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After talking to parents at our GoodMix markets stalls, I have had a lot of questions about the insatiable appetites of kids and how to ‘fill them up’ properly!
Often the reason behind the hunger is not quite what you would expect, so I have put together these eight reasons why your kids are hungry, & some easy ways to help parents satisfy them.
1. Kids Develop Fast
Kids need massive amounts of good nutrition for building and growing. You can’t just fuel a body with extreme nutrition requirements on jam sandwiches, rice bubbles, pasta & soft drinks and expect them to be satisfied (or growing properly!)
They are saying ‘mum I’m hungry’ because their body is literally screaming for the protein, complex carbs, fats, fibre, vitamins & minerals they need for energy, growth & development.
Don’t be fooled by the clever marketing of cereal companies & snack food manufacturers.
As parents we have a responsibility to feed our kids well, they can’t make informed choices themselves, nor can they understand the long-term consequences of a poor diet during their most intensive growth stages.
If you don’t know what is suitable food & what is not – you need to make an effort to research it or to ask – for your kid’s sake & because it’ll save you a lot of trouble in the long run with health / behavioural issues. Bad behaviour can reflect a bad diet.
Seek guidance from a professional, set a shining example yourself & be a bit tough on the kids – this really is a time to be ‘cruel to be kind’.
2. The Sugar Rollercoaster
Eat sugary treat, insulin spikes.
Sugar all gone from the bloodstream, produces new sugar craving.
Eat sugary treat to fix craving, insulin spikes…
So it goes, up & down, up & down!
Trying to break this one can be painful, like any addiction, but life is much better with an even supply of energy – for adults & kids alike!
If you are sick of living with a screaming sugar addict, remember this – you are driving the trolley & paying the bill, not the kids! If it doesn’t get into the trolley, it won’t end up in their mouth.
Start With A High Protein, Fat & Fibre Breakfast
Protein, fat & fibre to gives a gradual release of energy & keeps their tummies satisfied until break time.Eggs are ideal – cooked however you like – boiled, scrambled, poached, fried in butter, coconut or macadamia oil, or best (cause you can add loads of veggies as well) is as an omelette. Eggs have so many possibilities!
Some kids love porridge – make it interesting with toppings / additives like banana & date; apple & cinnamon; peach & vanilla essence; macadamia & coconut; berries & cacao nibs, Blend 11 or NeoBlend
Most kids love a porridge + smoothie combo in winter too (a bowl with some porridge one side & some smoothie the other). Smoothies alone can be great too – just ensure you boost them with protein & fat, not just fruit as it won’t satisfy for long. I often add natural protein powder, activated Blend11, greek yoghurt, coconut yoghurt, coconut oil, nuts, avocado, nut milks.
There are also many healthy protein-rich pancake recipes on the net these days, experiment & find one that your kids like (& ideally they can make themselves!)
Toast is just so darn easy & yummy – if you can find / make a half-decent loaf & make it just a ‘carrier’ for something super-nutritious then I think the pros outweigh the cons. A stack of toast with a crappy spread is no good, try a piece of quality toast piled high with something nutritious like hommus, avocado, tomato, tuna, pesto,nut butter, banana + cinnamon & walnuts. The topping must dominate the bread not vice-versa.
Don’t be scared of butter either – it’s got some great nutrients and its bad rap is completely unfounded – go for organic.
Top Up Protein for Morning Tea
Morning tea should include some veggies plus another protein source – like some hommus, nut butter, homemade dip or guacamole with carrot & celery sticks, chunky capsicum strips, snow peas or natural crackers, some seeds / Blend 11 with yoghurt; olives, cherry tomatoes, eggs, tuna, cheese if well tolerated, maybe a protein ball / slice made with BallBags or from scratch.
Lunchtime – Don’t get Stuck on the Sandwich
Leftover dinners are great for lunch, things like sushi, pizzas, fried rice, spaghetti bolognaise, Mexican, quinoa salads, patties or balls (meat, fish, lentil, bean,quinoa, veggie etc) seem to transport well in lunch boxes too.
Don’t get stuck on the sandwich, they are not essential lunchtime fare!
In general, keep sugars & refined grains / starches to a minimum, aim for a quality protein source & some sort of veg in each feed and you should go ok.
3. Kids Are Active
Not true for all kids these days, I realise. Many are relative couch potatoes compared to the average kid growing up 30 years ago.
Still, there are plenty of youngsters training or playing sport many days of the week, plus running around at school lunchtimes, plus getting physical on the weekends doing things like skate-boarding, bike riding, playing in the yard, walking to friends places / around shopping centres etc.
It all adds up, and you may not realise the extreme calorie burning machine your child is when you take into account the growth that’s going on behind the scenes at the same time as all that activity.
Regular meals rich in complex carbs, fibre, fats & protein, carb / protein snacks around sports & physical activity, plus something to nibble just prior to bed can really help the fast-growing athletes.
4. Their Tummy Bugs Are Hungry
Sugar-eating microorganisms need a constant supply and they will demand the food they can digest & thrive on.
It’s mind-blowing, but the teeny tiny organisms that live within our digestive tract have the power to influence what we eat via complex communication systems with our brain and taste receptors.
The more sugar your kids have been eating, the more hungry sugar-dependant bugs they will have, the more sugar they will ask for.
Considering the very short lifespans and quick reproductive capabilities of these tiny critters, you can see how a few days of eating ‘party food’, or getting slack with the veggies and healthy stuff can massively alter the microbial balance, which influences what a child (or really their bacteria) will ask for or reject.
Now consider the child who is raised completely on refined garbage – it’s no wonder they kick up a fuss when presented with a serve of veggies – their internal ecosystem is simply saying:
“No way man, we can’t live on that stuff, are you trying to kill us?!”
These guys are running on very different fuel.
Keep pouring the good food in and you’ll end up with a nice ecosystem requesting reasonable food. Keep supplying junk and you’ll create a demanding ‘garbage guts’ monster!
5. Your Child is Stressed
Some kids don’t have great natural flexibility / adaptation / coping ability.
As with adults, it depends on their personality type, but things like parental stress, a move, a new school, unstable homelife, assessments, competitive sports, bullying, schoolyard tiffs, new teachers, a new sibling, a change in routine all impact their stress levels.
Remember – kids feel stress too & some will feel ravenously hungry & overeat because of it – they’re also often unable to express.
Short-term ‘acute’ stress will switch off appetite, but long-term ‘chronic’ stress will cause a persistent elevation in the adrenal hormone cortisol – which can make appetite increase.
Usually under these circumstances the foods kids will want are sweet, salty & high fat foods (comfort foods which literally trigger the release of calming brain chemicals).
Which brings us to the next point…
6. Food = Comfort or Reward
When some of us are feeling anxious, lonely or bored, we may go ‘searching’ for something.
Filling a gap with food is a habit we can all get into, often started or at least aggravated by parents rewarding good behaviour with treats or offering food when we needed cheering up.
Kids do the same thing too.
Try to make them aware of actual feelings of hunger vs emotional eating and use things other than food if you need to offer rewards or comfort.
Help kids learn to recognise how different events can trigger emotions, which can then lead to some different behaviours – in themselves and others.
Just bringing some awareness to the ‘ups & downs’ is a good start and even pointing out your own emotional eating episodes or tendencies (and asking for their help) is great for demonstrating and helping kids understand.
Sugar is the most common childhood (and adult) addiction, but it’s not the only one.
Watch out for other addictive substances that could be lurking within your groceries.
MSG (food additive 621) is a big one. MSG is added to many readily available processed foods aimed at kids and is a chemical (mono-sodium-glutamate) flavour enhancer which makes you want to keep eating even after you’ve had enough (once you pop, you can’t stop!).
Studies show people will eat way more food when it’s laced with MSG and the food they’ve eaten will not have the same satiating effect – they will become hungry again much sooner.
Food manufacturers know this and add it to improve the flavour of poor quality food and increase consumption of their product.
The effects MSG has on appetite are due to the way it messes with our blood sugar.
Even scientists use MSG injections to induce diabetes and obesity in mice used for studies :(
Yes, go to the pantry now and check the labels!
But beware – manufacturers hide MSG with all kinds of other names & numbers – you may not even see it listed.
Just assume that all dried, processed foods with any kind of powdery flavour have stacks of added MSG – i.e. chips, crackers, stock cubes, manufactured seasonings, gravy powder. Even those marketed as ‘healthy’.
Watch this informative video to really get the lowdown on MSG (then come back to read the 8th reason your kids are hungry):
8. Their Last Meal Was Empty Calories
Often I see kids munching a packet of crackers, or chips, or a sandwich of white bread with Nutella, or jam or vegemite, or even a giant plain white bun.
There is little point (nutritionally) in serving these to a child – they won’t fill any of their intense nutritional requirements or satisfy the child for any length of time.
These foods will just contribute to a dysfunctional metabolism & fuel carbohydrate / sugar cravings, keeping them on the road to early onset type 2 diabetes.
Imagine the fussy (but growing) child who wakes up, eats a couple of bits of white toast with a scrape of jam / similar sugary spread, then has a pile of rice crackers and a muesli bar for morning tea, a sandwich with a spread for lunch, plus maybe a fruit juice to drink somewhere in there too.
Not a far-fetched story – for some kids this is close to their daily norm.
By the time this child arrives home from school, he will be – quite literally, starving.
Nutrient density is what growing kids need – not empty calories.
It’s only ‘counted’ as food if there’s some useful nutrients in there.
Learn about nutrients – you are building an entirely new person with what you feed them. So many of our kids are overfed, but under-nourished.
The basics for satisfying hungry kids:
- Think nutritionally dense. Not full of air or fillers, or chemicals – full of real nutrients.
- Keep sugar intake minimal, which includes fruit juices & refined starches. They will cause unstable energy levels, moodiness & sugar cravings.
- Cultivate good gut bacterial balance – feed them loads of fibre, a large variety of fresh, natural foods & stay away from the junk.
- Take a chill pill – kids pick up on & take onboard parental stress, plus they often have issues going on that we as parents may be completely unaware of. Stress interferes with healthy appetite.
- No rewarding or consoling with food. Well, not all the time anyway!
- Remove the addictions (you’ll need to get to know all the codes & numbers!)
- Only count nutritious food as food. The rest is a waste of time, you haven’t actually fed them. OK occasionally, but make sure it’s not what they are relying on every day.
The key is really in the nutrients & getting yourself & your kids into the habit of eating nutrient dense food will make for happy kids, happy parents & healthy futures for you both.
Hopefully this has helped you understand more about why your kids are ‘starving’, & what you can do to keep them satisfied.
Love to hear your feedback in the comments below & if you have any questions please go ahead & ask :)