The Importance of Getting Your Kids to Eat Regularly

updated Sep 30, 2020
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(Image credit: Minette Hand)

My youngest child would often fall to the ground and have epic tantrums before he could talk. It took me a while to catch on, but then I had a talk with his pediatrician, who suggested I try feeding him when I started to see him become agitated, even if he’d eaten within the hour or two. Guess what? It worked.

The pediatrician explained that kids can not feel hungry, but still need nourishment. They often get so caught up in playing that they don’t want to take the time to eat. Then, before you know it, it’s too late and they are in full-on tantrum mode on the ground. There were times when I could see my son starting to melt down, but he’d refuse to eat. She recommended giving him a few sips of chocolate or vanilla almond milk if I couldn’t get any food into him, and it worked wonders.

I now have a teenage son who struggles with mood swings. When he wakes up in the morning he says he isn’t hungry, but by the time lunch rolls around he’s agitated, irritable, and has a short fuse. He’s told me he has trouble concentrating and thinking straight. I notice the same behavior when he gets home from school. He eats lunch around 11 a.m. and doesn’t get home until almost 3 p.m.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

His school allows him to grab a quick snack if he needs to, so he is starting to take advantage of that. He now keeps a bag of nuts or trail mix in his backpack after I told him to eat a little more regularly instead of waiting until the point of no return. This simple trick has helped him and is one of the few times he’s admitted to me that I’m right.

The term “hangry”— the feeling of being so hungry that you turn angry in two seconds — was coined for a reason. It’s definitely a thing, and it’s probably safe to say we’ve all felt it.

I spoke with John Shufeldt, MD, who says hanger can affect kids even more than adults because kids haven’t developed their coping skills fully yet. To counteract this, he says, “Having regularly scheduled meals that contain whole grains, protein, fruits, and vegetables will help your kids to manage their emotions.”

While every child is different, I found when my kids were toddlers and preschoolers, they needed to eat every two to three hours. As teenagers they need something every four hours or so. It has helped tremendously to have a plan that ensures they are getting all the nutrients they need, even as older children.

It’s always been very hard for them to get breakfast down, and I remember feeling this way as a teen, too, so I make sure there’s something they can stomach first thing in the morning like smoothies, their favorite yogurt, or a breakfast bar.

I keep the pantry and fridge stocked with easy stuff they can grab after school, too. And if they have an activity, I make sure they have something extra in their bag, even if they say they don’t need it or they won’t be hungry. Nine times out of 10, the snack is gone when they get home.

It certainly is a full-time job between shopping, prepping, and reminding my kids sometimes that they really do need to eat. But it’s worth it, and it just might save us all a meltdown or two.

Delicious Snack Recipes from Kitchn