How Would You Handle a 4 Year Old Sneaking Food?

Updated on November 04, 2010
C.B. asks from Oskaloosa, KS
26 answers

okay, i am fairly certain this is something every kid tries at one time or another. my initial reaction (internally) was almost tearful. i remember doing this as a kid and feeling SO guilty - and i have eating issues and always have. my son is four, and of course i left the halloween bowl out where he could reach it. i caught him with his head and upper body in the pantry, and when i asked him what he was doing, he said without coming out, with his mouth full of cookie, "nothing!" so he was busted, and got sad and upset, "i'm sorry mom, i'm hungry!" etc. (he wasn't hungry, in fact had just had one roll of smarties as an after-school snack) i didn't freak out, sent him to time out, and talked to him afterwards like always. it just really struck a nerve with me! i don't want him to be the fat kid that sneaks food....but this is one area i have NO good tricks in - i haven't even gotten my own impulse eating under control. how do i stop his? i think this is more of a discipline problem at this point than an eating problem, and as such i think i handled it ok...what are your thoughts moms?
didn't realize i was going to get lectured....but for clarification i will say, he wasn't hiding his eating, he was hiding because i had already told him no more treats out of the halloween bowl. several times. i told him one was all he got. i was in the process of making dinner and i do not in any way think it's okay to hand a kid food (even a healthy snack ) fifteen minutes before i expect him to sit at a healthy dinner with the family. which i do. sorry if i was unclear about that. he eats a snack shortly before i pick him up from preschool. we're not talking about a house full of junk food - it's two days after halloween. my question was how would other moms handle a four year old sneaking food. i wasn't asking for judgement on my life, or even my parenting, except in this one instance. i'm trying not to take it personally or get upset, but i only mentioned my own eating issues because i wanted to explain how sensitive i can be about eating - and how aware i am of his eating habits and how important it is to me that he develop healthy ones.

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So What Happened?

THANK YOU! for all the encouraging and supportive responses. not to really give credence to smartie nutrition label silliness, but yes, he was in time out because mom said no and he did it anyway. that's it. mom says when we can have treats, he doesn't. (and PS, i should have said it was a treat, not a snack -- wow in no way did i think the smarties would be FILLING or nutritious - thank you someone for pointing out i'm not an idiot!)

and oh YES i did put it up above the fridge, immediately - the only reason it wasn't before was because it's so danged crowded up there (our kitchen has NO storage space) and i was naively thinking "he's a good kid, i don't need to worry about it". silly me. :) thanks again for the encouragement! i was starting to get pretty discouraged at first...!

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answers from Boston on

Normal 4-year olds don't have the impulse control required to keep away from a bowl of candy even if they have been told not to touch it. It is just TOO exciting. Best let him have some -- a whole handful! And then get rid of all of the rest of it, goodbye until next year.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

My only comment is, a roll of Smarties isn't a filling snack after school, so I'd say he probably really was hungry. Hope you got some good answers!


answers from Kansas City on

I would think the main issue here is not the sneaking candy, as candy being the issue, but the fact that he wanted something and went against what he knew he should do ( which is ask you ) and he lied about it. I would focus on the lying and not so much the candy. He wanted something and took it without self restraint and lied. It will happen again until he learns to be honest and control himself. That is a hard job to get across to children these days but you need to talk about it with him and help him to be honest. Not to say he's the only child with this problem but you want a child who you can trust.

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answers from Honolulu on

A roll of smarties or cookies after school is not a snack. It is a candy. It does not fill up a child's tummy. It does not make them full.

After school, MANY kids are hungry... totally.
They need something healthier.
Kids spend all day at school, their lunch is early before noon, they come home at the end of the day, hungry. My daughter is the same way.

Make ahead of time, some healthy foods for him to eat after school. Fruit, sandwiches, milk etc.

A kid is not 'fat'... unless the Pediatrician tells you this... and says he has a weight problem.

Kids, when growing or hitting growth-spurts... get HUNGRY. My daughter gets hungry every 2 hours or less. I feed her. She eats snacks and her regular meals. She is not fat. She is a tall lanky growing kid. Our Pediatrician says its fine.

Keep only healthy things in your home.
Teach him that treats are treats. NOT 'meals.' He can have treats. By your judgment.

Kids... need to learn their hunger 'cues' and not to eat according to emotion.
Do not, put your eating impulses onto him.... he is not that way... unless he 'learns' it.....

Just keep cut up finger foods, healthy foods, available for him to eat. Teach him to ask you, if he wants something. He has learned... that eating... is a 'bad' thing. It is not.
Teach him... he does NOT HAVE TO 'hide' his hunger or his needing to eat or his needing to have a snack. Keeping it a secret or a hidden thing... is not good, for a child.

Only keep healthy foods around the home. Its okay for him to have a snack... in between his meal times.
My kids, eat if they are hungry. They tell me if they are hungry. I give them something to eat. Something healthy. They don't have to "sneak" food or hide it from me.... just because they are hungry. If they want a 'treat'... they know how to ask. I don't act like it is an evil thing to ask for or want. I just teach them that cookies/candies are not 'food'... it is a treat and if they eat their dinner, they can have one sometimes.

I actually tell my kids, IF they are hungry, they know where to go, they can get it themselves.... its okay. I only have healthy food in my house, not junk. My daughter can even warm things up in the microwave herself if she is hungry. My son, will eat a snack, put Saran wrap on it if he doesn't eat it all and put it in the fridge.
I tell my kids, when they are 'full'... then that's fine. They do not have to eat the WHOLE thing. That is not how their body works. They understand.
My kids, get hungry, often. They are not fat nor unhealthy. They know their body cues.
The only junk I have in the house now, is the Halloween candy. Which is in a closet... and they can have a certain amount each day. No problem. They don't have to 'sneak' food.

all the best,

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

I haven't read the replies, but by your update, it sounds like their was some harsh comments. I just thought I would share with you an experience that I had - not so that people can judge me, but to let you know things like that happen. We try to keep a healthy balance of food in the house and don't eat a lot of "junk, candy, etc." But, those Easter and Halloween times are a challenge - or use to be. When my son was 4 - he was obviously enjoying the candy more than we realized - it was fun going to get the treats - and he wanted them more. Anyway, about a month after when I was doing some deep cleaning- I found wrappers under the couch, hidden in back of a closet, under the bathroom sink cabinets, etc. I was amazed - that explained his extra energy. ;) He knew he shouldn't eat them - and was smart enough to know that if he threw them away - we would see the wrappers- but, he was just really curious of all the new treats he hadn't experienced. Anyway, we talked about it, moved the treats to those top shelves for awhile and talked about getting rid of it all if it happened again. Today - 4 years later - he is one of the healthiest eaters you'll find. If this is an isolated incident around the holiday time - I really don't think it's cause for concern - just a very curious and interested little boy. ;)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Charlotte on


2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

This really isn't truly a food me it sounds like a not minding mommy issue. You told him no more candy, the same as if he had asked to get out playdough or asked to have an outdoor toy in the house. You said, "No"...then he went and did it anyways.

So to me it sounds like you handled it correctly, with a time out and a don't disobey mommy again.

It just bothered you more than it would someone else because it was a food/candy item he disobeyed you 4 he is not obsessed with the food other than it is candy and it tastes just pushed your buttons.

I hide our candy on top of the refrigerator...and dole it out from kids would sit and eat their whole buckets if they could get their hands on them. In fact the kids and daddy are eating candy as we speak...gotta love the days after Halloween.

You did just fine...try not to think of it as sneaking food but as disobeying you. Doesn't sound like you are rationing good healthy food just rationing the junk stuff. Sending you a is so hard to parent when we have our own issues we fight too.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

this makes me laugh. My daughter, who is as little as can be, sneeks food (candy/ treats). She could tell me that she is full (from lunch) and then say she wants a snack 20min later. She has a sweet tooth like me.:) It's Halloween and it's in the house, now the bowl is on top of the fridge. I agree with you, in our house no snacks after 4 pm because I am getting dinner ready and I know that it will keep them from eating a good dinner. I think you need to stop beating yourself up about weight issues. We don't keep a bunch of snacks in the house, but we do have snacks. I use my snacks as a reward because my daugthers are both tiny and I reward them when the eat all of their lunch and or dinner. If they eat all of their dinner and want 2 oreos for dessert...that's fine with me. I think you need to use candy/ treats as a reward. Maybe not something you get every day or maybe only get it when you eat your veggies or something like that. YOU SHOULD NOT deprive a child of treats. If a child is totally deprived of snacks/ treats it will backfire. When they can get them, they will overendulge. Instead give small treats here and there. That way they are still getting them, but they are not expected all of the time. I grew up in a house where we ate breakfast, lunch and dinner. After dinner we had dessert...every night. Maybe pudding, jello, ice cream or a couple of cookies. Everything in moderation with the proper portions. You need a balanced diet and that includes an occasional snack. No one has weight issues just because they eat dessert every night.

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answers from Dallas on

I wouldn't count sneaking halloween candy in the same category as sneaking food. It sounds like you're sensitive to it because of your own issues. If he's never done it before, he was just tempted by the call of halloween candy (who isn't?), and 4 year olds DON'T really have much impulse control. Time out for snagging candy when he was told not to is fine. I think you might want to look into counseling for your own eating/food issues (if you already haven't) so that you can feel more comfortable about it, for both your sakes. You don't want to draw a focus to it because YOU'RE overly focused on it. Good luck!

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answers from Columbia on

I completely think it was just a candy thing. Don't worry just hide them better

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answers from Bakersfield on

Kids get caught in the cookie jar all the time. I wouldnt call it or label it as an eating disorder at this juncture... more of an obedience thing. Keep the sugary treats hidden out of reach so you can dole them out when you see fit.

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answers from Biloxi on

My son used to hide snacks in the door in my desk. A handful of popcorn, a cookie, a slice of apple. He about 3 at the time. When I asked him why he said "because I may want it later". He also would try to sneak sweet treats from the pantry. Heck, so did my diabetic 83 year old Granny!!

Anhoo, I simply moved all the junkie, sweet treats out of both their reaches. To compensate for my son I kept a container in the fridge with healthy snacks that he had permission to "sneak" whenever he wanted. Oh, and for my Granny I strategically placed sugar free treats within her "sneaking" reach.

It is good that you realize that you are sensitive about eating issues and want to develop healthy eating habits for your son. But I think all kids go through this "sneaky" phase. And let's admit it - From Halloween through New Year's we all have to hide the candy.

You handled it well - it was not about eating but about listening to what Mommy said.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

Can you just clarify the reason for his time out? Not to judge you but to see what your boy is thinking happened. What exactly was the time out consequence for? Was it for 1) sneaking something, anything, from pantry or 2) sneaking candy specifically from pantry or 3) being hungry after eating the smarties that were supposed to have been enough?

And after his time out, did you give him real food to eat?

I once saw a preschooler eating tic-tacs while her mom was filling out a form at DMV. I felt sorry for the child.

My son can ALWAYS tell me he's hungry, I never tell him he should not be that he just ate. I will offer him something healthy, once in a while a treat/non-food. If it's on the kitchen table, he can eat it at any time. And that would be grapes, washed and in a nice pretty bowl, apples, bananas, sometimes a little baggie of popcorn, walnuts, apple sauce container, etc. No more snacks when meal is 30 minutes away.

The halloween candy is in an upper cabinet in a zippered gallon bag, in the garage out of sight. He doesn't even know where I keep it. Even I forget it's there sometimes. In a couple of weeks or so I will throw out what remains. If my son saw where I got the candy from, and it was within his reach in the kitchen of course he would sneak it and I would not be justified in punishing him because I left it in total access. This is a type of self-control that can't be "taught" with time outs. Candies just have to be out of reach, and also, that they don't know where it is, so they don't try to climb.

I am editing my answer to apologize if I didn't sound supportive! It sounded like the candies were the only thing your child ate when he got home and I'm seeing so many kids eating too much candy and getting overweight, I guess I'm just sensitive to that and I am sorry it came through in my response. It's hard to figure out how to address each situation we find with our kids. I am glad you found a solution.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

I didn't read all the responses.. but I wanted to tell you how a conversation about something like that would have gone in our house.

Me: Son, what are you doing in there?
son: nothing.
Me: Uh... yes. You are doing something. What are you eating?
Son: Just one cookie. I'm HUNgry...
Me: Well, if you are hungry, then you come to me and we'll decide if it is okay to have a snack. A "snack" is something to get you through your hunger until dinner. A cookie, isn't a "snack"... it's junk. If you are hungry and your stomach is growly, you may have a cheese stick from the fridge, but not a cookie. If you just want sweet stuff because it sounds yummy, then you have to wait. Junky stuff is for treats or dessert after dinner. You already had a treat today. So no more junky stuff, until time for dessert.
Son: Okay. Can I have another cookie after dinner?
Me: We'll decide after dinner. Have a bite of cheese, or run play with your legos for a little while until dinner is ready.
Son: ok. (heads off to his room).

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Give him treats, but don't store them where they are tempting. I can't even store sweets where my husband will see them right away. Otherwise, he'd sit and eat the whole darn box!! It sounds like a sweets thing. Make it easier on yourself and don't store them, where he can see them. He won't be tempted to sneak them. He's sneaking them, because he knew you would say no. Not becuase, he has food impulse control. Do you catch him sneaking food every day? Or, is it sometimes...or just with naughty foods?
I really don't think you should worry about "him being the fat kid that sneaks food." Truthfully...and I'm not judging, or being mean...that is definitely your projection on him. It was probably just an emotional reaction, because of what you experienced int he past and now. It sounds like you already are, so continue to work on your reaction to food issues/topics. Food issues are often created, in how parents react to things.

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answers from Topeka on

In my experience, sometimes we project our owns fears onto our children. It sounds like you may be doing a little of this in this situation. When food becomes a battle - it can become a lifelong issue. I'm think you stated clearly to him no more candy and your response with the time out was probably okay. Don't doubt that he was hungry, though. At his age what they eat at the "set" eating times can be so variable - too busy - don't like it, etc. Myself, I would have probably invited him to sit on a stool at the kitchen counter with me and given him a cracker or a carrot and said "here, you hungry little bear - eat this if you just can't wait until dinner is ready." That way - no battle.



answers from Stationed Overseas on

I know it sounds too simple but I just keep everything out of reach. My girls want the candy from Halloween too; It is just too irresistible!!! So, I immediately put it in the highest cabinet possible. No trying to "climb and get it anyway" for them. When they asked where it was or why they couldn't have it whenever they wanted I let that be the educational time for learning good health habits...not that they will agree at that age. Oh well!
Ps. Sorry if you are getting harsh comments.



answers from Kansas City on

Your son wasn't really sneaking the candy - he wanted it, he took it - it's what 4 year olds do. He never thought any bad thoughts about it until you asked the 'what are you doing' question which in a 4 year old world is never good.

I just wanted to tell you that I like some of the other mothers do not have any rules about the candy. If it is in the house, my son is allowed to eat it whenever he wants, just like I do. I thought I just lucked out, but apparently taking away the 'forbidden' aspect makes it less appealing. We throw away far more candy in our house than gets eaten, and 9 times out of 10 my son will choose fruit or even tomatoes over candy.

Because this is something you are sensitive to yourself you might want to consider letting him gorge on it for a couple of days, you might be surprised at the outcome.



answers from New York on

My son is 4 too and he would eat junk all day if I let him. If he is hungry, he gets something healthy for a snack. My son tends to want to eat everything in sight in the afternoon between 3 pm and dinner. He is allowed some treats after he eats a healthy meal or snack. Lately he has liked apples and peanut butter. I do more often allow him a treat in the afternoon because he rarely remembers to ask for dessert after dinner. As others mentioned 4 year olds are impulsive so I try and put the sweets out of sight and reach. He usually forgets as soon as it is out of sight. Even Halloween candy will probably be forgotten in a few days. If cookies or something is left out he will get a chair and try and get it if he sees it sitting there.



answers from Kansas City on

I let my kids have their candy whenever they want after Halloween and Easter and never had an issue whether they can have it or not. It is there and that's that and we all get into it whenever we feel like it. Guess what, they rarely eat it all and still have it left the next year. My kids still have Easter candy which I buy them each a bag or 2 of their favorite candy and put in their basket. If they want to mix and match they trade with each other or we put in a ziplock bag and divide it all up evenly, put names on it and once their candy is gone they don't get anymore. My husband and I also have bags and I still have Easter candy left.
I rarely buy candy any other time of the year so I don't know if that has anything to do with saving it so they have it longer or what.
I came to realize when I told them no when they were little that they would want it more but when I decided to divide it up evenly and give them their bags it is no longer an issue and they don't care if they have it or not.

We have a lot of teenagers over often so this year most of our Halloween candy has disappeared quickly because we just had it on the table available to anyone and the friends eat it so we won't have to worry about having candy around too much longer.

My oldest son is now 18 and I bet if we went through his candy stash we would find bags from at least 3 years ago. He has it hidden in his room and forgets about it until he goes through his stuff and then ends up throwing it away because it's usually stale when he finds it.

Encourage healthy snacks and a set dinner time and that helps a lot with eating habits. If you make a big deal about them sneaking food then it will become a big deal. If they are hungry just let them know dinner will be done soon. You could even have your 4 year old help you make something to pass the time of waiting or have him set the table.



answers from Fort Smith on

O.k, I'm reading this after the clarification, I understand, My son has tried this before. After reading the whole story I think your right in saying that it is a discipline problem. If you told him no, that means no. I read a couple of "This is how it would go in my house" I must say that a 4 year old immediatly saying NOTHING does mean he knew he was doing wrong and his initional reaction was to LIE. You must get control of this now or it will get out of hand. The BEST book I can suggest to you is TO TRAIN UP A CHILD by Michael Pearle. My son tried lying to me for a time, it didn't take long before his first reaction is to tell me the truth no matter what. And when I say no, he knows that means NO. If your son's sneaking ANY thing behind your back, even at 4, shows that he needs to get more respect for what you say. Even at 4, you should be able to keep the whole bowl of candy at eye level to him and him only get something out when you give him permission and not if you tell him no. You'll learn how to do that in the book. When I was reading that book, it was like light bulbs just kept going off. It is truly the best parenting book ever writen.


answers from Kansas City on

When my kids were that age they were allowed one piece of Halloween candy a day. I put the candy on top of the fridge or in an upper cabinet so they couldn't reach it. Then there was no chance they could sneak it. I was the same way, my kids either got a "real" snack or candy when they got home from school, their choice. If they chose the candy then they couldn't complain about being hungry until dinner was ready. When it came to any "unhealthy" type snack, it was put where they couldn't reach. Any healthy snack was where they could reach or in the fridge. They still needed to ask to have something, but like you, I would say no if it was close to dinner time. Take the temptation and put it where he can't reach it. My kiddos are older now and can reach everything, in fact my oldest is taller than me now, ugh! But they have learned they still need to ask, and they do. And they know when mom or dad says no, we mean no. Hope this helps. Good luck and God Bless.



answers from Kansas City on

Well, to give you an answer that is totally different than all the goes...I should preface this by saying this "theory" I have only applies to Halloween, but my daughter is 3 and last year and this year I just leave the candy out and pretty much every time she asks I give her some. Now, that's not to say I let her replace her meals with candy, no I have some rules, but for the most part I've decided to give up the struggle with the Halloween basket and encourage it to disappear. It's been quite nice actually not having a battle over it. By the end of this week, the candy will be mostly gone by either her choice or mine...meaning it might get eaten or thrown away or sent to work with my husband, but I just don't want it lingering. I was surprised at how infrequently she actually asks. This may just be her personality, but b/c it's so accessible it takes the fun out of begging and pleading and bargaining for candy.

I don't think you're a bad mom and sneaking food, no matter what, is a touchy subject and it is hard to handle. It certainly is a sensitive issue. My advice is to give in to the pumpkin bucket and make your life least for now! ;)



answers from Columbus on

Oh wow. Some people have no common sense. I love the nutrition label from the smarties... really? Really? I'm pretty sure she meant that the smarties were the after school treat, not after school nutritious food. Halloween was Sunday. Wow.

AAAANYWAY, I would just remind him that eating dinner is what helps you grow. If you want to be a big strong five year old someday, you have to eat your dinner and you can't do that if you're full of cookies before dinner. If he's starving and it's within minutes of dinner, ask him to help you prepare or set the table. This will help keep his mind off of it until dinner is served.

Best of luck... PS, you're not an idiot :)



answers from Minneapolis on

My kids eat constantly! They are always in the food cupboards or refrigerator getting something to eat or drink. Yes, it makes me a little mad, there's no way they could be that hungry. I mean 4-5 times an hour and every hour. Even get up in the middle of night and sneak food. My 8 yr old has been doing this since he as 4 too. I know they are eating their lunch at school, and they eat a good healthy breakfast at home befofore going. We always have fresh fruit and veggies in the hosue, so if it's not that, they're eating junk food. I don't buy any kind of ice cream novelties anymore, they were sneaking them downstairs or outside and eating the whole box between the two of them. My husband said to let them go ahead and eat, when it's gone, it's gone also saying they're growing boys but with diabetes on both sides of family, it scares me. Not to mention toothaches, and the hyper spazzy behavior after eating that much. I've been putting their halloween candy away at night now but they get up and sneak other stuff.



answers from St. Louis on

My son is 7 years old - we caught him trying to sneak some extra candy as well. I think that this is just a normal thing for kids to do especially when they are told not to and they want more. Of course he got in trouble and the candy was put away. But as you said - Halloween just happened. I wouldn't worry too much about it unless he continues and you find wrappers, etc... hidden in his room. Just continue talking to him about the importance of eating right and exercising and staying healthy and it will sink in.

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