hungry after dinner - Boston Moms Blog

Sometimes my kitchen feels like a 24-hour Chinese food restaurant. My children come and eat delicious and FILLING foods but are still scrounging for more an hour later. I can’t be the only mom who is surprised to find her kids are hungry after dinner! You know how it goes: After finally finishing washing the dishes, putting away all the leftovers, and cleaning the kitchen, you hear a little whine:

“I’m stilllll hungryyyy.”

Right? It drives me bananas!

But, since I’m also an eating psychology coach and mind/body nutrition coach specializing in, well, the psychology of eating, I understand both from a nutritional and psychological perspective what might actually be going on when my kid frequently says she’s hungry or wants to snack a lot after dinner.

I never begrudge or judge my kids for wanting to eat after dinner (although it does irritate me). Who am I to determine for THEM what hunger cues they are getting? I try to help my kids really communicate with their bodies and trust and honor the signals they get. Look, sometimes we get it wrong. Maybe the need to snack after dinner is not a consequence of a nutritional void but an emotional one. This begs the question, of course, about whether a parent should give in when they suspect it’s not a hunger-related desire. There is no right or wrong answer (like a lot of parental conundrums). But let’s consider why this might be happening — and then dig into a few suggestions.

Here are the top five reasons your child may still want food, even after a filling and tasty meal (plus, some tips on what to do about it!).

He’s ready for bed.

He/she might actually be exhausted and not know how to express it. He knows something is up but needs help figuring out what it is. Food is grounding. Food comforts. And even adults often misread body cues and have difficulty differentiating between hunger, thirst, and tiredness. So even though he may think he is hungry, he might actually just need to start a comforting nighttime routine. Learn more about the sleep/hunger connection here.

Suggestion: Offer water and a small snack that includes protein and fat (i.e., yogurt, avocado, turkey slices).

She’s bored.

There is often this odd hour or two after dinner, where it’s too late to start some sort of messy project but too early to start the bathtime and bedtime routines. It’s often an inflection point for the parents at that time as well, after they’ve devoted so much blood, sweat, and tears during the day. You may not actually be up for a third round of Candy Land or cards. But, food is the great equalizer — it gives us something to do, too (regardless of hunger), so it makes sense this might happen.

Suggestion: Offer a quick “grab-and-go” snack, like some grapes, and make some tea for yourself. Use it as an opportunity to talk about boredom with your child, and come up with a top 10 list of things she can do when she’s bored.

He was too distracted and busy during the day to eat a whole lot.

My daughters tell me (much to my chagrin) they are always rushed through their lunches. My eldest gets lunch at 10:50 a.m.! So by the time she gets home, she’s truly ravenous. My middle has told me she’s been forced to pack up her lunch and leave way before she has time to consume it. They get, like, 10 minutes! So children who are not getting enough opportunities to eat during the day will want food after dinner to make up for that.

Suggestion: Prepare a macronutrient balanced breakfast (or have them do it) that has plenty of fat and protein and fiber to help fuel them through the day, plus a high volume (think soup, smoothies, etc.) snack upon arriving home to compensate. See if that changes any of the nighttime eating behaviors you’re seeing. (Comment below if you want recipe suggestions!) Or check out this article about healthy snacks kids can make on their own.

Just because it’s there.

Brian Wansink, author of the book “Mindless Eating,” has conducted countless studies on this phenomenon. Often, we want to eat simply because it’s in front of us. This is true for kids, too. One study the author did involved three-day-old stale popcorn at a movie theater. One half of the audience received a small bucket of three-day-old stale popcorn, and the other half a large bucket of three-day-old stale popcorn. After the movie ended and the results were tallied, he discovered the people who received the large bucket of popcorn ate 30% more — even though it was stale (and maybe they were not even hungry)! This is a powerful example of the “if it’s there, you’ll eat it” concept.

Suggestion: Put away all snacky-type foods that sit out on the counter — get them out of reach and out of eyesight in the evening.

She’s procrastinating.

I asked my 11-year-old daughter about this one. I asked her why, after she eats a full meal, she still wants to snack an hour later. Her response was so honest, so straightforward, and so true that I LOLed. She said that snacking is a good way to put off doing homework, practicing piano, or doing anything else she wants to avoid. Guess what? We adults do a lot of this as well, don’t we?

Suggestion: This one is hard! One thing I have done is ask my daughter to do just 10 minutes of concentrated and focused work and set a timer. Once she gets going, just knowing it’s time-limited is sometimes enough to get the creative and/or motivation juices going for her. It’s like with exercise for me. Sometimes the anticipation of something unpleasant is far worse than actually doing it. So giving myself permission to do only 10 minutes helps me get started. And once I get started, I almost always do more.  

By the way, I never deny myself or my child a snack if she or I still want one. This is not about shaming anyone’s appetite or judging one’s perception of hunger. It’s about getting to the root cause of night eating (if unneeded) and finding solutions that fulfill whatever it is they truly need at that time.


Jenny Berk
Jenny is a crass and pushy (read = sweet) native New Yorker who has always had a penchant for New England, after attending Brandeis for 4 years, but especially so after meeting her husband Barry, who also happened to live in Boston. After marrying, and creating 3 awesome daughters - ages, 11, 8 and 6 - she and her husband moved to Needham and love it there! Jenny is a Certified Eating Psychology Coach, Mindful Eating Instructor and Wellness blogger. She loves writing about how Mom's can navigate and prioritize their health and positive body image after having children. When she's not trying to figure out how the heck to parent a tween, She can be found blogging at the Huffington Post, (healthy living section) and on her site Heck yes! - mindfulness, kettlebells, body acceptance, yoga, traveling the word and eating decadent and unctuous (vegetarian) food. No way, man! - arthritis at 40, allergies to anything, animal cruelty, waiting in line.