What to do when your child is always hungry

Some children seem to be “born hungrier” than others. These tykes have a larger appetite and take longer to be satisfied. But it’s not easy to know if they’re born that way or have learned to eat more from environment and upbringing.

“We do know that children are hungrier when they are in a growth spurt,” explains child nutrition expert Jill Castle, RD, co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School. “Some children seem to naturally have larger appetites, due to a bigger frame or stature which requires more calories, or their simple love of food and eating.”

A big appetite can be seen early on, but this does not mean these children are destined to struggle with their weight.

Eating in the absence of hunger peaks between age 5 and 9. “If children ask for more food shortly after a meal or a snack, they may be demonstrating boredom or habit-eating, rather than true hunger,” says Castle. This type of eating is associated with excess weight gain.

On the other hand, if meals or snacks aren’t nutritious and satisfying, or are erratic, little ones may seek additional food.

“Parents can dig a little deeper and discuss why their child wants more to eat-maybe the child skipped lunch and is truly hungry, attempting to make up the shortages of the day. Or, maybe the meal was the child’s favorite and they just want to enjoy more.”

Tips for parents

1. Don’t restrict the amount your child eats. This can result in a child who overeats at parties, school or friends’ homes. Weight and body image issues may emerge down the line.

2. Brush up on age-related portion sizes and model those at mealtimes.

3. Work on recognizing hunger and fullness signs with the child, and make sure he or she is eating for hunger most of the time.

4. Ensure nutritious food is offered on a regular schedule. Set boundaries around when eating happens.

5. Serve plenty of fruits and vegetables. Regulate sweets, but don’t eliminate them.

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