This is a guest post by Adina Pearson from Healthy Little Eaters. I met Adina through my Facebook page and it became clear that we are sharing the same passion:  providing parents with the best evidence based advice on how to raise kids with a healthy relationship with food. This post originated from one of her insightful notes that I especially liked since it was addressing the common issue of constant panhandling and grazing. 

If you are serving regular, predictable meals and snacks that aren’t spaced too far apart and your kids are still begging for food in between these meals/snacks, here are some questions to help you troubleshoot:

— Are your kids getting enough fat?  In an effort to provide healthy foods, some parents unknowingly serve meals that are too low in fat for kids.  Fat makes food appealing and helps kids get enough calories.  Don’t cut back excessively. At meals provide foods that are high fat, medium fat, and low/nonfat.  At snack times, don’t forget to set out something that contains fat (nuts, avocado, whole milk, cheese, hummus, butter, or dressing)

— Are your kids getting too many filling but low calorie foods?  As nutritious as fruits and vegetables are, they can be very filling for little bellies. Filling in the short term, but may not stick with them for long.  This does not mean you should limit their intake of these when you serve them, but you could spread them out so not every meal/snack is high in fiber.  Fruits and vegetables also contain a high water content–this too can lead to early feelings of fullness.

— Are your kids eating as much as they would like of what is offered?  If your kids often leave food on their plate, chances are they are eating as much as they need. If they tend to clean their plates, do they stop eating because they’ve run out of food or because they say they are done?  Do your best to plan enough food so everyone can get their fill.  Or have extra bread on the table for hungry bellies.

— Are your kids being distracted by activities near the table/in the house?  A turned on TV, someone on the phone or computer, older siblings playing in plain sight or within earshot, the anticipation of the next event, or being at a party–all these things can easily distract children from the table and make them lose interest in the meal.  Parties are parties and tend to be chaotic as far as eating goes.  Don’t expect a healthy kid to eat much of the main food at a party.  But when you are in your own home, try to keep distractions to a minimum and ask older siblings to keep noise down if they leave the table early.

— Are you serving meals that are too challenging for their palates leading your kids to eat less than they are hungry for?  While I believe meals should be planned with the adults in mind, kids that are still learning to enjoy new foods need the occasional easy-for-kids meal thrown in. When you do serve a new or challenging entree, be sure to have some ‘sure winner’ sides.  NOT a separate entree, but maybe tortillas, bread, or rice to let kids get enough.  And sometimes all kids need is a little dressing or ketchup to help them gulp down a new gourmet recipe.

— Are kids filling up on juice or carbonated drinks?  Beverages can fill bellies fast, but again, won’t keep them full long.

— Could your kids be seeking more attention?  This is always a possibility when there is crazy meal-time and food behavior and always a challenge for busy parents, me included!  Maybe set aside an extra 20 minutes to focus on your child away from the table and you might see a difference in food demands.

Most kids will get as much as they need to eat when they eat at regularly scheduled meals and snacks and are allowed to eat as much as they need from the food on the table.  If you are struggling with kids begging for food between eating times, try adjusting in one of the ways listed above.

Adina Pearson Adina Pearson has been a Registered Dietitian for over 10 years in Walla Walla, WA.  She spent the majority of her career as a hospital dietitian, but after having kids, she’s downsized to part time nutrition counseling at an outpatient clinic.  While she sees patients with all sorts of health and diet-related concerns, her latest passion is helping parents learn the best ways to feed their children.