A: By the age of four, most children are settling in to regular eating routines, eating three meals and several small snacks each day. If your daughter wants to eat every hour, it’s a good idea to try to help her get into a better eating schedule. Your first order of business is to make sure that she’s eating enough of the right kinds of foods at breakfast. Breakfast should include some protein and fiber, since both help fill children up and satisfy their appetites. Oatmeal has both protein and fiber, which makes it an excellent breakfast food. If your daughter doesn’t like oatmeal, you might try offering her scrambled eggs (high in protein) and whole grain toast (high in fiber). The worst breakfast foods are those that are high in simple sugars and low in protein and fiber, such as sugary breakfast cereals, pastries and donuts, and pancakes or waffles with syrup. Eating these for breakfast can leave kids hungry and craving sweet foods all day long. Once your daughter has finished eating breakfast, ask her to help you put away the dishes and clean up the kitchen to signify that the meal is over and it’s time to stop eating.
After meals and before snacks, try to keep her active and occupied so that she doesn’t have a chance to think about eating. It might be best if you go outside for a walk or go to the park to play so that she’s away from food. When it’s time, announce that it’s time for her snack. You can offer her some cut up fruit and veggies and a bit of yogurt or cheese or other nutritious foods. Again, steer clear of sugary snacks, and try to stick to foods that are high in fiber (fruit and vegetables) and those that offer some protein (yogurt and cheese). Make sure your daughter is getting plenty of water to drink, both at meals and between meals. Sometimes children say that they’re hungry when in fact they’re just thirsty.
It’s also helpful to have your daughter sit at a table at mealtimes whenever possible so that she’ll learn that eating is done at the table, and not in the living room in front of the television or in her bedroom while she’s playing.
Your daughter might want to eat because she’s bored, and eating is an activity that she enjoys. If your daughter tells you that she’s hungry and she’s just eaten well an hour beforehand, try to redirect her attention without chastising her for wanting to eat again. Instead of saying something like “You can’t possibly be hungry again!” you might say something like, “It’s not quite time for dinner. Why don’t we go outside and play ball instead?”
Fortunately, four-year-olds are very adaptable and eager to please, and once you start offering her a more structured eating schedule, she’ll likely adjust very quickly.