors that contribute to a food tasting really good; this is without factoring in health whatsoever. The brain and taste buds quickly start to favor these foods and then demand them!
Kids will likely say they are hungry just to get these snacks. Yes, it’s manipulation and no, you shouldn’t give in.
Confusing Hunger and Thirst
This is a common theme that even adults face. Kids can easily feel hungry if they aren’t drinking enough water (3). If children don’t drink enough liquids, they will mistakenly believe they are hungry when all they need is a little extra water. To make sure your kids aren’t confusing hunger with thirst, keep them hydrated. That way you can combat overeating and teach them to listen to their body cues more efficiently.
Sometimes, kids actually are hungry because they’re going through a growth spurt (1). Now, a way to make sure that your kid is eating healthy, not just trying to get their hands on something tasty, is to stick to the routine. If you don’t stick to the routine, they are more likely to just eat those bites of candy.
Overweight Children and Overeating
If your child is overweight, he can be used to eating larger amounts of food than his body needs and leading to constant overeating. Be sure to read our article on overeating.
Food for Comfort
Kids may associate food with comfort. This is not a good thing. You don’t want kids to tie emotions to foods because this could have grave repercussions for them later in life, leading to potential weight issues (3). Adults learn to eat their feelings in childhood.
Malnourishment can actually be an issue, especially if your kids are eating snacks that aren’t healthy and are high in fats and sugars.
Despite how much children are eating and how many calories they potentially are consuming, the body needs more nutrient rich foods. His body is craving more nutrients and in turn, eats more food. If he continues to eat empty calories, his body will continue to crave nutrients and demand more food.
According to the Guardian: “More than half of American children do not get enough of vitamins D and E, while more than a quarter do not get enough calcium, magnesium or vitamin A, according to a recent Journal of Nutrition study” (4).
Their little bodies may be hungry because they are craving macronutrients.
There are a few medical conditions that can cause your child to overeat. If you’re concerned you should speak with your Pediatrician. Some children can suffer from malabsorption syndrome which refers to a number of disorders in which the intestine can’t adequately absorb certain nutrients into the bloodstream. It can impede the absorption of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), or both. There is also a rare genetic disorder called Prader-Willi Syndrome.
How Do You Make Sure Your Kids Aren’t Hungry?
Here are some survival tips to make sure that your kids are eating when they are hungry and not eating out of habit or boredom.
The kitchen is closed when it’s not dinner time or snack time. They can only eat at their designated feeding zones. What are designated feeding zones?
Feeding zones are times when kids can only have their snacks. For most kids, they have snack time in the morning and in the middle of the afternoon, two or so hours before lunch and dinner. This gives their body enough time to digest and get hungry again. You want kids to only eat in these times. This reduces the chances your kids over-eat and under-eat.
Learn more about how to best use feeding zones.
Designated Snacks Times
As I said about the feeding zones, set designated times for kids to eat snacks. And they can only eat snacks then. If they choose not to eat at the designated time, then they will be hungry at the next meal and can only eat at that next time; this can help make sure they don’t over-eat and that they always stay on schedule.
Preparing your own pre-made snacks is a great way to keep kids eating healthy and a great way to prevent kids from eating unhealthy, processed snacks. You want to provide snacks that are high in nutrients and low in sugar. Find out why you want to avoid giving your child empty calorie snacks like crackers, pretzels, Goldfish crackers.
The goal is to offer snacks which can optimize nutrition and your child’s hunger needs. Think of protein, veggies, and fruits. If you have snacks ready-made, your kids can be in control of how much they eat of it; and you are in control of what it is they eat. That way they will meet their caloric needs with healthy options, as opposed to processed foods.
Check out our other snack resources:
- 50+ Healthy Snacks On the Go for Kids!
- Our top picks for snacks to get your child to eat more Superfoods
- Why Snacking Contributes to Weight Gain in Kids
- Healthy Snack Ideas for Kids: Snacks on the Go
- Constipation Help: How to get my kid to poop
- High Fiber Foods to Help with Constipation
Give Kids Water Not Juice
You want your kid not to mix up hunger and thirst. Give them enough liquids to drink. Encourage your kid to drink every 15 minutes.
Don’t Celebrate With Food
Your child did something great? Don’t give him ice cream. Instead, reward your kid with time at the park or a nice walk. If you reward children with food, they will tie food to their emotions and will want to eat more and more. Kids will eat when they are bored or happy or sad; we don’t want that.
Again, Avoid Processed Foods!
You know this one. Processed foods are low in nutrients, high in calories, fats and sugars. Keep away from these “bliss point” foods, otherwise, your kid will not be meeting their nutritional needs, but will be way over their calorie needs. If you do eat these foods, remember — moderation.
Don’t Let Your Kids Watch TV and Eat
If you let your kids eat while they watch TV, they will not learn how to properly read their own body cues. They will not pay attention to when they are full and also like I said, they will most likely associate TV with hunger and eat more than they should. Simple solution: don’t let kids watch TV and eat. People who eat while watching TV eat 30 percent more.
As you can see, there are a number of factors that go into your child being hungry, whether it’s not a routine snacking schedule or they just want to eat pre-packaged snacks; it’s time to start focusing on ways to always make sure that we are feeding our kids healthy snacks and foods utilizing the kitchen is closed and eating zones to make sure our kids are eating healthy and not eating out of boredom or habit.
She Knows: 5 reasons your child is hungry all the time
Kids and Nutrition: Dealing with a Child that is Always Hungry
Hidden hunger: America’s Growing Malnutrition Epidemic
The information on this website is designed for educational and/or entertainment purposes only. The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns regarding your child’s condition. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses.