If your kids are anything like mine, life seems to be all about SNACKS during the summer months and more requests for food. Am I right?
With the kids out of school and a more lax schedule (or maybe no schedule?), it may seem like your child is constantly asking for food and snacks non-stop around the clock or always rummaging around the fridge and pantry.
And let’s be real: There’s only so many times you can hear the question, “Can I have a snack?”, or, “I want more food!”, before you start to lose your sanity.
For most parents and caregivers, food requests seem to ramp up when kids are home from school with no end in sight.
There have even been memes circulating the internet about locking food away from kids during the summer months or making them use their “school stomach” when at home on summer break. While things like this are meant to be a joke, it can create some hidden messages around food and feeding kids that are confusing for children and caregivers alike.
If you’re coming to your wits-ends with the food requests this summer, let me give you some encouragement here:
This can be an opportunity to respond to your child’s needs in a way that creates positive associations around food and their bodies.
Because the last thing we want to do is cause shame around our kids’ requests for food or their increased appetites. When we can respond in a way that helps them feel reassured the food they need is accessible, this can help build trust in the feeding relationship between kids and their caregivers.
This isn’t possible when we respond out of frustration or anger every time our kids ask us for food.
What’s important to remember is that our verbal and non-verbal communication around food with our children is forming their internal dialogue around how they feel about food and their bodies.
And if food requests are constantly being met with our frustration or lack of responsiveness to the needs of our children, this can start to form internalized shame around needing food.
Now, this is not to say that we shouldn’t “care” about what our kids eat, give them a free pass on the fridge and pantry all day long, and say yes to every single food request. Our kids still need structure and support around food, and not providing any guidelines would only make food more chaotic, not to mention, a surefire way for you to lose your sanity.
So how can you respond to those frequent requests for snacks during the summer months in a way that builds trust with your child and positive associations with food while also providing them with needed structure and support (so they don’t just raid the pantry all day)?
I’m glad you asked.
We’re going to dive into that more below.
But first, let’s talk about why your kids might be asking for more food, especially during the summer months when they’re home from school.
Why is My Kid Constantly Hungry?
Maybe one of the more frustrating things parents feel around all these snack requests is how differently kids seem to act around food in the summer versus when they’re at school.
Why is it that your kids may be perfectly content and capable of getting through their day with a couple snack breaks at school, but when they’re home, it seems totally different?
One important thing to understand is that hunger levels (and our need for food) are a fluid thing – meaning, it’s likely to change, to ebb and flow constantly.
This means you can’t expect your child’s appetite to remain the same from school days to summer break. Their appetites are likely going to change pretty dramatically, depending on the circumstances, sometimes even in a day – from one meal to another.
Keeping this at the forefront of your mind can help position you in a place where you’re better able to adapt, respond, and adjust to your children’s changing needs over time.
When we hold unrealistic expectations over our children, it makes it harder to be responsive to their ever-changing needs. It can also create added frustration and angst around food – for you and your children.
Instead, try to normalize the fact that your kids have changing appetite needs.
Some days they may need more food than others. And without the structure of their normal school schedule and various activities over their summer break, their energy needs are definitely going to fluctuate.
Your kids are not bad or broken when they are asking for more food or telling you they’re hungry.
It’s normal and expected for kids to display this type of behavior around food, especially with a more lax structure during summer (or anytime your child is on break from school). The more you can embrace this AND expect it, the easier it’s going to be to be responsive to your child and to read their behavior in a way that can better help you meet their needs.
I promise your kids are not just asking for another snack or more food to drive you bananas.
Here are some legitimate reasons why your child constantly asking for food:
1. Increased energy demand = higher needs:
If your child is more active during the summer months than usual, this could increase their overall energy needs. If you’re having water days, swimming, skating, scootering, hiking or biking, or involved in activities that are more energy-demanding, your child may respond to this increased energy output with higher appetitive needs. This might look like an increased interest in food or ramped up requests for snacks. Your child may be intentionally seeking out food when energy needs are not adequate to meet energy demands.
2. Going through a growth spurt:
Children are consistently growing, though the rate at which they grow varies over time. Children will commonly experience growth spurts, or a period of time in which a child’s physical growth is rapidly increasing, including height, weight, and limb length. Major growth spurts can also happen at the time of puberty, which is around ages 8 to 13 years old for girls and 10 to 15 years old for boys. These are normal, and children will respond accordingly with an increase in appetite to support their bodies’ growing needs.
3. Uncertainty around when next eating time may be available
If there is lack of predictability around eating times, this can create uncertainty around food for children. In response, children may intentionally seek out food on their own if they’re unsure when more food will be available. This is common during the summer months, when children move from a predictable eating routine in their school schedules to a more lax rhythm without the structure that school provides. Without an understanding of when food is coming, kids will take it upon themselves to find it or will ask incessantly out of uncertainty or when food is coming next.
4. Boredom or need for emotional connection:
Food offers a tangible form of comfort and safety – this is normal and natural. For many kids during the summer months, they may seek out food more frequently to help meet an emotional need or to provide stimulation, especially if they are feeling dysregulated – either overstimulated or understimulated. Many kids may not have the language to communicate what they need emotionally, and so they may express feeling hungry or wanting to eat more frequently in an attempt to self-soothe or stimulate.
5. Preoccupation with a specific food:
If a child is fixated on having a specific type of food, like sweets or a packaged snack, this can be exhibited as frequent requests for these foods. Again, children that may not have the language to communicate what they’re feeling and experiencing. However, a high interest in certain foods or with eating in particular may indicate that the child needs increased access to the foods they’re seeking out or frequently asking about. Even if a child has enough to eat, if they’re fixated on eating certain foods and those foods are not regularly made available, this will manifest as frequent requests for those foods.
If you’re running into frequent requests for snacks and food, especially during the summer months, it may be related to one or more of the above reasons.
Whatever the reason, it’s important to normalize changing appetites in children and the need for increased eating opportunities to meet their higher appetite needs in a responsive way.
Making food less accessible in response to increased requests for food runs the risk of creating internalized shame for our kids, or causing them to build feelings of distrust and fear around food and their appetites.
It implies that food intake should be rigidly controlled for kids during the summer, since they’re not on their regular school schedule.
It demonizes increased appetite (which, hello – totally normal in our kids as they’re growing!) and creates shame around accessing more food.
It glamorizes restrictive feeding, locking up food, etc. which can be damaging to a child and their relationship with food.
It normalizes making food inaccessible as a method of control.
And when food feels off limits, it only triggers food obsession, increasing risk for behaviors like food sneaking, hoarding, and more.
None of these things will help your child build a lifelong relationship with food.
And I get it – the incessant requests for snacks and food during the summer months can be annoying and aggravating.
But the solution isn’t to create shame around appetite or requests for food.
The antidote to increased food requests is ACCESS, not restrictions, which will only ramp up obsession around food.
Here are some more effective ways to respond to your child’s increased food and snack requests, especially during the summer.
How Do I Help My Child Who is Always Hungry?
When you have an understanding as to why your child may be ramping up their requests for snacks (or food in general), how can you effectively respond?
Here are some suggestions below that can help you effectively navigate this:
Even if you’re unsure why your child is asking for more food, try implementing some of the following suggestions in your home:
1. Anticipate higher eating needs:
Having the expectation that your kids need to eat more and/or have more frequent opportunities can help reduce the tension you’re feeling when your child is asking for more food. Remember – this is NORMAL. Expecting this can prevent you from responding in a way that might implicate shame around higher appetite needs.
2. Provide leadership around food:
Kids need a flexible eating routine – and the key here is FLEXIBLE. When kids have a better understanding of when eating times will be available, this can help decrease anxiety felt around having access to food (which in turn, can decrease their frequent requests for more food). Having regular times during your day at which you offer food can help take the guesswork out of when food is available for your kids, as well as prevent shame from building around their requests for more food. Take the leadership role by offering eating times before your child always has to ask you to eat.
3. Increase frequency of eating times:
Especially during the summer months when kids are home from school, have less structure, and may be more active, they may need eating times more frequently than what they’re used to during the school year. So while during the school year, kids may have breakfast, snack, lunch, and another snack time, this may not be frequent enough – especially if you’re being bombarded with requests for more snacks. To piggyback on the last point, provide eating opportunities more frequently than your typical baseline. For some families, this might look like every couple of hours (which breaks down to a couple snack times between meals during the day). Erring on the side of offering more access to food and providing more frequent eating opportunities can help decrease the frequency of snack requests you’re receiving.
4. Be intentional about offering preferred foods:
Sometimes when kids are asking for a “snack”, they’re referring to specific foods they associate with “snacks” – typically the packaged type, like crackers, chips, cookies, etc. If you suspect this may be the case, try making the foods they’re gravitating toward (or showing a higher interest in) more readily available by offering it frequently alongside other foods. This helps normalize the food and supports you in taking an emotionally equal approach to all foods. It also helps take these foods off the pedestal to decrease any preoccupation with a specific food itself (like snack foods, sweets, etc).
5. Follow the P-P-P Framework to Promote Satiety:
Sometimes, when snacks are not satiating, this can leave a child feeling hungry and wanting to eat soon after having their snack. In some cases, this can be the culprit for more frequent snacking requests. A framework I like to use when thinking about putting together snacks is the P-P-P, which stands for Protein, Produce, and Packaged Item. Many of the snacks kids love fall in the last category, like goldfish crackers, pretzels, chips, etc. And there’s nothing wrong with offering those! Like noted in the last point, you want to be intentional about offering those foods regularly so they don’t become something your child feels obsessed with. Try offering those packaged snacks with protein food and produce to help increase staying power and satiety. If you want more examples of snack ideas that fit this framework, be sure to download my free snack guide below!
6. Assure more food is always coming:
There will inevitably be times when you can’t provide access to food at the exact time your child wants or needs it. It’s simply not feasible to do this, and you don’t want to create those expectations for yourself. However, the more important thing to focus on is assuring your child that more food and eating opportunities will always be available and to do your part in following through with that assurance. When kids can trust they have regular access to food, anxiety or fear around not having access to food will decrease. You can’t change your child and their temperament around food. However, you can focus on changing how you respond to your child. And if your responses around food requests are reassuring and neutral, redirecting your child to a future eating time will be much more easily received.
7. Provide emotional connection when possible:
Sometimes children become reliant on using food for emotional soothing, especially if there are unfulfilled emotional needs present. I say this with the utmost of compassion for you as a parent and caregiver, who is doing the very best you can with the information and resources you have. It’s been a tough few years for parenting. So many parents are stretched thin and working at a tapped out capacity. Taking the time to emotionally tune in with your child can help address emotional needs that may be projected as frequent requests for food. Physical affection, words of affirmation and simply taking the time to check in and ask your child how they’re doing can all help. When they see you’re capable of holding space for them and their feelings, this can provide additional coping mechanisms outside of just food.
Be Aware of Language and Hidden Agendas
Lastly, be aware of your language around how you respond to your child’s requests for snacks and more food. Your default responses to your child can help you decipher if you have a hidden agenda around how your child is eating, their appetite or the foods you’re asking for.
This is where it’s important to tune into any discomfort that may be coming up for you when your child asks for more food or seems to constantly be reaching for a particular type of food.
If you’re feeling triggered by any of this, try leaning in with some curiosity to examine what may be coming up for you.
Work toward responding to your child in a way that will support their overall relationship with food versus reacting from a place of any discomfort that may be coming up for you.
For many parents, it’s common to feel unsettled by your child’s appetite or body size if these are things you’ve felt uncomfortable with within yourself. Or perhaps, if as a child, you were shamed for your appetite, body size, or anytime you asked for more food, the pain from this past food wound could be festering beneath the surface in your feeding interactions with your child.
For other parents, you may be worried about your child’s health or the nutrition implications involved with them wanting or needing to eat more frequently, with eating “processed” foods, or the impact of how they’re eating on their weight and growth.
The key here is to remember that the most important foundation of your child being able to grow and thrive with optimal physical, emotional and mental health, they need your unconditional acceptance of their bodies and appetites.
The best thing you can do is to focus on your parts with feeding and trusting them to do their parts with eating.
Trying to micromanage their appetites or body sizes will always backfire and has the potential to create chaos and confusion in their relationship with food.
This often comes from a place of wanting our children to eat in a “balanced” way.
If this is the case for you, I want to encourage you to examine the desire you might have for your kids to eat in a “balanced” way.
Sometimes, their food requests might make you feel uncomfortable because there’s a discrepancy between how they’re eating and our expectations around how you “think” they should be eating.
So I want to gently challenge you to look at this a little closer: 1) What is your discomfort around the food choices your child may be gravitating toward – especially around the sweets/packaged snacks? 2) What is the hidden agenda behind your desire to guide your child’s food choices? 3) How would this be different if your child was in a different body than they currently has?
Another thing to consider: Even though our kids will and should have more independence around WHAT they’re choosing to eat as they get older, they still need us to exhibit SOME leadership around providing regular eating opportunities.
Providing regular access to food, especially if your inclination might be to limit what/how much they’re eating, is powerful for validating your children’s appetites and need to eat. This breaks the scarcity mentality, which better supports their ability to eat intuitively and learn how to self-regulate.
With that being said, I would try to avoid any polarizing language or stipulations if your kids have made a snack choice that you’re uncomfortable with or are eating an amount or combination that brings up discomfort for you.
Developmentally, kids rely heavily on concrete thinking (up until about ages 12-13); so trying to reason with them with abstract health concepts is only going to make food more confusing for them. This also has the potential to create shame around their food choices when we’re essentially saying, “Okay – you can have that as long as you eat it with something else.”
Instead, what I would recommend is allowing access and giving permission for them to eat what they’ve selected without any stipulations.
You can move yourself into more of a leadership role by creating the eating opportunity.
So for example: If your child is asking, “Mom can I have chips for a snack?”, you might consider a response along the lines of, “Sure honey, that sounds good. I’m going to put some other things out on the table for snack, too. Let’s sit down for a few minutes to eat.” Without making any suggestions about what your child should or shouldn’t eat (and therefore risking demonizing food or causing guilt around food, you can provide a couple other options.
The overall goal when talking to your child about food and with navigating more frequent food requests is to diffuse any shame around your child’s appetite and prevent guilt from forming around eating certain foods, as well.
In order to do so, this will require you to tune in to any triggers that might be coming up for you. Saying yes to your child’s food requests more frequently can make it easier to say no to their requests later. Examine your reasons for saying no to your child’s food choices and requests and whether or not there is a hidden agenda here that may be hindering your child’s relationship with food and ability to listen to their body.
If you need more support with this, be sure to snag my free download: “Simplify Snacking: The Snack Guide For Busy Moms Raising Intuitive Eaters”.
If you have a child who is obsessed with food, this may warrant professional support to address and resolve underlying issues influencing this behavior. If you’re a parent who has a child obsessed with food and are needing more support addressing this issue, be sure to apply to the waitlist for my program below.