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.
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.
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.
I'm immediately suspicious of an article that suggests cereal as a healthy snack. Cereal (especially cereal marketed for kids) is almost always crammed full of sugar. Juice is also very sugary. This is basic stuff.
Doug - 9-Sep-21 @ 10:34 AM
I’m 16 and my sister is 11 years old 57 inches and weighs 90 pounds she only drinks like 2 or 3 16 ounce bottles of water a day at the most and is a gymnast and trains 3 days a week 2 and a half hours a day
She is always saying she is hungry even though I eat the same amount of food and I am full she keeps asking for snacks I am concerned about her also i know she need to drink more water but it’s a struggle to get her to drink even 2 bottles of water a day she just keeps saying she’s not thirsty.
If it makes any difference I’m vegetarian and my sister is pescatarian.
Rachel - 5-Feb-20 @ 11:56 PM
Im 13 years old, and i have Bell's palsy i used to take medicines. And now i feel sick and i started to get hot and i dont feel hunger when i eat i vomit. And my head hurts, and my eyes are burning it doesn't hurt it just hot. Pls help:(
guideyy - 3-Jun-19 @ 9:36 AM
My 6 years 3 months daughter used to not.eat food at all we faced the problem.but not she.ia.getting hungry again and again every 2.hours is it normal to feel hungry or is it worrying issue
Sheetal - 28-Mar-19 @ 12:53 PM
Pls my 10 yrd oldboy is alws hungry ,30 mins after eating he ales complain of hunger.pls is it normal or there is a problem pls I want to know.thanks
Olori - 6-Dec-18 @ 12:14 PM
My little girl is 4 and weighs 64lbs.
This past yr it happened and it happened fast. I've got her off all fruit juices. Only water and sometimes milk. I do know that some of hers is emotional. But mom needs some help on handling this. I've struggled with weight all my life. Luckily height runs in the family. Obesity no. This is my 3rd child. Shes the baby. My other 2 are very healthy. I'm not perfect. Of course I'm an on the go mom and by fast food every now and again. But trying to sub fried with fruit or something else. I'm scared for my daughter. Please help?!
I'm doing everything I think I can do.
Mandy - 27-Oct-18 @ 12:13 PM
my daughter is 12 years old she is constantly hungry every two hours what do I need to do she is on lithium 450 mgs twice a day and clonidine 0.2 mgs is there an answer for this eating
shelly - 14-Mar-18 @ 1:41 AM
My cousin 15 years old he always hungry why
Chinni - 31-Jan-18 @ 5:37 PM
Hello, i am 12 years old, and i would like to discuss a concern. I sleep 8 hours on average, i feel genuinely fine in terms of emotions, and i eat plenty of carbohydrates, vegetables and proteins. Yet for some reasons, after 30 minutes in advance of a meal, i continuously consume snacks. Today it got serious, as i ate over 2 sainsburies packets of grapes in between meals, and i can't stay out of the kitchen. I normally eat a huge amount, yet for some reason i am eating even more then my "ususal" amount. Strange enough, i am not overweight, and i only appear to have a small pot belly-the pot belly is normal for me. I need advice on possible causes, and a solution if possible.
Jon - 27-Jan-18 @ 5:55 PM
My son's is frequently eating something or the other. He won't mind where he is either in friends house or relatives house. But he is eating junk food. As a mother I am feeling very shi and ashamed in front of everyone. Pls I need help to control my son's food.moreover he is not having healthy food like fruits, rice etc
Ram - 18-Sep-17 @ 4:04 PM
Kitten - Your Question:
My 8 yr old daughter is overweight and constantly eating. gets physically and emotionally abusive towards me when I try to cut her off. she is bigger than me sp can overpower me. I suspect it fill an emotional need because I have 3 younger than her. But if I try to spend time with her for attention she just sits and says silly nonsense things or watches her tv shows and ignores me. My partner wont allow me to take her to a doctor and I worry it will turn into a difficult problem as we approach the teen years.
You could make a difference by ensuring, the only foods that are available for snacking on are health, such as carrots, celery etc. Give her something to do that distracts her from eating. Watching tv is an easy time to sit and pick at food...try giving her a craft project that she can work on while watching...learning to knit, sew, construct clay models, paint pottery (or shiny stones from outside etc) are all things she could be doing. Make sure water is available to drink at all times, even if it means filling sports bottles and keeping them in the fridge ready. If she's full with drink,she may feel less need to pick at food. Make her do some gentle exercise to start with and built it up gradually so she's not put off - make sure it's fun and not arduous (dancing, skipping games, scooters, space hoppers etc). It's up to you as a parent to get this started - if it doesn't succeed, you may have to consult your GP regardless of what your partner says.
KidsAndNutrition - 11-Sep-17 @ 11:56 AM
My 8 yr old daughter is overweight and constantly eating... gets physically and emotionally abusive towards me when i try to cut her off..... she is bigger than me sp can overpower me.... i suspect it fill an emotional need because i have 3 younger than her. But if i try to spend time with her for attention she just sits and says silly nonsense things or watches her tv shows and ignores me. My partner wont allow me to take her toa doctor and i worry it will turn into a difficult problem as we approach the teen years.....
Kitten - 9-Sep-17 @ 12:26 AM
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
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
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?
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 ?
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.
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