Children as we all know are either not hungry at all and won’t eat, or the exact opposite just want to eat all day long. Being the conscientious parent or carer you are, the health of your little one is your primary concern, but how do you know how much is too much when it comes to food?
This can be a tricky question to answer because it’s such an individual thing. Each child is going to require a different amount of food, furthermore as they grow this amount is going to increase quite a bit.
Quite a popular school of thought is that you should simply allow the child to dictate what they eat in the hope that their bodies will determine exactly what it needs and regulate the quantity needed. However this can potentially lead to bad habits forming later on down the line such fussy eating. It is important to realise that child are actually quite similar to adults in their eating habits. They will often eat based on their emotions, rather than because they are actually hunger. The child may be feeling simply bored, frustrated, lonely, angry or even happy.
If your nutrition plan for the child is set up well and they are eating 3 times a day but snacking more than once then there is a strong chance it’s for one of these reasons.
Rather than tackling this from a nutritional perspective instead it makes more sense to address the psychological issues involved instead.
Ask the child why they want something else to eat, try to establish if they are in fact asking due to their emotional state. If they are angry or frustrated this should be fairly simply to determine. If they are happy then it would be wise to do as much as possible to discourage them from rewarding themselves with food. If a habit like this forms then it can continue into adult life and lead to obesity issues. Instead find another way to satisfy the child, obviously we want them to be happy as much as possible but just not to tie that emotion to food. The hardest emotions to spot are boredom and loneliness, the child may be doing a good job of masking these two emotions. However simply encouraging the child and getting them involved in some sort of regular social group will fast solve these issues.
Hopefully by treating the emotional responses that trigger hunger you can begin to manage the hunger pattern of the child and begin to form a routine that they will adapt to. However bear in mind that it is not always a problem to give your child extra food, it is just best to avoid habit formation surrounding treats. You may consider only allowing them healthy snacks like raw vegetables, fruit or even popcorn which is low in calories.
Finally remember to always be encouraging and positively reinforcing good habits, the child will absolutely respond to this above almost anything else.