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Dealing with a Child that is Always Hungry

By: Catherine Gough - Updated: 9 Jan 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Hunger Always Hungry I’m Starving

If a child is constantly hungry, parents need to ask themselves a few questions: are they eating properly at mealtimes? Are they overweight? Are they using food as a psychological prop of some kind?

If the answers to these questions raise no cause for concern, it could simply be that the child is genuinely hungry. Children go through growth spurts which can be quite dramatic – perhaps several centimetres in only a month or two – and at these times they’re likely to need lots of energy. Boys seem particularly affected. Most adult men will remember times in their adolescence when they could eat everyone else under the table and still feel hungry!

Eating Properly at Mealtimes

Make sure that a child who claims to be hungry all the time is eating three good meals a day.

Having said that, remember that younger children can’t usually manage large portions and may need to ‘graze’ throughout the day. What appears to their parents to be constant hunger may just be eating smaller amounts more often. Older children should be able to eat bigger portions at each sitting, but they will often need a couple of snacks during the day in addition – children are very energetic and burn off calories faster than most adults.

Do encourage hungry children to eat until they are full, but don’t force them to have more than they want.

Keep Snacks Healthy

Children typically need one snack in the middle of the morning and another in the afternoon – perhaps when they get home from school – to keep going. Do make sure the snacks they eat are nutritious as well as filling. For example, they could eat a bowl of cereal with milk, some toast with baked beans or a banana.

If children fill up on junk food or sugar-laden snacks, they’re risking their long-term health and may put on too much weight. The high fat content of such snacks makes it easy to eat too many calories without feeling full. In addition, the ‘sugar rush’ produced by sweets and chocolate bars tends to be addictive – not to mention their bad effect on children’s teeth. Discourage habits like playing on the computer, watching TV or even doing homework with a bag of crisps, a box of chocolates or a can of drink to hand. Better still; don’t keep such snacks in the house.

Hungry or Thirsty?

It’s possible to confuse hunger and thirst, so it’s worth giving a child something to drink first. Water, milk or fruit juice are the healthiest choices (see comment on ‘sugar rush’ above).

Getting Enough Sleep

We all feel the need to keep up our energy levels when we’re tired, perhaps by eating something sugary. Eliminate this possibility by making sure a child is getting plenty of sleep.

Overweight Children

If a hungry child is also becoming too fat, it’s a sign that their eating habits are getting out of control. In this case, their bodies have become conditioned to expect large quantities of food and regular ‘fixes’ of calories, so they feel hungry even though they don’t need the food for energy. This is a whole subject in itself – please see our separate article on childhood obesity.

Psychological Issues

Constant hunger – or rather constant eating – can be a sign that a child is using food to fulfil some emotional need. It might be as straightforward as reaching for a snack when they’re bored or it might be more complicated than that.

If parents suspect that a child is bored or needing some comfort rather than genuinely feeling hungry, it’s a good idea to suggest an activity together or settling down for a chat before making a snack. They’ll start to learn that there are other ways to satisfy that ‘empty’ feeling.

In a few cases, food can become a serious mental health issue. Children who habitually eat for reasons other than hunger could be starting on the road to an eating disorder. If parents suspect that this could be happening, it’s essential to seek professional help.

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Tara - Your Question:
HiI am a mother of 9 years old daughter. she is an overweight and her daughter asked us to control her diet. she always over eats and constantly asking for food like sweets, biscuits, chips etc. after her meal. She never feels like her stomach are full. What to do please advise

Our Response:
Firstly make sure she has plenty of water to drink. Sometimes it's easy to mistake deydration/thirst for hunger. Secondly, at 9 years of age, it's easy to restrict access to things like sweets, biscuits and chips...simply don't have them in the house!(Once they get older it's more difficult, but you can get her into the habit now). If she's still hungry after a meal offer her another glass of water, or even a cup of weak tea (no sugar) etc. Make carrot sticks, celery sticks and so on, the only available snack option. If your daughter is genuinely hungry she can choose these. Do the same with meals - make portion sizes normal and offer more veg if your daughter wants them. Eventually, her appetite should adapt and she'll feel fuller sooner. If you're still worried after a few months, visit your GP for help. Try not to make this a big issue with your daughter though.
KidsAndNutrition - 10-Jan-17 @ 10:32 AM
Hi I am a mother of 9 years old daughter. she is an overweight and her daughter asked us to control her diet. she always over eats and constantly asking for food like sweets, biscuits, chips etc. after her meal. She never feels like her stomach are full. What to do please advise
Tara - 9-Jan-17 @ 7:32 AM
Vanesa Tomic - Your Question:
Hi im 12 I try to eat 3 meals a day and when I do in between meals I eat alot of snacks I dont believe im fat I just have a bit of tummy and I really dont like it my mom contsantly calls me fat and it really brings my self esteem down I contstantly am sad because of my stomach and how much I eat im a vegetarian and im trying to get active to be healthy i've been trying to work out and tomorrow I want to go outside and go running and learn to ride my bike but my mom probaly won't let me she always calls me fat but whenever I try to do something about like workout or go outside and be active she always puts me down and says that I don't need but I do im constantly bored and she never lets me out the house I just want to run around and have fun like a normal kid but I can't because my mom won't let me im always inside on my phone or making useless crafts its the same old story everyday and even when I do exercise its inside with barely any space and its usually crunches and things like that I never can embrace exercise and whenever I try to tell her this she starts saying things to me and she is a massive hypocrite she says im lazy and I can never learn anything she never wants to teach me things and I want to be able to do things I only know how to cook pasta but when I ask if I make something that takes more effort she never trusts me im always being put down and im usually alone downstairs and I eat when im hungry its actual hunger and when I do she says I eat as much a bear and says I eat 7 meals a day which isn't true I just eat snacks and when I do its bananas, cereal, and I occasionally eat chips bit not all the time I try to limit the sweets like one a day and I want to get my health in order and when I have school when come home its really late so I cant go outside and my mom wont let me try out for sports and when I say to my sisters that I want to do a sport they always say I cant do it right now I want to be on the swim team try outs are in march but my mom probaly wont let me I never do anything and my mom only lets me hang out with one friend and sometimes another one and my sisters are always going places and having fun and being social and they never take me with them and im always sad I cry at least once a day because I always feel fat and unhealthy and that I can't do anything about it what should I do?

Our Response:
You should tell another adult that you trust (like a teacher etc) about your feelings. They might be able to suggest to your mum that you do some of the sporting activities that you're interested in etc.
KidsAndNutrition - 4-Jan-17 @ 11:26 AM
Hi im 12 i try to eat 3 meals a day and when i do in between meals i eat alot of snacks i dont believe im fat i just have a bit of tummy and i really dont like it my mom contsantly calls me fat and it really brings my self esteem down i contstantly am sad because of my stomach and how much i eat im a vegetarian and im trying to get active to be healthy i've been trying to work out and tomorrow i want to go outside and go running and learn to ride my bike but my mom probaly won't let me she always calls me fat but whenever i try to do something about like workout or go outside and be active she always puts me down and says that i don't need but i do im constantly bored and she never lets me out the house i just want to run around and have fun like a normal kid but i can't because my mom won't let me im always inside on my phone or making useless crafts its the same old story everyday and even when i do exercise its inside with barely any space and its usually crunches and things like that i never can embrace exercise and whenever i try to tell her this she starts saying things to me and she is a massive hypocrite she says im lazy and i can never learn anything she never wants to teach me things and i want to be able to do things i only know how to cook pasta but when i ask if i make something that takes more effort she never trusts me im always being put down and im usually alone downstairs and i eat when im hungry its actual hunger and when i do she says i eat as much a bear and says i eat 7 meals a day which isn't true i just eat snacks and when i do its bananas, cereal, and i occasionally eat chips bit not all the time i try to limit the sweets like one a day and i want to get my health in order and when i have school when come home its really late so i cant go outside and my mom wont let me try out for sports and when i say to my sisters that i want to do a sport they always say i cant do it right now i want to be on the swim team try outs are in march but my mom probaly wont let me i never do anything and my mom only lets me hang out with one friend and sometimes another one and my sisters are always going places and having fun and being social and they never take me with them and im always sad i cry at least once a day because i always feel fat and unhealthy and that i can't do anything about it what should i do?
Vanesa Tomic - 3-Jan-17 @ 2:14 AM
My 7year old is having behaviour problems at school. Won't sit still being silly walking on tables etc. She is not a good eater limited range of food. Gave her a grazing box and had perfect behaviour. Medical problem?? Diabetes?? Advice please
Ruby123 - 3-Nov-16 @ 9:06 PM
My daughter and husband (stepfather to my grandsons), do not feed my very lean and tall (5ft 2in) 11 yr old grandson enough food. He's in a constant growth spurt. The 6 yr old is ok for now. They ration everything the boys eat and the older one is hungry much of the time. He's active and fit and they eat healthy food. He tries not to complain but he's truly hungry. He says "Mom used to make sure we were fed before [she remarried a yr ago] and now she doesn't believe I'm hungry". The stepdad eats whatever he wants but has convinced my daughter that her son isn't really hungry. I've tried several times to talk to her about it but she denies the reality. I've been trying to find something about boys, growth spurts and food, and I'll offer to contribute to the food bill. We live several hours away so I only have them with me several times a month. The kids are getting discouraged and I'm feeling desperate. Can't believe this is the situation for my precious boys.
Cindy - 13-Oct-16 @ 2:06 PM
I have a 15 year old son who has a disabilityand complex need he is constantlyhungry morning to night he is like feeding a new born on demard it is tirying for me is it he medicationhe on or is it a medicalhe on the go 12 hours a day don't sleep well I just need answerto this as it to much I'm a single parent
Sara - 13-Sep-16 @ 11:01 AM
My 9 year old eats as 3 good meals a day and 2-3 snacks and is still hungry from the time she gets up tell she gose to bed. Shes starting to get a big belly and i worry im doing something wrong. She eats like a grown man.
Naynay - 31-Aug-16 @ 2:44 AM
Cherv - Your Question:
My son is 5 and he has 3 meals a day and drinks in the day and he seem to be hungery all the time he is skinny and have to keep him busy he has loads of energy and wanted to know if there could be anything wrong with him ?

Our Response:
It sounds like he's just a healthy, energetic 5 year old boy!
KidsAndNutrition - 1-Aug-16 @ 11:51 AM
My son is 5 and he has 3 meals a day and drinks in the day and he seem to be hungery all the time he is skinny and have to keep him busy he has loads of energy and wanted to know if there could be anything wrong with him ?
Cherv - 31-Jul-16 @ 4:16 PM
Sarah123, this is my daughter, you described her completely, 75th, although if we are not careful it will be the 91St soon enough, she walks to the park but when we get there asks for snack, she has it, I say cone on then go play, which will last 10mins then back again for more food, she will literally just ask all day long, will not play even when her little friend asks her too, she is too interested in what's in the bag, when I say no, it well what can I have then, "nothing, it's your tea when we get home, have a drink" tantrum!! Drags feet all the way home saying she is hungry, this is every day. I pick her up from nursery and it's always "she has eaten everything" sometimes seconds. You have to watch her like a hawk or she will things off the floor people have dropped in the street. It's embrassing. My friends daughter are half her size, and she will ask my friends for food if they give her say crisps whatever so will remember the next time she is at theirhouse and will stand at their kitchen cupboards saying can I have........I have totally so many healthy snacks with me to stop her. Bag has all sorts of fruit, yo yos, rice cakes etc. If she goes to a party, she can't wait for them to open the food. Constantly repeating herself as I'm desperately trying to get her to play or go on the bouncy castle or something, anything, I swear she is getting little booby buds and is only just over three! I'm only a size 8-10, other half only a 32in waist, healthy food attitude in the housry, we can't understand it!
Aimsbeth - 23-Jul-16 @ 5:45 PM
I'm 9 yrs 8 months and I consume 2,500 calories per day so what's the problem. I think she has high metabolism.
chris24747 - 18-Jun-16 @ 3:15 PM
cat - Your Question:
I have a 4 year old grandson. snacking works ok with him, but he gets too much and goes home bloated. If I let him, he would eat until he was sick! I am sooo tired of telling him no. not sure what else to do to distract.

Our Response:
Distraction with games and activity is a tactic that often works, though it may be exhausting for you as a grandparent. If you have a garden set up a target/hoop and get him to throw or kick into it. Skipping ropes provide endless fun, as well as skipping, he could practice knots (great when it's raining), or tied it to a log and pretend to be horse riding etc. Likewise a broom propped on some tin cans, can be a hurdle. Make a list of games and activities for him to choose from...distraction isn't easy but it should work. Also, little bits of health foods like carrots and celery etc might prevent the bloated feeling.
KidsAndNutrition - 26-May-16 @ 2:31 PM
I have a 4 year old grandson.snacking works ok with him, but he gets too much and goes home bloated.If I let him, he would eat until he was sick!I am sooo tired of telling him no.not sure what else to do to distract.
cat - 23-May-16 @ 11:55 PM
Sarah1234 I could of written your post same ages children and always hungry especially my 4 year old. She will eat nearly anything including salad which is great compared to children with good aversion, but I am worried she's a bit bigger than other 4 year olds.I really don't want food to be an issue but she's LOVEs it. She always says she's hungry to my friends as well hoping they will give her a snack. It's embarrassing for all! If I could get her out of snacking that could help, but feel like I'm one of the only mums who says no or later.
Sscott - 24-Mar-16 @ 9:59 PM
Sarah 12 34 My child(actually my granddaughter),just turned 8 and I feel your frustration. I am getting her checked out now by a pediatric endocrinologist because she is at the 95th percentile. she is always asking for food. when she was younger, I made a bowl or plate of snacks for the morning and 1 for the afternoon that was out of site. I told her she did not have to ask for water or snacks from her snack plate and that lunch was at 12 noon or whenever. Then I put the timer on 3 hours (or the hours and minutes until lunch) and told her you would giver lunch when the timer went off but she could eat all or any of her morning snacks if and when she wanted. This took the control off of me and she could see she had plenty of food (that you approved)& she ddidn't have to ask. I have 4 boys and 2 girls and control battles start early with girls. I hope this might help a little.
EllieGordon - 26-Jan-16 @ 2:30 PM
It didn't help much. Thank you anyway.
mssue310 - 17-Jan-16 @ 1:52 AM
My daughter is 8 and is very overweight she has a diary allergy. She eats all fruit veg and salads she is very greedy and over eats on the good stuff and also constantly asking for food sweets, biscuits, crisps it's very hard as her younger sister isn't like that and I make food from scratch and healthy can anyone help me with advice as I don't know how to tackle talking to Her without giving her a issue
Shell - 15-Jan-16 @ 7:25 PM
I have 4 young children, my older boys who are aged 7 and 5 are given 3 meals a day and snacks throughout the day. They have been going in to the kitchen and helping themselvesto food. They take it and hide it in variousplaces around the house.
ali - 16-Nov-15 @ 7:51 AM
@Sarah1234. Are they having plent of water between meals? If distraction techniques do not work, maybe have a chat with your GP or community nurse to see if there's any advice they can offer, or whether this is an indication of another problem etc.
KidsAndNutrition - 1-Jul-15 @ 11:53 AM
I have a 3.5 year old and a 2 year old. Both are constantly asking for food. It is driving me crazy. They eat all their meals which i make healthy and ask for more then they eat dessert- fruit or yogurt, then they ask for more and more! 10 minutes after a meal my daughter is saying she's hungry. And this continues l day. This has been the same since she started on food. It's not a growth spurt. When it really bothers me is when we are at social events. All she wants to do is sit and watch eat the bowls of crisps and snacks and not play with other children. I can coax her off to play for a whil but 5 mins later she is back asking for more. And this goes on for hours. I'm concerned. She's on 75th percentile for weight and 50th for height so she's not fat but she's cuddly. Should I be concerned? What can I do? I feel like it's a habit and mental thing but don't know how to stop it. I don't give her snacks all the time and say no most of the time and offer fruit when at home. But it's exhausting me and I just wish she could think of something that's not food! Help!
Sarah1234 - 28-Jun-15 @ 10:52 AM
@Shazza. Offer him a glass of water before he eats (and with his meals if necessary). If he's still hungry afterwards offer him a raw carrot or similar and distract him with something else. Be aware that boys of this age are often experiencing a growth spurt so may actually need to increase their portion sizes beyond the child size ones they may have been having before. It's not a good time to allow them to get into bad habits of snacking and eating huge meals either. If you remain concerned you should speak to your GP or nutritionalist.
KidsAndNutrition - 14-May-15 @ 9:53 AM
My 12 year old son is constantly hungry 10 mins after a meal all time after breakfast lunch not sure what to do
Shazza - 9-May-15 @ 11:36 AM
@Kylie. Glad the article helped, you sound like you're doing a great job with your son.
KidsAndNutrition - 17-Feb-15 @ 10:50 AM
Hello, thank you for this article. I have a four, nearly five year old who is constantly saying I'm hungry. He's also woken a few nights in the middle of the night saying I'm hungry. I never let him eat at night as I know this can cause problems in the future. This article has helped as I was starting to worry but after reading this, I know he's a normal growing little boy and we are doing all the right things with healthy snacks and plenty of family fun time
Kylie - 15-Feb-15 @ 10:41 AM
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