How many times a day do you hear “Muuuum I’m hungry!” or “Daaad can I have a snack?”. We get it, and we got you – here’s how to bust the ‘always hungry’ circle.
Many families we work with have trouble feeling full, or rather, always being hungry. In this guide we discuss where feelings of hunger may come from and how to structure our routines in order to eat more mindfully, eat a balanced diet and keep ourselves full for longer…
Use the Eatwell Guide to ensure that your meals and snacks are full of the nutrients and minerals we need to keep us feeling full.
The Eatwell Guide is split into 5 sections: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, dairy and fruitsand vegetables.
During main meals, can think of the Eatwell Guide like our plate and build our meals arounds this. Carbohydrates (things like rice, bread, oats and pasta) should fill about 1/3 of our plate. Carbohydrates are key for giving us energy and using wholemeal versions provide a great source of fibre, keeping us full for longer.
Fruits and vegetables should fill another 1/3 of our plate. Fruits and vegetables give us vitamins and minerals we need to stay strong and healthy. They also are a great source of fibre, again helping us to feel full and allowing our digestive system to work properly.
The other 1/3 of our plate should be split between protein and dairy foods which build and repair our bones and muscles and give us energy. Sources of protein include meats, fish, eggs, tofu and beans. Dairy foods include milk, cheese, and yoghurts.
Fats like oils and spreads only take up a tiny portion of our plate, for example adding a thin layer of butter to toast using small amounts of oil during cooking.
When having snacks it is also important to meet as different sections of the Eatwell Guide as possible and this will make sure we feel sustained between meals. For example, having only crackers will provide us with carbohydrates but it is lacking in any other food group and we will likely feel hungry soon after eating this. If instead we have crackers with cheese and tomatoes or hummus we are meeting three of our Eatwell Guide food groups and will feel more full and energised between meals.
Foods like crisps and cakes are ok every once in a while, but make sure that overall your meals and snacks are balanced. Foods that are high in sugars and saturated fats might satisfy us immediately but without other food groups we will experience a spike in energy followed by a crash in energy and immediate hunger again, leading to increased snacking or grazing. If you do snack on high fat, salty or sugary food, try adding other foods to accompany it. For example, having a chocolate biscuit alongside a dollop of yoghurt with fruit, or eating crisps with hummus.
Often when we feel hungry soon after eating it is because we didn’t eat enough during the meal. Making sure we are eating the correct portion size for our age is just as important as making sure our meal and snacks are balanced between the food groups. An easy way to measure portion size is using your hands. Make sure that for children you use their hands as it is all relative to our body size.
Creating a set routine around meal and snack times can help children who find themselves constantly seeking out food. With a routine in place, your child will know the next chance to eat isn’t far away.
Every day, children should have 3 full meals and 2-3 snacks (2 hours before meals).
You can create a chart to show younger children this eating schedule. For older children,try using snack boxes, giving them 2-3 snacks a day that they are in charge of spacing out in between meals. This gives children a sense of independence and responsibility and through trial and error they will learn to regulate their snacks to their appetite
Take a moment to reflect on where you usually are when you usually eat. Do you pick at the fridge? Snack in front of the TV? It can be very useful to pinpoint where and when we tend to want to snack, and become aware that in some situations we might not be truly hungry and it might just be our habits and environment that is making us think we are hungry.
Labelling foods as ‘good’, ‘naughty’ or ‘treats’ can make change the way children perceive certain foods, or how they feel after eating them. Instead, we want to help children see all foods as equal parts of a balanced diet.
Even creating subtle restrictions around food with language such as “eat all your vegetables or you can’t have your dessert” or “because you were naughty, you cannot have a biscuit” can put certain foods on a pedestal. This can increase the desire for food and create an emotional connection which interrupts a child’s hunger and fullness cues.
Sometimes our emotions can make us feel hungry when our bodies don’t need food.
Having a conversation with children about how they feel when they are hungry is a good place to start to understand the difference. Ask them how their tummies feel, are they feeling awake, angry, sleepy, sick? Will water satisfy them? Are they upset, tired or bored?
This chart below is a useful step for thinking about about whether we are truly hungry, or if something else in our mind is making us think we need food. ..
|STOMACH HUNGER||BRAIN/EMOTIONAL HUNGER|
|Do you have physical signs of hunger? E.g., stomach grumbling, stomach pain, dizziness||You have no physical signs of hunger but something in your brain is telling you that you should eat.|
|Has your feeling of hunger gotten more intense over time and is not going away?||Has your feeling of hunger come out of nowhere? Does your feeling of hunger come and go?|
|Would you eat any food no matter if it is sweet or savoury?||Do you have a craving for a specific food or set of foods e.g., sweets?|
|Have you drunk water and still feeling hungry?||Have you drunk water and no longer feel hunger or physical signs of hunger?|