Is Your Child Hiding Food?

You asked Mom Dishes It Out “What can I do if my child is hiding food?” Read on to find out how this mom and RD would handle the situation. Thanks for asking. Keep the questions coming!!

My answer: First of all, don’t assume your child hid the food from you just because it is in the garbage. Food can be considered hidden when you find candy or wrappers under the bed, in the closet, in a shoebox or behind books.

Once you determine whether the food is actually hidden, don’t be reactive. Calmly sit down with your child and ask why they are hiding the candy or whatever wrappers you have found. Try to let your children use their own words to voice their feelings. You may need to help them, but wait until they give you some direction. Otherwise, the child may just say, “yes,” with the hope you will leave them alone.

You may also want to ask yourself a few questions. Does your child think they are not allowed to have it? What has led them to believe this? Do they think they need more food than they are getting? Are you perhaps restricting your child’s intake because you are worried about their weight?

Most importantly, assess your feeding style and whether there is anything that you can do to help your child eliminate this sense of shame around the particular food. Let them know that if they want a certain type of food like candy, it’s okay. However, they should let mommy or daddy know, and the food should be consumed in the kitchen.

Keep in mind which wrappers you have found. To neutralize this food, serve it to your child one day as a side with their lunch or as an afternoon snack. If you incorporate it into your child’s intake, they will no longer feel as though it is forbidden, and therefore the food itself will have less appeal. Remember, when you tell a child they cannot have something, they will want it more. Do the reverse here!

Question 2: What can I do if my child is sneaking food and hiding the wrappers?

My answer:  If your child is sneaking multiple pieces of candy and you “catch them in the act,” stay calm. Quietly assess the entire situation; what else has the child eaten that day? Are they giggling or embarrassed? If the child is giggling, they are most likely just enjoying themselves, meaning this behavior is not typical.

Whatever you do, make sure not to shame your child. You can laugh with them. You can ask if they are hungry and would like a snack or their next meal earlier. When given the opportunity without being shamed, a child will most likely share their true feelings. If this is at a random time during the day, assess whether eating these foods will interfere with the child’s meal intake.

Is there a good reason to forbid this food, besides the fact that it may be less nutritious than you’d hoped? If the only reason you can come up with has to do with nutrient density, and your child typically consumes high-quality, wholesome foods anyway, then you may want to let your child simply enjoy it. Allowing them to consume it will help to ensure that this type of food remains neutral, and no morals, labels or values, like “good” or “bad,” become associated with that item.

If you think that allowing your child to eat this specific food at a particular time may affect their snacks or meals, you have two choices. The first option is to let them eat the food, and later, to point out to them why they are not hungry for their next meal (because they ate too closely to dinner, if and when this actually occurs). This is a good way to reinforce internal self-regulation, enabling them to recognize hunger and fullness cues and identify how a food can fill them up.

Choice number two is to tell your child that they need to save the rest of the food until snack time. Explain that a meal or snack is coming up, and you want to be sure they have met their nutrition needs before they consume a “sometimes” food (aka a less nutrient-dense food).

Have any other parents experienced this? How did you resolve the issue? Did you hide food as a child and how would you have like the situation to be addressed? Again, thanks for asking Mom Dishes It Out your feeding and eating questions.

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