Help! My kids are eating all the snacks and they won’t stop asking for food! This seems to be the cry for help I’m seeing a lot this week. As I’m writing this, it’s the first week where a lot of the world is staying at home for an extended amount of time. Many of you are now providing education at home. It’s a LOT to deal with all at once. Add to that the panic purchasing at grocery stores, the lines to get into the stores, and the state of your pantry… It can be incredibly stressful to have your kids constantly asking for food.
Now, before we hop into this article, I want to reassure you all, there’s no food shortage. You shouldn’t need to ration your safe food (in most cases). If you’re able to place online orders, do that asap so that as your pantry runs low, deliveries can fill you up, and you won’t need to leave your home.
Don’t forget, we’ve created a new Community Resources section of the website to help you all through the difficult times ahead.
Oh My Goodness They Won’t Stop Eating!
This has been something a lot of parents are struggling with at the moment. I’ve complied helpful tips on managing the situation. Additionally, there’s information on food insecurity at the end of the article. I would encourage you all to donate to a food pantry (or organization) if you are financially able.
1. Keep a written food schedule where kids can SEE it.
If you want to add what you’ll be serving (menu), go for it, but it’s not necessary. Kids need to know when they can expect to be served. It’s how they know what time recess is at school. When they ask, simply reply with “check the schedule for snack time” etc.
2. If you have several children, write their names on snacks such as chips.
This is a MUST in our home. Here’s what happens when I don’t: I never hear the end of how he/she had more than me… it’s not fair… blah blah blah. By having their names on the item, the responsibility is on them to self-regulate. This has saved me SO MUCH MENTAL STRESS. The self-regulation is the key takeaway here. With this technique, the kids graze less and simply eat their snack when they’re actually hungry, and they don’t go overboard.
Mind you, we now have teenagers at home. You won’t need to do this with little kids, and depending on your kids, you may not need to do it all.
I’ll also add: when you do this, let your kids know when you plan to buy more. If they think more is never coming, they’ll hoard, and be afraid to eat the food. Tell them, I plan to go to the store again in 2 weeks for these. You can eat these as fast or as slow as you’d like.
3. Invite your kids to help prepare meals.
Having them involved can help ease their internal “need/dive” to graze on snacks all day. This will also help your kids make a better connection to their food, and appreciate the effort you put into making it. Bonus: it helps with picky eaters too.
4. Where possible, serve nutrient dense foods.
Each child has unique metabolic needs, and you know them best. In our home, I try to serve loads of healthy fats in the morning because the kids function so well when I do. For Kids Three & Kid Four, it’s avocado, clean bacon, eggs, organic (and sometimes raw) cheese, etc. For Kid Two it’s avocado, clean bacon, and a smoothies with seeds.
Currently, you may find it VERY hard to serve nutrient dense items, but where you can, do. Protein and fat keeps kids fuller, longer.
5. Don’t overly restrict foods (unless you have to for medical reasons).
This puts foods on a pedestal and your kids will crave it more. For example, serve a cookie with lunch. Not the whole pack, just one. They don’t feel restricted, and you don’t feel like they’re going overboard with treats.
Right now, Kid Four is eating “a lot” of ice cream. It’s a proper serving once a day. She asks, I say sure, after dinner. Sometimes I say yes after a proper lunch (which they know means well balanced and includes a vegetable).
Do what works best for your home and your kids.
6. Make sure your kids are getting enough calories.
If you’re running low on some supplies, use extra cooking fats when preparing foods. Your kids may be demanding more food because they are genuinely hungry. Many food-restricted families are limited to the safe brands they can consume (and now is NOT the time to experiment). With that in mind, place orders online so deliveries can get to you sooner than later.
7. More to point 6, are they growing?
When kids are in a growth spurt, they WILL eat. If you know your child is growing, consider offering an extra snack (or two) on your schedule. Another sign of growing is excessive sleep (remember when they were cute little babies). They were growing a ton back then it was basically eat, sleep, and poop.
8. Encourage your kids to ask the question: am I physically hungry right now?
We want kids to be able to self-regulate and listen to their bodies. Constant grazing can effect this. Remember when they were babies/toddlers and would stop eating when they were done? They were great at knowing what they needed.
As people grow up, this internal regulation can get lost. Help them find it by getting them to become more in-tune with their body. I won’t lie, this takes time, and can be a bumpy ride. We are currently on this ride with one of our kids, and it’s a struggle.
9. Offer boring food.
When kids are grazing they usually want attractive food. Snacks, sweet, treats… you know the routine. If a child is truly hungry, they won’t turn down a “boring” snack such as veggies and dip. I used this technique a LOT when the kids were little, and it curbed excessive snacking quickly.
For some kids, you’ll have even better results by offering a boring choice. When they say they’re hungry, say, “Would you like an apple or an orange?” If they pick one, great. If they come back with a counter-offer of “attractive food”, there’s a good chance they’re not hungry.
10. Reduce and aim to eliminate screens whilst eating.
When kids (and adults) watch a screen whilst eating, they’re less likely to listen to their internal cues. Make meal times about socializing. Sit and eat together, talk about whatever you’d like. You’ll find that it becomes easier to stop eating when full (and to know if you’re still hungry).
We haven’t had a screen on in over ten years while eating and it’s awesome. You will have resistance at first (and some when they’re teens) but it’s worth it.
11. Is your child nutritionally deficient?
It will be hard to answer this question right NOW given the state of the world. If your child has many food limitations, assess the nutritional values of the safe food they can have. Make sure their major needs are being met (salt, fat, protein, carbs, basic vitamins and minerals). It’s not uncommon for people to feel truly hungry, even after eating, if their basic nutritional needs aren’t being met.
With everything that’s going on, aim to serve as much variety as possible. Again, this may be hard or nearly impossible given your pantry. If there is a safe supplement your child can take, this may be a time to include it daily.
This is NOT the same issue as my child won’t stop eating, psychologically speaking. When children experience a chronic lack of food and/or poverty, they have fear based hunger, along with other issues. They don’t want to feel physical hunger, and have a constant need to know that food is around.
In these cases, you’ll have to approach food delicately. Keeping a schedule can help, but may also hurt. Know your child, and offer enough snacks on the schedule so they KNOW there is more food coming. If they ask for seconds, allow them to eat what they’d like.
The effects of food insecurity can last for years, so mindfully tackle this issue. If you’re able to work with a therapist in the future, they can also help.
Also, make sure the food is visible. It’s a small thing that helps remind your child that there IS food. This could be a fruit basket that’s always FULL, or a snack bin they can visually see in the kitchen or dining room.
If they’re old enough, talk to them about their feelings regarding food, and help to reassure them that everything is going to be OK.
For those of you who are new, there will be an adjustment period. You won’t be perfect, and that’s OK. Just you how you experiencing a lot of change, so are your kids. Did you ever hear about the experiment(s) where they remove fencing from a playground? The kids don’t know what to do with themselves and gravitate to the center of the playground.
Kids need structure, support, and reassurance (and probably a million other things too). But! Those three items where food is concerned will help you greatly in the coming weeks and months.
Please know that we are here to help the community. Visit our Community Resources section for more articles to help you through these times.