Maybe they’re just not hungry

Today, the First Lady, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and celebrity chef Rachael Ray teamed up to announce the new regulations for healthy school food.  They talked about all the hot-button issues so many of us are intimately — and perhaps too vehemently — acquainted with, like reducing the fried foods, sodium, processed offerings, and sugar.  They said many of the right things, the things we want to hear about the food that’s being served to our kids: more vegetables, more fruits, healthier grains.  Some people are calling it a win, some people (like myself) are a bit ambivalent, and some, predictably, are crying foul on the new guidelines.

Among the naysayers, one of the most popular battle cries is “But they won’t EAT it!”  There seems to be a prevailing “wisdom” among those who decry the government’s intervention into its own school lunch program — a “wisdom” that tells us that American children will starve before eating something they don’t like (or, more accurately, THINK they don’t like).  And of course, in practice, there seems to be some unfortunate accuracy to the claim that lunchtime waste goes up exponentially along with the health quotient of the meal being served.  Even the LAUSD, after Jamie Oliver’s much-publicized intervention there, appears to have experienced quite a downturn in student enthusiasm for healthy lunches after the departure of the famous chef.

And yet.  YET.  You’ll never convince me that the observance of more apples in the trash, more quinoa salad untouched, more beans and rice thrown over for black-market Cheetos, actually mean that American children will not eat healthy food.  That’s the simple answer, sure, but it’s not the RIGHT answer.  There are dozens, literally dozens, of factors that go into the battle being fought with our kids over nutrition, not just in the school lunchrooms but in homes across the country.  But without examining all of those factors in detail, I’ll just boil it down to one key point:

Maybe they’re just not hungry.  Or, more accurately, maybe they’re not hungry ENOUGH.

I wonder several times a week, as I read Karen le Billon’s accounts of school lunches in France, just how it is that we as a culture miss the simple and obvious truth that if kids in other countries can eat well, our kids can also eat well.  Children in France are not made of different stuff than American children.  To put it quite simply, a lion eats meat, whether he is an African lion strolling the savannah, or a lion in a zoo somewhere halfway around the world who has never seen the wild beyond his man-made habitat.  Children are children, and are born omnivores, no matter where they are raised.

So what’s the difference?  Well, CULTURE, of course, I’m sure many of you are saying with rolled eyes.  But what does that mean, really?  Culture = traditions = habits = foodways = a relationship with food, shaped by family influence, peer influence, locale (in that herring might be more common than avocado, say, in Sweden), and expectations — to simplify sociological and anthropological fact, with all apologies to those of you more learned than I in these matters.  In other words, a child’s relationship to food is shaped by the way others around them eat and expect them to eat.  And we knew that.  But.

BUT.  I think we sometimes overlook the little things, the subtle nuances of food cultures that probably make a much bigger difference than we care to recognize.  For example, when those French children are being served their lovely four-course meals at lunchtime, they’ve probably not just eaten a sugary, starch-heavy, or artificially large snack just two hours prior.  In fact, I may miss my guess here, but they possibly haven’t eaten a snack of any kind at all.

It’s not that children in other cultures eat better than American children simply because the traditional foods of those cultures are healthier, or because their parents have more time to cook, or because there are greater expectations placed upon them to eat what they’re served — though all of those things may or may not be true, to varying degrees.  It’s that in many other parts of the world, meals are meals, and they’re not mucked up by constant eating.

Our kids eat too much.  They eat too often, rather, and with too much anxiety applied by well-meaning adults (parents, school administrators, activity providers, etc) to their possible HUNGER.  And let’s face it: in the absence of true hunger, aren’t YOU more likely to eat only what you think will taste the best, and skip the things that are less appealing to you?

L. came home today with a lunchbox that was mainly empty, but his vegetables had only barely been touched.  Now, L. is a child who LIKES vegetables, and had asked for the lunch he was given; and he’s also a child who understands that it’s important for him to eat the vegetables Mommy and Daddy serve to him.  But he didn’t eat them, despite the fact that his lunch wasn’t overly large or filling.  I was surprised…until I thought through his morning and realized he’d had a good breakfast at 7:45 a.m., followed by a “snack” of cereal and milk at school (around 9 a.m.), and sat down to lunch sometime between 11:30 and noon.

In the interim, he played with Legos, sang songs and listened to stories at circle time, did some art projects, and had show and tell.  He’d had neither the time nor the activity to get truly HUNGRY.  Peckish, yes.  A bit empty, certainly.  But gnawingly, startlingly HUNGRY?  I doubt it.

When was the last time you heard your child’s stomach growl?  If you can remember it, you’re probably farther ahead of the game than most Americans.  We’re so concerned that our kids will go hungry that we don’t let them get acquainted with what hunger actually feels like.  And then, when they fuss about eating things that are less appealing to them, we assume that the problem lies in the food, or in the children themselves (“Oh, she’s just so picky”).

It doesn’t.  The problem lies in us, and in our culture of nutrition anxiety.

So I say to you, Ms. Obama, and you, Secretary Vilsack: I sincerely appreciate what you are attempting here, and I applaud your motives.  I am pleased with the thought that has gone into trying to improve school food, and while I don’t think the new regulations have real teeth or will make substantive changes to the day-to-day realities in our schools, I don’t believe it’s appropriate to tear down small victories on the road to real progress.  But sadly, your new regulations exist within a larger cultural vortex that, if not exactly damning to progress of this kind, will certainly offer up at least a measurable and frustrating amount of resistance.  Your added vegetables may be destined for the trash, no matter how appetizing you make them, simply because you’re feeding them to children who don’t need, at that precise moment, to be fed.  Or don’t need to be fed quite so MUCH.  Or in such an option-rich environment.

See, if you know your next snack is just a few hours away, the peas just don’t seem necessary.  If you know your after-school activity will be serving graham crackers and chocolate milk, bok choy can be tossed with impunity.  And if you’ve got 400 calories’ worth of meat and starch on your plate, you’d have to be pretty hungry to delve into the creamed spinach, don’t you think?

I don’t mean to imply that we don’t have a serious — urgent, in fact — childhood hunger issue in this country.  Lest anyone take issue with this post, I’m not really talking about kids who get only one or two square meals a day.  I daresay that if you go to, say, a soup kitchen, more of the 5-year-olds in that room will be eating their vegetables than in the average kindergarten cafeteria.  What I’m talking about is more the kids who wake up to a bowl of cereal with juice, head off to school and eat their snack of cheese and crackers two hours later, and after another two hours, march into the cafeteria and stand in line to be served their 600 calories of hot food.  And then know they’ll eat again 2-3 hours later, and again 2-3 hours after that.

If you look at it that way…it seems so simple.  We’re not growing eaters because we’re not growing kids who are hungry enough to eat.  In our quest to make sure they’re nourished, we’re overfeeding them to the point that they feel no regret in leaving behind the MOST nourishing items on their plates, because food is nothing to them — it’s something that appears, disappears, and reappears before they can give it a second thought. Twelve months from now, give or take — maybe sooner, maybe later — someone will write an article discussing the deleterious effects of the new school food guidelines, and how many fruits and vegetables are being wasted because the children “won’t” eat them.  And nowhere in the whole heated debate over what kids should and shouldn’t be eating, and when, will the truth be mentioned.

They may just not be hungry.

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27 Responses to Maybe they’re just not hungry

  1. In my opinion, the problem with the new government school lunch standards is that the additional vegetables — and other nominally healthier foods — that will be served by most schools will, unfortunately, probably be even more unappetizing than the garbage they’re offering now. My own personal cry of “But the kids won’t eat it!” is based more this sad truth than on the silly assumption that kids won’t eat vegetables. If only we could legislate that school food has to taste good as well as be healthy.

    • Jamie says:

      Wow, Virginia! Spot on. I got carried away with the snacking component but this is the heart of the matter. My son eats every vegetable known to man at home. He’s only in kindergarten so school lunch is new to him. He wanted to try it. A first I said no. More recently, I asked him if he’d like to try it and he said, “No Mama, actually it looks kind of gross.”
      There you have it.

      • Is it bad of me to be excited that L.’s kindergarten for next year doesn’t have a school food program? There is a local pizzeria/bakery that will supply lunch IF you’ve signed a form in advance and paid in advance — no lunch money brought in the day of, no impromptu lunch line shenanigans — but their menu is sort of like this: turkey sandwich on Monday, chicken noodle soup on Tuesday, spaghetti on Wednesday, ham sandwich on Thursday, pizza on Friday. In other words, nothing L.’s going to care much about getting, and nothing I have to be overly concerned about. I know it’s chickening out on my part, but I’m happy that i still get to be in charge of what he eats.

    • So true, Virginia! Kids eat what appeals to them, and if the vegetables are disgusting, they won’t touch them (nor would I). Of course, this is a large issue to be tackled; with school food service practices like central kitchens that send out food to be reheated, rather than an on-site kitchen for from-scratch cooking, making vegetables seem fresh and appealing is a tall order.

  2. There are many solutions to this problem. Not letting kids get hungry is one. But the kind of food is also important. There have been studies finding that eating junk food makes you actually not like the taste of “real” food. Rats fed a junk food diet actually starve themselves for a long time if they’re given the normal food that they would be eating in the wild. Junk food affects the brain literally like a drug, and there has to be a period of withdrawal before dopamine and opiate systems can readjust to normal. If a kid gets junk food once a day, or even a few times a week, there is not enough time to readjust to liking real foods like vegetables. I wrote a blog post on this here . (You can also go to my main page of my blog “Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food” here )

    BTW, Great article! I just wanted to jump up and down when I read “we as a culture miss the simple and obvious truth that if kids in other countries can eat well, our kids can also eat well.” And here’s something to think about: American kids often have bad eating habits by age 3 — before they even spend much time outside the home. So, the “culture” they’re learning from is not American culture — it’s YOUR HOME! (Aack!)

    • Thanks for the comment and the link, Julia! Yes, I could write another whole post on how junk food derails kids’ palates (and certainly have touched on that subject before, many, many times!). And your point about American children developing poor habits by age THREE — which is a staggering thing, if you stop to think about it at all — is both shocking and sadly unsurprising to me. You’re right that people want to think the problem lies anywhere but within their own homes; it’s amazing that I know plenty of very intelligent people who are loving, good parents, and yet they allow a constant parade of chicken nuggets and squeezable yogurts because “well, we only let her have the organic chicken nuggets” or “I’d rather he eat yogurt than nothing” (even though that yogurt might as well be ice cream…or worse). I’m all for everything in moderation, but I think my definition of moderation may be somewhat different from the mainstream!

  3. Pingback: Should kids be allowed to randomly snack? The French would say definitely not! Here’s why… « Karen Le Billon

  4. I’m so intrigued and inspired by the comments here — really a great conversation!

    Here are my thoughts, in response to the initial post:
    -No, French kids don’t snack. They don’t snack randomly at home. They just never think of doing it. Astounding but true.
    -French kids can’t snack at school. They are not allowed to bring food from home, and there are no vending machines (there’s a national ban). Only one choice is on offer at the cafeteria; and as the menus on my blog suggest, these meals are healthy, nutritious, and highly filling. They eat a lot of foods high on the ‘satiety index’ at lunch, because the expectation is that lunch is the biggest meal of the day.
    -French kids DO eat one mini-meal after school (sitting at the table, with real foods – like bread and butter, fruit, yogurt). Then, nothing until the evening meal at 7:30 or 8 pm. No bedtime snack.

    The result? You guessed it: they eat much better at mealtimes, because they feel hungry. And the foods at meals tend to be more nutritious.

    Now, this might seem shocking to North American parents. But there is a difference between feeling hungry and being hungry. No one wants a child to BE hungry. But the French think it’s OK to FEEL hungry. What does that mean? It means being comfortable if your stomach is empty, knowing the difference between having an empty stomach and feeling hungry, and being able to wait until your next mealtime–even if you do feel hungry. Otherwise, the French believe, you create a culture of ‘unregulated eating’….with all of the health problems that arise from that.

    My kids (4 and 8) follow the French approach on weekends. It works really well for us. They are used to the pattern, eat well at mealtimes, and I don’t have to worry about spoiling their dinner by giving them a snack. It was definitely a big adjustment at first. However, the results were so successful, and I was so inspired by this…that I wrote a whole book about it, which will be published in April with HarperCollins! (sorry for the shameless self-promotion…)

    No culture is perfect, and there are lots of things I wouldn’t borrow from France, but I do think they have some great ideas about how to feed children–ideas we could definitely learn from.

    • Thanks for the comment, Karen,and particularly for your distinction about the difference between “feeling hungry” and “being hungry.” I know there are plenty of people out there who are confused about that; I’ve definitely been accused of advocating that people “cruelly starve” their children because I’m of the mindset that it’s perfectly fine for a healthy child not to eat if they choose to reject what their parents expect them to eat at that time. I’m not into starvation and I’m not into letting children actually “go hungry.” I’m into allowing them to experience the feeling of hunger and thereby make their own decisions based on natural consequences, which I think sounds a bit like what the cultural preference in France may be.

      • Jamie says:

        I think if we’re going to look to France for eating tips we should mention 2 other very important factors. I lived there, 12 years ago, under extremely artistic conditions and sans child, so perhaps I’m seeing it through different eyes but we’re forgetting these glaring things. The French eat high quality fat and often. And the French tend to gather for relationship, not food. Food is almost an afterthought. Dinners are truly a gathering of minds and friendship and to talk…eating just happens to accompany that. As for dietary fat, I’m almost positive our obesity epidemic is caused by our low fat craze. We are continually eating nutritionally defunct, high caloric air. Even if we don’t factor in the BAD these foods do…they simply contain NO nutrients. I think the French keep “balanced” as that: balanced ratios of carbohydrates, protein and fat. NOT what the
        USDA tells us to put on our Healthy Plate. French kids probably don’t need to snack because they feel satiated.
        Oh. And eating on the go is considered flat out rude.
        Those are the things I really noticed when living there.

      • Also true, Jamie. High quality fats can’t be overlooked; it’s that old so-called “french paradox” of how in the world you can be a nation of people who eat butter, cheese, and pastry and not be grossly overweight as a statistical average. While other factors certainly weigh in (which is your point about eating while enjoying each other’s company vs. enjoying one another’s company while eating), the idea that you can eat less food of a higher quality and be satisfied is something totally foreign to Americans.

  5. Jamie says:

    Wow…this conversation is in my head all the time. First off, I haven’t read a thing on what’s going on in schools. If you are ambivalent, I’m flat out disbelieving any significant change is occurring. I agree with you entirely, Bri. And I have a sort of other situation here. My son’s appetite is legendary. Kid eats triple what I eat and he’s 5. He’s active and lean…can’t get the kid over 42 pounds. I’ve noticed that he’s consistently hungry about a half hour before my idea of meal time. And flat out starved after school. A couple of open ended thoughts…so like Michele above said, are we taking care of hunger or nourishment? I think a significant problem is that we tend to think in terms of snacks as filler. And we buy such foods. My family doesn’t eat grains, so for almost a year and half, there’s no goldfish, crackers or the like (fast, snacky foods) in the house. I view those as filler. For us, Pascal can eat whatever he wants whenever he’s hungry because it’s limited to very nutrient dense food (I’ve yet to see someone compulsively eat hard boiled eggs).

    I’m totally being philosophical here and wondering your thoughts. The first half of my life was marked by every eating disorder known to man. So when a kid says he’s hungry, my view is to believe him and feed him. Mind you, I only have one and I know for certain he’s not using food in any other emotional way than hunger. It feels very counter intuitive to say, No. Wait for dinner. Isn’t that an arbitrary time, I’ve chosen for him to be hungry? I feel a lot modern woes are because we’ve all been taught to ignore our bodies signals.

    Anyway…I kind of view it like this: if everything you’re eating is super good for you, does it matter when you eat? I know for me, when I stick to solely nutrient dense food, I can eat whenever I want because it truly feeds me. And then again, Bettina and I have discussed this on TLT, I’m a grazer. But I’ve other Moms kind of freak when they see Pascal eat after school. “How does he eat dinner with all that food?” And I think, “Who cares? He’s got all the nutrition he needs right there.”

    Sorry…my thoughts are all over the map, but it comes down to the quality of snacking, right?

    • I think it comes down to a few things:
      1) Yes, quality of snacking.
      2) True hunger. If the kid can eat and eat and eat all day and truly be hungry for it, then all bets are off.
      3) How important set mealtimes are to your particular family. (This doesn’t seem to be an issue for you. If it’s not, then embrace it. You know you’re a good parent.)

      Here’s the thing. As far as kids saying they’re hungry and it always being true, no, that’s not the case with every child — but you know your child. For other kids, I think a diversion is a good thing if you smell a rat. “Tell you what, little Charlie, Mommy’s just about to do xyz. You go play with your legos, and if you’re still hungry when I’m done, you may have something.” If the kid is still asking for food 20 minutes later, then feed them.
      As to the snack close to dinner, I have two ways of dealing with this that don’t involve saying NO outright. One is to offer a choice of anything they want, but I decide the portion, and when it’s gone, it’s gone — then you wait until dinner. So a tiny little handful of popcorn becomes the snack, there’s no struggle about it, the kid is happy because he gets to eat and he gets the snack he wanted, but it’s not in any great enough quantity to mess anything up. The other way of dealing with it is to grab something that would be a part of dinner anyway — some salad/veggies, fruit, a slice of bread if you were bread eaters — and tell the kid “You can eat this now, or you can wait and eat it with your dinner.” Then they make the choice, and it’s no big deal because you haven’t made any nutritional compromise. No denial of the kid’s body clock/mechanisms necessary, but a way to keep a set routine around meals if it matters.

  6. Despinamy says:

    My child eats a healthy breakfast at home (this morning it was home made applesauce and cream cheese on toast). Her school serves lunch at 10:40AM though – so yes, I pack a snack for her in the afternoon. She also gets a snack after school and then full dinner. Her meals are healthy. Today her lunch consists of home made manicotti, yogurt, home made oatmeal/walnut cookies, and a cashew granola bar – with wild blueberry juice for her drink. Either the cookies or the granola bar will be her snack during school snack time. I will probably bring her a banana for her after school snack. She will (I am certain) eat a full portion of her dinner – chicken, salad, and rice. She will also probably have a snack before going to bed because otherwise, she will tell me that she’s hungry.. and her tummy will growl to prove it. So yes, according to your article, I overfeed my daughter.

    She is almost 6 years old, weighs 43 pounds and is 47 inches tall. She is in the higher percentiles for height for her age. She doesn’t have an ounce of fat on her. BECAUSE SHE IS ACTIVE!!!! She snowboards, does tap dance, and flamenco dance. She runs around the park. She walks to and from school. She eats healthy. She doesn’t eat when she’s not hungry. She turns down cookies, candy, and ice cream (as well as carrot sticks and cheese pieces) if she isn’t hungry. She chooses salad and broccoli over french fries at restaurants whenever we go out. She requests salad at dinner. It may be, in part, that children aren’t getting enough physical activity for the food that they are fed.

    • Thanks for stopping by! It sounds like you’re doing a lot of great things with regard to feeding your daughter. But I want to say that I think your child, and your family, are in the minority — and I wasn’t really talking about the minority.
      It’s GREAT if you have a kid who eats healthy, is really active, and can eat a lot throughout the day, at various times, without it compromising her health/appetite. Truly, that’s a great thing. It’s not the case for a lot of people. And when you say “her tummy will growl…so yes, according to your article, I overfeed my daughter,” I worry that you missed my point. I actually said in the post that if you can hear your child’s stomach growl, that’s GREAT. That’s what most people DON’T ever allow to happen. So no, I don’t think you’re “overfeeding” your daughter, because you’re letting her experience natural hunger. Also, I referenced in the post the fact that my son, in a morning at preschool, wasn’t active enough to get hungry between snack and lunch — so you and I are on the same page about kids not being active enough to work off the snacks. But the bottom line remains that whatever the reasons, more children in America are eating their calories in snacks and junk than fruits and vegetables, and families like yours are the exception, not the rule.

  7. Norma says:

    Great post. Why are Americans so worried that food isn’t going to be available in an hour and need to shovel as much in as we can RIGHT NOW? We give the kids a “snack” before running errands for two hours “so they won’t get hungry.” WHAT’S WRONG WITH BEING HUNGRY FOR AN HOUR? The food will still be there when you get home. We act like we’re in a famine, or cavemen on the hunt, or post-apocalypse.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Be careful what you wish for… I work in a school and see what our government deems appropriate for consumption. No olives allowed… too high in sodium, but processed meats wherein corn syrup is the first indegredient listed on the package are on the menu. Do you want chicken? Great! But if you want chicken without fillers (the gov’t issue stuff) that will cost you a dollar extra… I’ll take my chance with the tatter tots

  9. Bri – I’ll be linking to this excellent post when I do my own write up about the new school meal standards on The Lunch Tray. And I’ve often had the exact same thought with my own children at dinner – if they hadn’t had a snack after school (which I feel I can’t deny them and which I try to keep a reasonable size), I’m sure there’d be a LOT less aimless poking at vegetables or unfamiliar foods. Grrr.

    But I did want to share one distressing observation. I’ve been volunteering monthly at a homeless shelter, preparing and serving meals, and I was shocked to learn from the head of the kitchen that fresh vegetables and salad seem to be unpopular among that population as they are among school kids. Sure, there were exceptions, but I saw many presumably hungry adults just throwing these foods into the trash. Which I guess shows you how profound these cultural influences are.

    • Thanks for sharing, Bettina, and I’m so disheartened to learn about your observations at the shelter! GAAAAHHHH! I have seen hungry children eating what’s served to them, vegetables and all; but I suppose I’ve also seen plenty of waste, too, now that I think about it. And why not? Your point about the deathgrip of these cultural influences is well-taken, and even at food pantries and other food assistance programs, so often much of what’s offered (and much of what’s TAKEN) is boxed/processed/packaged/less-than-ideal. We both know there are legitimate reasons for that sad reality, but it does really feel discouraging sometimes to realize that we might be so far gone as a society that even our hungriest citizens aren’t willing to eat the spinach.


  10. rachelwhims says:

    Wow, this was a great read! I’ve never really looked at it from that point of view before. And I have to admit, I’m a snacky mom. Maybe it’s time for a little change around my home. I mean, if the government can make a change, anything’s possible, right? 😉 Thanks for posting. I’m gonna pass it on to some friends.

  11. I have an issue with the word “hunger” in the context of nutrition programs (I understand what you’re saying here is different, bear with me.) The USDA defines hunger as “the uneasy or painful sensation caused by lack of food.” Unfortunately, this feeling has little or nothing to do with receiving adequate nutrition. Our country has placed so much focus on alleviating this discomfort with cheap, empty calories that we now have an entirely different problem than hunger: diet-related disease.

    Nutrition programs like school lunch, SNAP, and WIC should not exist solely to prevent hunger. They should exist to prevent malnutrition, and consider both macro- and micro-nutrients; one would expect this would ALSO have the effect of preventing hunger, but it is not the primary purpose of these programs. The focus of these programs is to promote good health and good habits, not to prevent discomfort.

    I certainly don’t want any child to feel discomfort, especially at school, but I have to agree with you: those who focus on kids’ discomfort with new foods are missing the point.

    • Correct, Michelle, and thanks for taking the time to offer such a good clarification of the different meanings of the word “hunger.” I did mean it colloquially, but you’re absolutely right that TRUE hunger — as in food insecurity, as in children who do not reliably get enough proper food to eat — is so much more than that.
      We’re overfeeding to avoid underfeeding; and ironically, this kind of overfeeding IS undernourishing. Your point about preventing discomfort vs. promoting good habits puts me in mind of subsidized breakfasts in schools. When a child is hungry in the physical sense — uncomfortable — he or she can’t learn. That’s very true. None of us could concentrate on a math test with a growling belly, either. But the answer is too often to fill those kids up with packaged processed quasi-foods like cream cheese-stuffed frozen bagel bites, trans-fat loaded shrink wrapped muffins, or sugary enriched cereals. That may alleviate the discomfort, but it’s doing nothing to set that child up for understanding the value of a good breakfast. And I can’t help but wonder what would happen if all the junk food magically disappeared tomorrow, and all of these programs were suddenly filled only with healthful choices. A year from now, would people be crying foul as children died of starvation in the streets…or would we find that they’d eat the oatmeal, the fresh fruit, the vegetable omelets?

      • dominique says:

        Such a great read and good point. I don’t think ive ever heard of a child starving themselves to death because they didn’t like what was being served. My baby has only had fruits and oatmeal so she loves it. My friends baby wont touch anything healthy but she has eaten chicken burgers and burritos. We need to just reprogramme kids into healthy food is not yucky and we need to do this by joining forces with parents. As long as the junk is still being supplied by parents and eaten by parents kids will think it is normal to do the same

      • Thanks! It’s pervasive in our culture, you’re right. And of course there’s no perfect formula — I try as hard as I can to instill healthy habits, and there are still foods my kids won’t eat (or foods they want to eat that I’d prefer they didn’t!). But we have to start early, and we can’t give up.

    • I think this is a great point. I make the distinction between FEELING hungry (having an empty stomach, looking forward to the next meal) and BEING hungry. No one wants a child to BE hungry. But feeling hungry before you next meal is a good thing — it ‘opens your appetite’, as the French say, and you then eat better at the meal. So you’re less hungry afterwards, less tempted to snack, and then eat better at the next meal after that! When we moved to France I learned that it’s an easy pattern to adopt, once you’ve made up your mind to do it! And my kids still don’t randomly snack, even though we’re now living back in Vancouver.

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