What I Learned from My Son’s Food Hoarding


It’s a common refrain among parents of hungry, growing kids: How can we be out of food already? Didn’t we just go to the store? Some kids wait until their adolescent years to become bottomless pits, but for mine, it started as soon as they graduated to solid foods.

I’m used to my kids needing a steady flow of meals and between-meal mini-meals, so at first I laughed and rolled my eyes when I started discovering my 7-year-old’s hidden stockpiles of snacks. Oh, look, a half-eaten pack of Oreos behind his books! And here’s a granola bar wrapper in his hamper! I wonder what treasures I’ll find under the mattress? His choice of hiding places often made for funny photos to send to my husband and mom friends.

The humor started to fade when I found a full loaf of bread under his bed. It was then that I realized what had once been occasional behavior—sneaking a few cookies from the pantry, or some candy from a birthday party goody bag—was now a daily pattern of behavior that amounted to a meal’s worth of food (or more, in the case of the bread). My son, now 8, is a string bean, very active, and a good, balanced eater at mealtimes, so it took me longer to pick up on this upward trend of sneakiness than it might have otherwise. But now I was worried.

I realize squirreling away the occasional snack is perfectly normal; most of us have our own childhood memories of “emergency” candy stashes in the sock drawer. When eating becomes an increasingly secretive act, however, it can lead to trouble, including eating disorders, unhealthy emotional eating and obesity.

Clearly it was time to talk to my son, and I wish I could tell you it was a smooth conversation in which I said all the right things. Nope! I picked the wrong time (discovering him with a handful of M&Ms and applesauce pouches under his blanket one night) and my poorly disguised irritation caused him to get defensive and tearful. But we powered through, and he was able to express to me that while he had enough to eat at dinner, by the time he was finished with his nightly book, LEGO or Minecraft time, he was hungry again—really hungry. And I explained to him that being hungry is never something he needs to hide; we could schedule in an extra nightly mini-meal and there was no need to keep playing the role of Kitchen Bandit.

Children are inherently intuitive eaters, and more in touch with their cues of hunger and fullness than many of us adults. My son knew his cues, but somewhere along the way he’d gotten the idea that he had to keep them to himself. Now when it’s almost bedtime I make sure to check with him and see if he needs a snack, and I’m also able to help him choose options that aren’t 99% sugar and artificial coloring. So far, this new routine has worked well for us, and our loaves of bread remain on the kitchen counter where they belong.

But I’m continuing to keep an eye on my son’s relationship with food, just as I do with younger sisters. Sometimes a snack is just a snack. Sometimes it’s more than that. It’s my job while my kids are young to help them recognize and talk about the difference.


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