What If Your Child Isn’t Hungry in the Morning for Breakfast?
In our first “Listener Mailbag” article, Dr. Steve lets you know what’s going on & what you can do
by Steve Silvestro, MD @zendocsteve
You can also listen to this article as a podcast on your favorite podcast app or click on the player below:
I’m excited to announce a new feature of The Child Repair Guide—The Listener Mailbag!
I get asked questions from listeners all the time. And while I can’t provide individual medical advice, some of the parenting topics that listeners ask me are often on subjects that I know many of you might be dealing with or curious about, too. So, from time to time, I’ll be sharing listener questions and the answers I give with you as a podcast & also as an article here on drstevesilvestro.com.
If you have a parenting question you’d like featured (and answered!) on The Child Repair Guide Podcast, you can submit it one of two ways:
1). Follow me on Instagram @zendocsteve and send me a DM,
2). Call The Child Repair Guide Listener Mailbag line at 1-202-455-5665, leave a voicemail, and your recording will be incorporated into a future episode of The Child Repair Guide Podcast.
*Please note that I cannot give personalized medical advice, and a live person will not be answering the phone number above.
This first question is one that I get asked quite often: What to do if your child isn’t hungry in the morning for breakfast?
Hi Dr. Steve!
I have a question about breakfast. Frequently my older daughter (6yrs) complains that her tummy hurts in the morning and doesn’t want to eat breakfast. Normal stools, she’s gaining weight and growing, generally a good eater, no signs that something is “really wrong.” On the weekends, when everyone wakes up on their own versus to the alarm clock, she usually seems to be fine about eating (usually weekend pancakes!).
I’m a strong believer in breakfast, but also know that a) you can’t force kids to eat and, b) different people’s systems handle early mornings differently. While I myself wake up starving at any hour, my husband, for example, needs to wake up a bit before he’s ready to eat. I also wonder if maybe it’s psychological. I don’t want to start a routine of skipping breakfast, I also don’t want to have a fight each morning.
Hi, Erin—thanks for writing!
This is actually a question that I get a lot, so you’re not alone! There are a handful of reasons why your daughter might not be hungry when she wakes up on schooldays, and they’re all okay:
- It could be that she’s still not done fully digesting what she’d eaten the night before. This could fit with the fact that she’s usually fine when she gets to sleep a little later on weekends. There are a handful of factors that go into determining how quickly food moves along through the gut, including the types of food eaten, how full the bowels are already, and the balance of good bacteria in the gut.
- Another factor is that digestion is really turned on when we are resting, so the GI tract is in high gear overnight. This could leave some people with an excess of stomach acid when they first wake up in the morning, leading to tummy pain or nausea.
- Finally, in the early morning hours while we are still sleeping, our bodies release cortisol to start getting us kick-started for the day. Cortisol causes blood glucose to rise. Since one of the many factors that affect hunger is our brain’s sense of blood sugar levels, if her blood glucose is higher on waking than it is an hour or so later, she might not feel hungry when she wakes with an alarm clock on schooldays.
Just like you, I’m also a big believer in the value of a healthy breakfast. When people say it’s “the most important meal of the day,” it’s not without good reason. See, the brain relies on whatever glucose is available in the bloodstream right now—it doesn’t have time to wait for the liver to break down stored energy. So when a child doesn’t eat breakfast, two things happen. The first is that the subjects they have right before lunch become more challenging—at that point, the brain is running on empty, making it harder to focus and learn well. The second is that when we are starving, we are more likely to make less healthy food choices—because the brain wants fuel right now, sugary foods look super-appetizing. So it certainly is worth the effort to try and get something in the stomach in the morning before school.
The best approach may simply be to encourage her to drink water soon after she wakes up. This can help to dilute out some of the stomach acids. It can also help to tell the GI system to “wake up”—and while that might lead to more gastric juices, it might also turn on her hunger cues.
Another thing that might help include making sure she has a wide variety of plants in her diet, as the fiber from plants is what feeds the good bacteria in the gut. My interview with Dr. Will Bulsiewicz on Gut Health, Probiotics, and Good Bacteria really opened up my eyes to the importance of this, and struck a chord with my listeners, quickly becoming the most popular episode of The Child Repair Guide, and it still holds that place today, a year later.
Finally, I really do often see that young kids’ complaints of belly pain often have to do with mild constipation or even just the need to have a bowel movement, even in the setting of what seem like normal stools and even if they don’t recognize that that’s the cause of the discomfort. You could encourage her to try and use the bathroom after dinner each night to help move things along and decrease the odds of tummy discomfort in the morning.
After all this, if she is still not hungry before it’s time to leave the house, see if she’ll be open to eating something on the way—a yogurt, a healthier granola bar—something that ideally has some good fats, protein, and complex carbs to get keep her fueled for the morning.
I have a list of recipes and protein-packed and fiber-full breakfast ideas at drstevesilvestro.com/breakfast — many of which are portable muffins, wraps, or smoothies that your child can eat on the go — so check that out.
If none of this takes hold, then you can take comfort in knowing what you stated at the start of your question—that she’s healthy, developing well, and there are no signs of any “big problems.” In the end, if you try these tips and she’s still not usually hungry in the morning, well, that’s just “her”—and that’s absolutely okay.
All the best & have fun,
If you’d like to submit a question for the Listener Mailbag and have your question featured in an article and Child Repair Guide Podcast episode, then follow me on Instagram @zendocsteve and send me a DM, or call the number above and leave your question in the voicemail!