Mummy, I’m Hungry!
When children realise that they feel hungry, they often want food now! When we plan and prepare nutritious meals, it can be frustrating to see our kids spoil their appetite with extra snacks because they couldn’t wait.
In the middle of the rush to prepare dinner, the ‘Mummy, I’m hungry’ call can be the most stressful call of all. Dinner is almost ready… really, you’re ALMOST there! Unfortunately, your child is apparently ‘starving’ and already rummaging through the pantry, probably looking for something that comes in a packet.
So what can you do?
Allow for a snack, in the hope that it won’t replace their dinner?
Ask them to wait, and risk whinging, crying or worse, a tantrum?
Here are some tips that I have found helpful with managing hungry children when the next scheduled snack or meal is not too far away.
- Declare fruit and vegetables ‘anytime food’
When they feel hungry between meals, let your child choose a piece of fresh fruit or vegetable. It won’t spoil their appetite, and it’s a great way to help them eat more fresh fruit and vegetables throughout the day and to make healthy food choices. This is also handy when the kitchen is ‘closed’ at night, and your child wants a last snack before bed.
- Offer an entrée
Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you need to start offering 3 course meals (phew!). Just before a meal, while you finish preparing or cooking, you can offer a small snack to complement the meal. Ask your child to sit at the table, and serve something light and small, such as vegetables, a small piece of cheese, a soup or vegetable juice, a few nuts or olives… You can also offer something from the main course early, for example, if you were planning to serve steamed carrots with chicken and rice, you can offer raw carrot sticks before dinner instead. It can help to be a little flexible.
In summer, I often make small icy poles with half water and half fruit juice. They’re refreshing, and they can help keep your child busy and satisfied for 10 minutes while you prepare lunch or dinner.
- Provide nutritious snacks
Having healthy snacks is as important as having healthy meals. By choosing nutritious snacks, you can help your child feel fuller for longer. At snack time, remind your child that they need to eat well and fill up their tummy.
- Relax, it’s okay to feel hungry
It’s important for kids to learn to respond to their hunger cues. They need to recognise feeling hungry, and feeling full. When they say they are hungry, there’s no need to fret – they won’t fade away! It can also help to confirm that they are really hungry, not just bored. If they get a little ‘hangry’, you can offer a small snack or entrée.
When your kids say they are hungry just before a meal, tell them: “Perfect timing! Dinner will be ready in 10 minutes.” Empathise and tell them that you know they are hungry, and that it’s great because you have a delicious meal on the way to fill their tummy.
- Keep them occupied
Give your child a small chore to do or a game to play. Better even, ask them to help you cook or set the table. You can also ask them to just sit with you in the kitchen and tell you about their day (of course, they can munch on raw veggies at the same time!).
- Give them a time
Let your child know when the meal will be ready. You can give them a reference if they don’t quite have a good sense of time yet. You can say “In 10 minutes, when the clock says 6:30” or “When your TV show is finished, dinner will be ready”. You can even set the kitchen timer. Remind your child that they need to wait, and ask them to do something while they wait.
If they have to wait longer than 10 minutes, give them interval reminders and praise them for being patient: “Dinner will be in 30 minutes… 20 minutes now, I’m glad you found a game to play… almost there, only 10 minutes, thank you for being so patient!”
- Establish a schedule
Children should eat 5-8 times per day, including meals and snacks. Having a schedule helps your child to learn how to regulate their hunger, and choosing
nutritious foods will sustain them between mealtimes. Allowing for fruit and vegetables at anytime during the day will help to close the gaps.
Justine Simard-Lebrun is the founder of Kids Love Good Food and the author of the book ‘ Try It You’ll Like It – A parent’s guide to raising healthy, adventurous eaters’.
As a parenting educator, Justine gives parents the skills and confidence to beat fussy eating and raise healthy eaters. She believes in positive parenting and provides simple, down-to-earth strategies that help parents raise children who love good food .