By Marli Naidoo
Some children literally ask the whole day, “Mom, what can I eat?”. It feels as if the food is disappearing into a bottomless pit or that it never existed.
It could be that your toddler is really hungry, or he eats due to other causes. There are two basic types of hunger: emotional and physical. Emotional hunger is when we eat to process what we feel, and physical hunger has to do with the body’s need for energy and nutrients. It is important for our children to be aware of these two types of hunger. Ask him how hungry he is. Very very hungry, a bit hungry or actually full. You can ask him if it is his tummy that is feeling hungry, or is it is brain/head that wants something to eat? It could take a while before he starts to understand that in actual fact he might not be hungry, but that other factors play a role in his need for food.
Help him to talk about how he feels. Teach him from early on to talk about his feelings and emotions. Expand his vocabulary by teaching him to use words such as “bored’, “tired”, “scared”, “alone” etc.
If you know your toddler has just eaten, or if it is close to a mealtime, it will be good to distract his attention. He might just be bored, and wants to get rid of the boredom by eating. It will also teach him to not always turn to food as compensation.
Make sure you toddler is taking in the necessary nutrients. Even if your child is as thin as a rake, it does not mean he can eat anything he likes. Bad eating habits in children lead to adults who are obese, without energy, or unhealthy. Children should also not follow an adult diet. Fibre-rich and low-fat foods will not provide your child with the necessary energy. See to it that he consumes the necessary healthy fats.
Keep to fixed mealtimes and in-between snacks. The less hungry your child is, the less he will eat at one time, and the more small meals he will need per day. However, it benefits all of us to sometimes feel hungry. We live in a microwave world and are used to immediate satisfaction. It therefore is difficult sometimes to wait for our food. When your child is hungry, he will be more inclined to eat enough during mealtimes, and should not become hungry again so soon.
When your toddler asks for something to eat when you know he can’t be hungry, thirst might also be playing a role. He might possible interpret thirst as hunger. Offer him water. He might also be tired and is trying to supplement his energy by wanting to eat sweets and refined starches. So, make sure he gets enough sleep.
Look out for other factors that could cause emotional stress, such as a friend who has moved away, or a new school year with a new teacher. Help your toddler by supporting him, talking to him, keeping his teacher up to date, and helping him to develop an emotional vocabulary.
Eat right: https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/why-is-my-child-always-hungry
Essential kids: http://www.essentialkids.com.au/food/nutrition/the-nonstop-eating-machine-20120514-1ynsz
Kids and Nutrition: http://www.kidsandnutrition.co.uk/dealingwithchildalwayshungry.html