My daughters love to eat and almost alway ask for seconds or something extra, like a piece of fruit after dinner.
Since obesity, high cholesterol, type-2 diabetes and heart disease all run on both sides of the family, and because I’m also an emotional eater, I often worry that they eat too much.
At the same time, I’m very careful about what I say to my kids about food and try not to make it an issue.
Most kids like to snack but if they’re not torching major calories on the field, you might be wondering why your kid is always hungry or asks for something to eat after he ate just an hour ago.
It’s always a good idea to check in with your kid’s pediatrician since an increase in appetite can be a sign of type-2 diabetes, digestive conditions and thyroid dysfunction, to name a few.
If everything is normal however, here are some possible reasons your kid is always hungry.
1. A lack of nutrient-dense foods
My daughter often complains that her school lunch—usually lentils, veggies and a piece of fruit—isn’t enough.
She wants more choices like the other kids have, but I try to explain that the foods they’re eating, things like white bread, “veggie” sticks and “fruit” gummies aren’t nutritious or filling.
Most of the kid-friendly foods like granola bars, pretzels, and fish-shaped crackers are made with refined carbohydrates that kids burn through quickly and don’t have the fiber and protein kids need to feel satiated.
At each meal, aim for whole foods: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, clean sources of protein and healthy fats.
Healthy snacks should be made up of both protein and fiber, like celery and hummus or an apple with almond butter.
2. Dehydration and thirst
According to an August 2015 study in The American Journal of Public Health, more than 50 percent of children and teens don’t drink enough water each day.
If kids aren’t hydrated, it can also affect their mood, brain function and athletic performance, and lead to headaches, dizziness and constipation.
Since being dehydrated can often be mistaken for hunger, it’s always a good idea to offer water before offering a snack.
Encourage your kids to drink water first thing in the morning too, when they’re most likely to be dehydrated, and sip throughout the day.
Drinking water before a meal can also prevent them from overeating or asking for something to eat.
Stick with water instead of juice which is high in empty calories and sugar, spikes blood sugar and may encourage cravings for other sugary fare.
If plain water is hard for your kids to swallow however, add sliced cucumbers or strawberries for some flavor.
Young kids in particular, usually have to be reminded to drink up and sometimes a new sippy cup or water bottle is the key to get them to drink up.
3. Growth spurts
When it seems like your kid is always hungry no matter how healthy the food is or how often he eats, he may be having a growth spurt.
According to KidsHealth.org, kids grow about 2 1/2 inches per year until they become teenagers. Growth spurts also happen between ages 8 and 13 for girls and 10 and 15 for boys.
Interestingly, they grow more during the spring time than at any other time of year.
Instead of processed, packaged foods, support your kid’s growth with nutrient-dense, whole foods as much as possible.
On the weekends or on snow days when there’s no school, your kids will probably ask, “can I have a snack,” several times a day.
When my kids ask for snacks just a few hours after eating lunch, it’s usually because they’re bored.
I try to explain that eating isn’t an activity and food is fuel.
Another ongoing conversation we have is about recognizing their hunger cues. I explain that when you’re hungry, your stomach growls and we eat to not feel hungry, instead of eating until we feel full.
Having a schedule of meals and snacks with some flexibility throughout the day can help ensure your kid is actually hungry and eating enough each time.
If your kid still asks for a snack but you think he’s actually bored, telling him to wait until the next meal or snack time time teaches him that it’s ok to be hungry—a lesson even adults need.