Should Children Be Allowed To Feel Hungry?

Should your kids feel hungry sometimes? Yes, is the simple answer, because hungry children eat better at meals.

Should your kids feel hungry sometimes? Yes, is the simple answer, because hungry children eat better at meals. This means they may eat more (quantity), they may also eat more types of foods (variety), including foods that aren’t only their favourites.
I’m not recommending allowing your child to feel hungry for hours; this is more about letting your children feel temporarily hungry, for example, saying dinner is coming soon.
Of course, there are many other reasons children should ideally come to the table hungry, including:
1) Eating when we’re not hungry can put extra strain on our digestive system as we’re not allowing our body to use what it has before we add more food.
2) Young children need to link the symptoms (e.g., feeling in their tummies) with the cause (hunger) and the remedy (eating).  Did you know that children don’t always know this? If they never experience this, they’ll never learn this relationship.
3) Children who don’t feel hungry, never really know when they’re full – until they’re too full. If they start eating when they are less hungry, they won’t stop until they’re more full. This is because they need a change in status to indicate when to finish eating.
4) Children who are allowed to get hungry find it easier to separate physical and psychological hunger (The latter is caused by a desire to eat for other reasons than hunger like out of habit, upset etc).

5) Sometimes children may not be hungry after all (e.g., if they’ve eaten enough earlier).  By not pressurising them to eat at a given meal time, we’re helping to teach them not to eat in the absence of hunger and they’re therefore less likely to overeat.
6) If it’s the case that at least one or two “reasonable” foods has been served and your child doesn’t eat what’s offered at the time, then there should be less need to offer different foods. By “reasonable” food I mean it’s usually eaten by even the fussiest of eaters, for example, a small portion of fruit, pasta etc.
7) If it's OK that our children are temporarily hungry, then there should less need to offer snacks so frequently.  This should avoid too much snacking, which is often the most common reason for children not coming to the table hungry.
These are general guidelines only.
Of course, if you feel you would benefit from more support, then personalised advice is always the best option.
Written by Colette Reynolds, our Children's Healthy Eating Specialist. Colette is a Child’s Healthy Eating Specialist in Galway (and online). She provides one to one personalised consultations on nutrition for children with the help of her extensive psychology background. She also does group talks and has a Picky Eating Package (in just 4 sessions simplify how to feed your kids better). The advice she gives reflects the work in her own practice as well as that of international experts (including Danielle Binns, Jill Castle, Dr Jennifer Cohen, Maryann Jacobsen, Sally Kuzemchak, Natalie Monson, Ellyn Satter, Dina  Rose, Amy Roskelley and Natalia Stasenko).

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