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The Gremlin Who Comes Out at Night to Eat Oreos

My son’s ADHD medication suppresses his appetite during the day. So when it wears off in the middle of night, he’s famished and desperately seeking snack food. How can I help him make healthier choices without forcing a nauseous or “full” tween to finish every last crumb?

If you learned anything by watching the 1984 classic “Gremlins,” it is this: Don’t feed them after midnight, or they turn into crazed animals.

My son often reminds me of those fuzzy-by-day, manic-at-night creatures. He absolutely, positively must eat before he goes to bed even if he insists he is not hungry. If I don’t push it, he wakes up in the wee hours of the morning and stalks the kitchen for anything the opposite of healthy.

Somehow his feet seem to flop and move swiftly at the same time. He’s down the steps. He’s in the kitchen. He’s on the counter tops and in the cabinet doors. Like a pirate searching for booty, my early morning stalker won’t be denied. A bag of some sort is crinkled open, the cabinet doors are flung shut, he rushes back to his bedroom, and the door is shut. He lies in his bed munching on whatever booty he has captured.

If he were looking for fruit or vegetables or even a sandwich, his early-morning feasts would just be loud. Instead, he’s looking for cookies or donuts or potato chips or any possible junk food that may be in the house, and that is the worst imaginable start to his day. I try to hide the junk food, yet somehow, he always manages to find it. And when he finds the junk food, he’ll eat way too much and leave a crumb trail reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel.

So, when his bedtime approaches, I begin my routine:

[Read: Why Bedtime is Always a Battle When Your Child Has ADHD]

“Are you hungry? What do you want to eat?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Are you sure? How about half a bagel? A banana? Pretzels?”

He insists, “I’m not hungry.”

And he may not be, but it doesn’t matter. His ADHD medicine suppresses his appetite and he’s capable of vacillating from hungry to not hungry and back again in about the same amount of time it takes to make a bowl of cereal.

I’ll ask him “What did you eat? Are you full? Did you eat everything on your plate? Are you sure you don’t want more?”

At times, he is genuinely hungry but he’s also so distracted or simply disinterested that eating is not worth his time. He could be reading, looking over his baseball cards, playing a video game, surfing YouTube, anything a tween loves doing. It’s dinner time. He tells me he’s hungry — starving actually. I’ll call him and he’ll take his food back to whatever it was he was doing. Later, when I see his plate, there will be a couple of bites missing from the food.

[Read: No More “What’s For Dinner?” Stress]

“I thought you said you were starving.”

“Oh yeah, yeah.”

“So why didn’t you touch your dinner?”

“I ate the tomatoes?”

“That’s great. What about the rest of the food?”

“I will. I will.”

“You’re going to be hungry.”

“I said, I’d eat it.”



“You’re going to be hungry.”

“I said I’d eat it. Let me finish (fill in the name of the activity).”

Sometimes he will take a couple of forkfuls of food — especially when I threaten to not stop bugging him till he does.

Eventually the dishes end up in the sink with an explanation, “I ate as much as I could.”

I know I should make him sit down at the table and not get up until he’s finished. After all, he could use a few pounds, and it would put an end to the early-morning stalker routine. However, he claims his ADHD medication can make him feel nauseous at times and full at other times. How can I force him if that’s the case?

So I feed him when he is hungry. I remind him to eat. I cajole another bite, another forkful. And I hope he has had enough to eat so that he will not wake up and Gremlin another bag of Doritos.

[Read: Got a Picky Eater on Your Hands? Here’s How to Cope]