I'm feeling conflicted about a situation with my 3 year old. We've always been pretty low pressure about food around here. She gets offered 3 meals and 2 snacks a day, eats what she wants out of what I give her, and I rarely encourage her to eat any more after she claims to be finished. She tends not to eat much at any one meal/snack, but if that's all she wants, that's okay with me.
BUT - lately she's been complaining of hunger at night-time. Usually she eats supper at 5:15 or so and is asleep for the night by 6:45, but more often lately she's been having some trouble falling asleep. On these nights, after lying in her bed for a while, she starts telling me she's hungry, that she doesn't know how she'll be able to fall asleep without eating, etc. etc. In between my checks on her, she lies quietly with her eyes drooping - but she doesn't fall asleep, and when I come in to check on her, she reiterates that she's hungry and can't sleep. A few times I've fed her a dish of plain yogurt, and when she finishes it she goes to sleep instantly. Other days, she'll fall asleep quickly at bedtime, but she has this charming habit of waking up for several hours in the wee hours of the night - 3 - 5 a.m. or so. Again, she seems to want to sleep, lies quietly in her bed playing her glowworm over and over again. When I ask her what's wrong, she says she just can't sleep. After several hours of this, I generally will get her a little snack, and shortly thereafter she falls back asleep.
So, the first thing I'm wondering is if she's truly experiencing hunger that's keeping her awake during these times. I tend to believe her because she does not seem to be vying for my attention and seems to want to sleep, but you never really know for sure with little kids. Could she be feeling something that she's mistaking for hunger? Is she starting to associate the snack with going to sleep, so she tries to solve her insomnia by asking for food?
And if she IS hungry, I'm not sure if I should just give her a snack when she asks, or if I should try to teach her that she needs to do her eating during the day. It feels wrong, though, to encourage her to stuff herself at supper so she can fill her belly for the night. The way she eats at supper is a normal amount for her, but it just isn't sufficient to keep her full all night, apparently. So...do I force her to be hungry at night and refuse the snacks? Is it right to push her to eat beyond the point where she feels like she's done at suppertime? Or do I just keep giving her snacks when she needs them and hope she develops a larger daytime appetite as she gets bigger?