Unlike adults, children don’t stay full for long because of their small stomachs and high energy levels. They usually need to eat every few hours because of significant growth spurts around this age, which require their bodies to take in more calories. Your toddler also might start to use the word ” hungry” to express other feelings such as boredom, sadness, loneliness, and other emotions they don’t understand or can’t name.
Having a child who may seem overly engrossed in food and eating is concerning to any parent, but once most toddlers learn how to talk, the one thing they won’t shut up about is; I am hungry.
They want the morning snack, afternoon snack, stroller snack, sitting on the toilet snack, pre-dinner snack, brushing their teeth snack, and a before bedtime snack making you feel like their personal vending machine. Phew!
When this happens, is it okay to offer them a little something? Maybe yes, maybe no. Here’s why they’ll constantly ask you for good and how to break that habit.
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6 reasons why your 3-year-old is constantly asking for food
If food is taking up your child’s precious mental space, leaving them a limited ability to focus on other things, there could be more problematic issues around food that should be addressed.
Here are some of the reasons that may cause a child to feel obsessed with food and eating.
1. Lack of a meal schedule and structure around food
When a child doesn’t reliably know the next meal will be available to them, this can create a sense of chaos and mistrust around food and eating.
If their meals and snacks are erratic and unpredictable, this might cause a child to feel more preoccupied with food because there’s a level of uncertainty around the next time food will be available to them.
2. The language used around food can create the fear of missing out
It can create a scarcity mentality if your child is used to hearing food described in limiting ways making those foods more desirable even if they aren’t necessarily hungry.
For example, telling a child, “you can’t have any more of that” or “this is all you get” may be interpreted in their young minds that food is limited and they’ll naturally begin to feel more preoccupied with food if there’s the fear they’re missing out.
3. Food is restricted or a child is placed on a diet
Preventing a child from having access to various foods can create a “feast or famine” mentality, especially around highly palatable foods like sweets and desserts. These food restrictions and dieting tactics can cause a child to desire and want foods they can have.
This one is especially tricky because restrictive feeding practices have a detrimental impact on a child’s eating behavior. Yet, many well-meaning professionals may advise parents to put their children on a diet due to weight and health concerns.
4. Food has become an emotional comfort
For some children, food may become a sense of pleasure and emotional comfort, especially children who have experienced trauma in any form or have gone through a significant transition like a parent’s divorce or moving houses and any other psychological distress.
5. The fear of going hungry
Inadequate food can cause a child to fear that their basic need to eat isn’t being met, whether due to lack of food or resources or just from disorganization within the family when it comes to meals.
This worry around not having enough food can become a persistent preoccupation with eating.
6. They are going through a growth spurt
When children are going through growth spurts, they need more calories and get super hungry.
They will eat anything and everything, which is why you should keep healthy foods available because they tend to gravitate towards the higher calorie unhealthy stuff.
What to do if your 3-year-old is constantly asking for food
If your child is preoccupied with eating and is obsessed with food, below are simple steps you can begin to implement to help resolve these issues:
- Create a meal schedule – Meal planning and regular eating schedule are important for creating food reliability for children and regular opportunities to eat. As much as we are busier than ever, as parents, meal schedules are key to creating food security for kids to prevent a sense of chaos around food.
- Stay patient and neutral – It can be easy to react to kids’ obsessive behavior around food by giving unintentional verbal and nonverbal signals to them that might cause them to feel guilty, embarrassed, or ashamed. Staying patient throughout the process and neutral in your communication can be helpful for a child who is resolving good obsessiveness.
- Work on healing the feeding relationship – As parents, we can only take our children as far as we have ourselves. This means trusting your child to do their part with eating and sticking to your responsibility as a parent with feeding.
- Get support when you need it – Sometimes outside support of a child feeding expert who may be able to guide you and your child through this process is important. A registered pediatric dietician nutritionist will offer you more help and guidance with feeding your child.
How much should 3-year-olds eat?
Your child’s eating needs depend on various factors, including their weight, age, and if they were born full-term or premature. How much and how often they need to eat will change as they grow, and some will eat more and grow faster than others.
Is it normal for a toddler to have a potbelly?
Unless your child has other symptoms such as fever and vomiting, it is generally normal for toddlers to have potbellies. By the time they reach school-going age, the belly will most likely disappear, and their bodies will seem more proportionate.
Don’t worry much about your little bottomless pit. They are born with an innate sense of how much they should eat, but that doesn’t mean that you should give your little one free reign in the snack closet.
Just respect their inborn cues while offering healthy snacks whenever they are hungry and provide them with plenty of physical exercise.