Found a hidden stash of cookies or candy? Don’t freak out! Here are four things to do if your child is sneaking food.

By Sally Kuzemchak, MS RD
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Finding out that your child is raiding the pantry behind your back or secretly stockpiling goodies can be upsetting. Sure, you’re concerned about the dishonesty—but you might also worry he’s developing an unhealthy behavior around food. So how should you handle it?

1. Be calm. Finding a candy store’s worth of treats under the bed might freak you out, but don’t let it show. The last thing you want is for your child to associate food and eating with feelings of shame—and food should never be a source of punishment. Instead, let him know what you’ve found, that you don’t want him to feel like he has to sneak food or eat in secrecy, and that you want to talk about it. Then give your child a chance to talk honestly (without judgment or interruptions!) about why he did it.

2. Plan for treats. Some kids sneak food because they feel like they aren’t getting what they want at home. Renowned feeding expert Ellyn Satter advocates for taking the power away from foods like chips and sweets by incorporating them into regular meals and snacks. One tactic she recommends is offering a serving of dessert along with dinner. She also suggests including your child’s favorite treats, whether that’s cookies or chips, in scheduled snack times and allowing unlimited access. (Sounds scary, I know. Here’s what happened when I tried it with my boys!)

3. Consider your own attitudes. Some parents limit sweets or snack food in an effort to feed their kids the healthiest diet possible. But those good intentions can backfire if your child feels like they aren’t allowed to have what they want. In some research, children who were restricted from eating certain foods wanted them even more—and ate more of them when given the chance. Check yourself: Do you prohibit your child from eating specific foods or strictly monitor portions of them? Do you label some foods as “bad” or “unhealthy”?  Your child may be caught between wanting to please you and wanting to eat those forbidden foods.

4. Provide a safe space. Is your child sneaking food because he’s worried his brother or sister will eat it all first? Sibling competition can be fierce for favorite items, so be sure each kid knows they don’t have to sneak or hide some to get their fair share. Establishing a bag or container for each child may help, as well as giving everyone a little refresher about sharing--and respecting other people’s food.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

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