Should children feel hungry?
Should children feel hungry sometimes? Yes is the simple answer, because hungry children eat better at mealtimes. This means they are more likely to eat more types of foods and more variety, including foods that are not just their favourites.
While it is important not to allow children feel hungry for hours, it is equally important to let children feel temporarily hungry, for example, saying dinner is coming soon. If we are constantly offering food the minute children say they are a little hungry, it is easy to fall into the trap of snacking too frequently. Too much snacking is often the most common reason for children not coming to meal times hungry.
It is recommended to serve children at least one “reasonable” food at any one time. By “reasonable” food I mean a food that is usually eaten, for example, a small portion of plain pasta. This means there is no need to offer alternative foods. If alternative foods are consistently offered, children may be discouraged to eat their meal. This is because they know that they will be able to eat a more preferred food soon, such as toast.
Of course there are other reasons children should come to the table hungry including:
1) Eating when children are not hungry can put extra strain on their digestive system as they are not allowing their body digest what it has been given already, before they add more food.
2) Young children need to learn what their tummies feel like when they are hungry. This means linking the feeling with the cause (hunger) and the solution (eating).  Otherwise how do children know if they are actually hungry and when to eat? Many children do not know what hunger feels like, particularly very young children.
Ideally children would only eat when they are hungry and not for other reasons including being bored, upset etc. Many children are also eating with distractions such as screens and not paying much attention to their eating. If these situations happen repeatedly, they can become habits at a very young age and can continue long-term, increasing the likelihood of emotional eating.
3) Likewise how do children know they are actually full, if they did not start off hungry in the first instance? In this case, children often eat until they are too full.
Have you ever considered that children may not be actually hungry at a given time?  For example, they may not be hungry for the evening meal if they have eaten enough throughout the day.  By not pressurising children to eat at a given time, parents and caregivers are helping to teach them not to eat in the absence of hunger and they are therefore less likely to overeat.
These are general guidelines only. Of course if you feel you would benefit from more support, then a little personalised advice is always the best option.
Written by Dr. Colette Reynolds, Child’s Healthy Eating Coach, founder of Growing Healthy Eaters and Mum to 2 young boys. Growing Healthy Eaters provides online support to parents to help create lifelong healthy eating habits.
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Children's Healthy Eating Coach