Don’t Feed Your Kids While You’re Hungry

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A good piece of advice about grocery shopping is not to do it on an empty stomach. It can also be a hard piece of advice to follow, especially for those of us who do their shopping between leaving work and heading home for dinner, but at least the consequences are pretty low stakes. Roam the aisles while hungry, and the worst thing that happens is that you wind up with several pounds of sausage, or an economy-sized container of creamed corn, or something else that seemed like a good idea at the time.

But in a small study recently published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, psychologists offered up a similar nugget of wisdom, this one with more consequential implications: Parents who feed their kids while hungry might run the risk of feeding them too much.

The study authors observed a group of 29 moms with children between the ages of 3 and 6, asking them to rate their own hunger right before mealtime, as well as how hungry they perceived their kids to be. The hungrier parents generally guessed that their children were hungrier, too, particularly the members of the group who were overweight or obese and tended to dish out larger portions of the meal the researchers had provided.

And bigger portions, in turn, may mean setting kids up for unhealthy eating habits, particularly because kids often can’t read their body cues the way adults do. “Young children have difficulty recognizing when they are full,” lead study author Sarah Stromberg, a psychology doctoral student at the University of Florida, said in a statement — meaning that “the more food they are presented at mealtime, the more they are likely to eat.”

The authors cautioned that the results were preliminary; follow-up research would include more families and would observe them at home rather than in a lab. But in the meantime, parents — what a great excuse for a pre-dinner snack.