Hunger can be an important weapon in the battle against childhood obesity. Parents sometimes go overboard in making sure their children never feel hungry, even for a moment.

Teaching kids to feel hungry sometimes could lead to better nutrition and healthier bodies.

3 Reasons Why Hunger Can Be Good

1. Less snacking means kids will eat more at mealtime.

One of the greatest causes of childhood obesity – and indeed, obesity at any age – is snacking between meals. Snacks tend to be high-calorie processed foods with very little to recommend them nutritionally. When kids are not given too many snacks between meals, they will eat more at mealtime.

Of course, this is only a good thing when those meals are healthy. A kid who’s a little hungry is more likely to eat vegetables without complaint.

I don’t suggest avoiding snacks altogether. However, if a child complains of hunger within an hour of mealtime, parents should consider allowing the child to remain hungry or perhaps serve the meal a few minutes early. When parents do provide snacks, the portion size should be very small, and the food should be healthy. One small piece of celery with peanut butter often provides enough energy for the body to make it to the next meal.

One cautionary note about this: Children who get too hungry between meals tend to overeat. Parents should try to slow down the meal to give the kids’ stomachs time to send the “I’m full” signal to the brain. A great way to do this is to use mealtime to catch up on the kids’ days.

Mealtime should be family bonding time.

2. Kids will gain a better understanding of their bodies.

When children are very young, they don’t necessarily make the connection that food is the fuel that powers the body. In fact, they may turn to food for emotional comfort as much as for any other reason, particularly when parents’ automatic response to crying is to fill the child’s mouth. By allowing small children to be hungry for short periods of time, parents teach the children that food should be used to sate hunger, rather than as an emotional balm.

It’s important for older children to learn that they won’t starve if they’re hungry for an hour or so. They can continue to function. Parents can use these times to teach their children to distract themselves from the hunger. When they focus on something else – preferably something active and fun – the time before the next meal passes in a flash. Often, parents find that their children were more bored than hungry in the first place.

3. Kids will learn to eat on the family’s schedule.

Children can be manipulative as they test their limits, and parents must have a plan for dealing with this power struggle. When a child refuses to eat the food provided by his parents at meals, the consequence should be hunger. Allowing the child to live with the unpleasant sensation of a growling stomach for a couple of hours will teach him to eat when food is provided.

This is easier said than done, I know, when parents are concerned that their children aren’t getting adequate nutrition. In the long run, though, eating at mealtimes will lead to better nutrition. Even the most stubborn kids learn this lesson quickly when parents remain strong.

Don’t fear hunger

Hunger between meals is not something to fear. In fact, a little hunger can go a long way toward preventing childhood obesity.

About the Author

Dr. Katalenas

Dr. Katalenas is a pediatrician and owner of The Pediatric Center of Round Rock and the author of the book "The Step Up Diet: From Scratch… The Quality, Quantity, and Timing Solution to Childhood Obesity", a guide to healthy cooking and eating for busy families.