“Mom, I’m hungry!” is a constant refrain around my house. Sometimes my kids are genuinely hungry after a big day of activities and not enough substantial food. But most of the time, they just want to eat out of boredom or because it comforts them.
If I say “no,” am I telling them to ignore signs of hunger? And if I let them snack every time they’re hungry, am I enabling overeating?
Pediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker writes about the issue in a blog at Psychology Today. Her take? Dr. Meeker suggests that “the majority of time our kids tell us they’re hungry; they really aren’t in need of nutrition. They feel hunger but don’t know how to suppress it.”
Dr. Meeker says it’s up to parents to determine “whether or not our kids are really hungry.” Personally, I want my kids learn how to recognize true hunger on their own. At ages 5 and 8, my girls are ready to practice eating when they are hungry and stopping before they eat too much. I know I’ve got a tendency to be controlling (as well as lot of my own issues surrounding food), so I’m hoping to encourage them make their own decisions — within reason.
For instance, if they’re hungry, I’ll do what my mom used to do and offer them a carrot or an apple. If they refuse, it means they’re probably not hungry. I’ll also leave some fruit and vegetables out on the dining room table so if they want to snack, they won’t have to ask my permission.
Dr. Meeker suggest that if your child is “chubby,” you should “tell her that her hunger will go away and that feeling her stomach growl is just part of life.” Really? Sounds pretty harsh to me. I agree that it’s okay to feel hungry every once in a while and we’ve grown too accustomed to constantly feeding our kids at every soccer game and playdate. But I think it’s particularly wrong to stigmatize a chubby child and try to control their food intake.
To me, healthy eating has a lot to do with listening to my body and knowing when I’m truly hungry. If I deny myself food when I’m hungry, I’m more likely to overreat. I’ve found that the same is true for my kids.
What do you think? Would you deny your child food if they said they were hungry? Or is it okay to do what our parents did and tell them “wait for dinner?”