What to Do If Your Kid Is Always Hungry

Does it seem like your kid is constantly asking for food—even when they just ate? Here are four possible reasons why, and what to do about it.

kid eating cupcakes
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Parenting can be repetitive, and that is particularly true at meal time. Many feel like they are stuck in a cycle of make meal, clean up. Make snack, clean up. Make meal again, repeat forever. But children need to eat. From three square meals a day to multiple snacks, kids need a lot food (and fuel) to keep up with their activity levels and help them grow. But for some parents, the requests for food seem never ending. One of the concerns I hear from parents is that their kids always seem hungry no matter what they do.

If there's been a big change in your child's appetite—either up or down—it's worth checking in with their pediatrician to make sure everything is okay. But assuming everything's normal, here are a few common culprits that could be the root of your child's seemingly bottomless pit.

Your Kid's Meals and Snacks Aren't Filling

A lot of common "kid food"—think fish-shaped crackers, gummy fruit snacks, and sugary granola bars—provide calories but aren't particularly satisfying. Ditto for foods made with refined flour like white bread and pastries. That means that even right after eating them, your child may still be hungry. Kids who don't eat fruits and vegetables, which are full of hunger-busting fiber and fluid, may also find themselves less than satisfied.

What to do: Be sure meals include filling foods, like fiber-rich whole grains, proteins, fruits, and vegetables. Same goes for snacks. It's okay to have empty-calorie foods like pretzels or white crackers sometimes, but the majority of snacks should be more like "meal foods" that contain filling nutrients. Here are five snacks that keep kids full.

They're Having a Growth Spurt

Kids' appetites fluctuate from year to year and even day to day. Toddlers and preschoolers, for example, are notorious for eating very little one day and loads of food the next. When children are hitting a growth spurt, there's a sudden uptick in appetite that may seem out of character—and even hard to satisfy! The good news? It's totally normal.

What to do: Handle these surges in appetite with nourishing, satisfying food. Be sure your kitchen is stocked with healthy, easy options like nut butters, cheese, edamame, avocado, and whole grains so hungry kids are reaching for nutritious foods instead of chips or sweets.

Your Child is Eating Out of Boredom

Emotional eating isn't just for grown-ups. "Sometimes for a kid 'I'm hungry' means I'm bored, upset, nervous, or just want to eat," says Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD, author of How to Raise A Mindful Eater.

What to do: Start talking with your child about hunger, fullness, and the importance of listening to our bellies. If it turns out your child is not very hungry, you may want to ask them what they're really feeling and try to help—whether it's talking through a problem or finding a book or game if they're bored. Scheduled meals and snacks can also help. "Having regular, structured meals at the table without grazing in between helps keep the child from learning to eat for non-food reasons," says Jacobsen.

Hunger is Being Confused with Thirst

It's not uncommon for thirst to be mistaken for hunger. Kids often get so caught up in playing that they forget to keep drinking, especially in hot weather.

What to do: Have a designated water bottle or cup for your child that can be refilled throughout the day. And explain to your kids that sometimes thirst can feel like hunger. If they're truly hungry, it's fine to serve a healthy snack, but it's smart to check in about thirst too.

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