5 Times It's Okay For Your Child To Be Hungry (2024)

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Some kids can be really picky eaters. Here are five times that it’s “ok” for your child to be hungry and why you should let them without guilty about it.

Here’s a popular post of mine called 5 phrases to stop dinnertime battles. But if those still aren’t working, this may be for you.

Mealtime can be a battleground… if you have picky eaters or kids who want to snack all day long, this if the post for you!

Note: I don’t mean to imply that any parent should EVER let their children go hungry to the point of lacking in nutritional needs! This article is about happy, healthy, eating routines.

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I’ve heard it time and time again. “My child only wants to eat junk food during the day and then refuses to eat the healthy dinner I cooked.”

If this is the condition you’re in, don’t worry. Many parents work to appease hungry kiddos and make the common error of habitual feeding.

What's in this post...

Habitual Eating

The truth is, children are little people who will form habits and conditions just like us. It’s healthy for parents to draw some dietary lines in order to help guide children into healthy eating habits.

In order to accept this concept, it’s important to understand two basic truths:

  1. Just because your child wants to eat doesn’t mean they are really hungry.
  2. When your child says he/she doesn’t like it, it could possibly mean that they aren’t used to that particular food.

In our tendency to parent based on guilt, we get twisted up inside at the thought of refusing our children anything. This is especially true when it comes to food.

Furthermore, images of starving children around the world make us feel grateful we can feed our kids whatever we want whenever we want. And… so we do.

But instead of that gratitude passing down to our children, they start Developing an Entitled and Picky Attitude towards food. Oops!

They start to believe that no matter the cost or availability, they can eat whatever they want whenever they want. And… sometimes this is okay with us.

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Sample Daily Routines (by age!)

Get my cheat sheetsand find your family’s groove.Chore, independent play, meal, nap, bedtime, and MORE routine ideas!

“Mom, I’m Starving!”

But, you just fed them lunch… that they didn’t finish.

Nope, sorry honey that isn’t starving. Maybe it’s time to have a heart to heart with your precious little one?

Part of installing gratitude in the lives of children is shining a light around the world into some places where life is different than what they experience.

There are some places in our world, where families have a hard time providing food for their children:

  • Starving children would be thankful for a nutritious meal.
  • Children who don’t have the blessings that we have would be sure to eat all the lunch on their place, so they wouldn’t be hungry right away.
  • How could you change the way you feel next time I serve you lunch?

Children who are picky (or who want to eat even though they aren’t hungry):

  • Children who are being picky will refuse food they don’t like.
  • They may go long periods without food in order to get their preference.
  • Picky children turn down an entire meal, but come back asking for A Snack Pack 30 minutes later.

Finding a Balance & Deciphering when It’s “OK” for a Child to Be Hungry

Now, of course, we should offer our children a lot of healthy and filling foods. Fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, good fats, and whatever else.

We absolutely don’t need to make our children go hungry to “teach them a lesson” or “make them appreciate food.

However, just because your child says they want to eat doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice the balanced nutrition you have planned for a spur of the moment snack.

I could spend $50 on fruit and watch the kids devour it all in 2 days if they got their way. There are more considerations than just, “I am hungry at this very moment,” and we have to stop feeling like horrible mothers if we make our children wait.

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Sample Daily Routines (by age!)

Get my cheat sheetsand find your family’s groove.Chore, independent play, meal, nap, bedtime, and MORE routine ideas!

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5 TimesIt’s Okay for Your Child To Go Hungry

I offer my kids 3 square meals and 2 snacks a day. Fruits, vegetables, fats, meat, treats and anything in between. This is not about being dictatorial, it’s about being wise and setting boundaries.

But even with the best boundaries, kids will sometimes try to push them to get their way… especially when it comes to food. The following is a list of five times that it’s wise to say “no“:

1. They refusewhat you’ve offered

If you consistently offer your children filling and nutritious food , yet they refuse to eat it… it’s okay to let them feel hunger.

For some people, learning to “feel hungry” is a needed biological response that needs to be assimilated into lifestyle. This will in turn, allow the natural need to crave “fuel”, not “junk.”

So… the consequence of refusing a meal is an empty stomach. I can think of another important skill this teaches – cause and effect.

How does this work?

  • The key here is NOT only force your children to eat things that aren’t appealing to them.
  • They key is to teach appreciation of nutritious foods in a joyful, calm, and consistent way.
  • When there’s a simple system of cause & effect, the child expects consequences each time and the he/she will behave correctly to food.

When a child crosses over into being “super picky,” even what they enjoy is inconsistent. Furthermore, a child who is super picky may also be fickle in their decisions.

For example: One day they love spaghetti, the next time they slide their plate away in anger. At this point, it’s unwise to jump through hoops to please.

I tell my kids, “If you didn’t buy it or cook it you can’t complain.

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Sample Daily Routines (by age!)

Get my cheat sheetsand find your family’s groove.Chore, independent play, meal, nap, bedtime, and MORE routine ideas!

2. Mealtime is approaching

My kids get really hungry 30 minutes prior to dinner time. I understand this… I am hungry as well…

However, it’s okay to make them wait until dinner is served. Yes, they may become hangry (I do too), but that’s a part of life.

What are you teaching here?

  • Self-control
  • Patience
  • Family Bonding
  • Appreciation of Meals
  • Natural Hunger Responses

You aren’t depriving them of food by making them wait half an hour. On the contrary, you are taking the time to prepare it.

Sometimes I think, “If they can’t wait 30 minutes for a taco casserole full of melted cheese to come out of the oven… then I just don’t know.”

3. You’re not at home

It happens often…

We’re running errands, finishing an appointment, or just doing life, and the kids get hungry.

Here’s what I have learned: Just because your children are hungry doesn’t mean you have to spend $37.00 in a drive through or provide a consistent stream of goldfish. Yes, I am talking to myself here!

What skill is this teaching? I’m glad you asked! First, let’s understand this basic precept: It is part of life to finish one thing before you start the next.

Teaching kids that we must finish what we’re working on before taking a break for a snack/meal is just good training!

If it’s going to be hours and cross over mealtime, by all means, feed the kiddos. But if they are demanding a treat at 10:00 am in the bank, it’s okay to make them wait.

Someone really smart once said, “no time like the present to learn self-control.”

As an adult, I have to do the same. In fact, sometimes, I have to eat things I don’t much like for days on end until I’m able to do a proper grocery shop.

This is not self (or child) abuse, this is life.

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Sample Daily Routines (by age!)

Get my cheat sheetsand find your family’s groove.Chore, independent play, meal, nap, bedtime, and MORE routine ideas!

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4. He’ll only eat junk

If your child consistently refuses well-rounded meals but asks for snacks, treats, and junk food… the problem is clear.

When they snack they get satisfied enough to say “no” at meals, they aren’t very hungry at the dinner table. Those little tummies may be able to hold out until another junk food snack is provided.

If you want to cut out junk food and treats to give your child a better-balanced diet, cut out the junk food and treats.

Offer round meals, set snacks, and if they refuse them, it is okay if they are hungry.

Just because they are hungry doesn’t mean you are starving them.

5. They’ll snack all day

Some children do well with three meals and set snacks. Others will stand at the door of the refrigerator all day and demand snacks.

Perhaps you let your kids get food whenever they want, that is up to your family. But… if you find your kids won’t eat your meals and waste food put in front of them, the time for incessant snacking should probably be over.

Watch out!

You’re child will quickly learn a picky-eating behavior without putting this in check…

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Sample Daily Routines (by age!)

Get my cheat sheetsand find your family’s groove.Chore, independent play, meal, nap, bedtime, and MORE routine ideas!

Tips to Avoid This:

  • Offer a hearty breakfast that will sit in the stomach,
  • Give a substantial snack,
  • Serve a hearty lunch,
  • Then, another substantial snack,
  • Finally, a hearty dinner,
  • Understand that this is enough for growing children.

If you want to feed your kids anytime they ask, go ahead, it is your house. But if you feel guilty making them wait or letting them go without dinner (even if they refused it) I just want to encourage you…

You are harboring false guilt.

Making your child wait 2 hours before dinner is no more a crime than only being able to afford one meal a day.

If a child can hold out 12 hours until you give them a Pop Tart, they can survive until the next meal.

Food may grow on trees, but your kids didn’t plant, harvest, or package it so teaching a little self-control is okay.

Really, it is.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is picky eating a normal phase?

Yes, picky eating is often considered a normal phase of child development, especially during the toddler and preschool years. Many children go through a period where they exhibit selective eating habits, preferring certain foods over others and sometimes refusing to try new foods. This behavior is a common part of a child’s journey as they explore their preferences and assert their independence. How we respond to this phase can determine if the phase ends or if our kids develop chronic unhealthy eating habits. Having a plan is essential!

How can I make mealtime a positive experience for my child?

Establish an eating routine throughout the day for regular snack and mealtimes to create a sense of predictability and consistency so that your kids know what to expect. Limit distractions, like screens, during mealtimes and make it a time of connection with your family so that they learn to enjoy time around the table. It can also help to involve your kids in meal and snack prep with age-appropriate tasks so that they feel involved. Some ideas are: letting them set the table, stirring ingredients, or choosing the vegetable to be served.

How can I encourage my child to try new foods?

Lead by example, make it fun, and start small. Praise your child for trying new foods, even if they take just a small bite. Positive reinforcement encourages repeat behavior.

5 Times It's Okay For Your Child To Be Hungry (2024)
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