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So last week, there was a day when I literally could not understand my child’s hunger. I offered breakfast at our normal time and it was refused. After a while, I tried again and still no go. Eventually, there was a Chocolate Muffin, sliced apple, and cheese during the middle of the morning, along with water in the variety of straw cups I kept losing track of around the house.

Chocolate muffins on cooling rack.

I made turkey hoagies for lunch as I tried to use the food I had in the fridge and freezer instead of trying to get to the grocery store with three kids during an impending snowstorm. My kid ate 3 bites, another apple, and was on their way back to their puzzle. By this point, I think I’d had two full meals and two snacks, and my other kids were right along with me.

We spent much of the afternoon sledding (I did it too, which I was proud of since I usually am not a very “fun” mom and I actually did enjoy myself!) and that’s when the hunger kicked in.

We played for two hours, then came inside and my child kept saying “I’m hungry!”. Hot chocolate, a cheese stick, the other half of the hoagie that wasn’t touched during lunch. Then almost immediately two servings of pasta with butter, 3 meatballs, Caesar salad, and a cookie.

There is no meal plan on earth (that I’ve heard of!) that would suggest consuming the bulk of your food during one 60 minute period of the day, but those meal plans forget that we humans are not actually charts. It’s also likely that the way my child ate that day could very well be interpreted as “picky eating” because they were not hungry at some of the regular meal times and didn’t accept all of the food I offered.

But in truth, this is an example of a child following their own hunger patterns, not of picky eating. And I often wonder how much less we’d be labeling (seemingly) every kid as “picky” if we felt more permission to trust our kids and the way they naturally want to eat. I’m not saying to give them free reign in deciding every part of every meal, but to allow freedom and trust within structure—which for me means that I buy the groceries and generally decide when we have meals and snacks, and what’s for dinner.

(Read more about this Division of Responsibility in Feeding here.)

We had no real obligations on that day, so I was very able to roll with things, but this can also true on more scheduled days. Some kids may front-load their intake and eat more in the first half of the day and not want much by dinnertime. Others may eat evenly throughout the day, but have some weeks when they eat twice as much as others. There are infinity variations of this because we are all unique and kids grow at different rates at different times in their lives. And it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem for us parents to solve.

I thought I’d share this because it is one of the things that just isn’t talked about enough. It’s drilled into us to include certain food groups, to look at portions, to make sure the kids are eating this and that (and not other foods), but we are very infrequently reminded that trusting our kids own unique hunger cues is such an important piece of this.

And that it’s okay even if it’s different than we expect.

It can be so easy to question what we’re doing wrong when one of our kids doesn’t eat the way we expect them to. Or the way that we do. Or the way they did yesterday or last month. But what I have learned, is that usually, if we can remember that these ebbs and flows are normal, we’ll see that it evens out over a whole day or week.

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