Hoarding food is a common behavior in children who have been deprived of adequate sustenance early in life. It can manifest in many ways, including hiding food around the house, overeating to the point of throwing up, or becoming extremely anxious at having to wait for meals to be prepared. A child may also become very upset upon seeing someone else eating.
Although hoarding may be directly related to the child’s history with food, it can also signal difficulties with control and trust. Children communicate their needs through behavior. Hoarding may be a sign that your child does not yet trust that his needs will be met. It could also be an indication that he has micronutrient deficiencies and is craving foods that contain nutrients that his body is lacking.
Utilizing Ellyn Satter’s “Division of Responsibility” can help your child feel more secure around food. Satter recommends that parents decide what to eat, where to eat, and when to eat. Children can decide if they want to eat and how much to eat. Letting a child who tends to eat too much decide how much they want to eat can be hard for some parents. But keep in mind that children who are restricted from eating tend to eat more in the long run.
Hoarding behaviors should be discussed with your child’s pediatrician. In the meantime, the following suggestions may help the child feel more secure around food:
Stick to a predictable routine for meals and snacks (roughly every 2-3 hours for toddlers and preschoolers and every 3-4 hours for older children)
Don’t yell, threaten, punish, withhold, or reward with food. Don’t try to shame a child for the hoarding behavior. Threatening your child will never diminish or eliminate the urge to hoard food.
Don’t put locks on the kitchen cabinets.
Consider giving your child her own accessible food cabinet to store snacks that are hers and hers alone.
Let your child carry a snack in her backpack; it will give her security just to know it’s there.
Keep fruit out on the table during the day so your child knows food is always available.
Don’t eat off your child’s plate, even if he appears to be finished.
Remain calm and offer reassurances such as “there will always be enough.”
“Elise did some hoarding at first but when she learned she would get enough at meals she stopped. As I think I mentioned, she used to eat literally anything but now she is a bit picky and I’m glad. To me it shows she knows she’ll have enough.” -adoptive mom