Food Thief – Why Can’t my Son Control Himself Around Treats?


We have a food thief in my house.

Actually, we have two food thieves. One is my dog, who loves to steal food off the counters when no one is home. She is part lab, which is a breed notorious for eating anything they can get their paws on. In the past year, my dog has eaten an entire bag of dog treats, a pint of cherry tomatoes, and an entire bunch of bananas, peel and all. The worst thing she ate was my daughter’s gingerbread house. Oops!

gingerbread house

At least there is an easy fix for this canine food thief.

To keep food safe, I just need to keep it away from the edge of the counter. My dog is only about 40 pounds, so her reach is limited. My bananas have been safe since I have put them at the very back edge of the counter. Luckily, my sweet dog isn’t particularly smart, so if food is not fairly easy to reach, she just gives up and takes a nap until someone comes home to feed her.

My other food thief is much smarter.

He is my 9-year-old son. He just cannot seem to control himself around food, particularly treats such as cookies, candies, and brownies. I know I have a problem when I find empty candy wrappers on his bedroom floor, even though we have a house rule that there is no eating in bedrooms. I do not need bugs! I also notice that I buy a box of brownies and it ends up mysteriously empty after only a few days. Despite talking about this problem repeatedly with my son, he is either unwilling or incapable of changing his ways.

I try to promote responsible treat-eating in my house.

I don’t ban any foods because I don’t want my kids to develop an unhealthy view of nutrition. I also don’t want them to develop an obsession with a forbidden food that will lead to them gorging upon that food when they finally get a chance. I usually serve a small treat with each meal, such as a cookie. My son almost always eats his treat first. I allow this because he also then proceeds to eat the rest of his meal, which always includes much healthier options, like fruits and vegetables. 


When my son was smaller, it was much easier to control his eating habits.

I had child-locks on my cupboards, so my son couldn’t sneak into the kitchen in the night and stuff himself with treats. Eventually, he got smart enough to open the child locks, so we just took them off. Then I simply moved the treats to an upper cabinet. This tactic worked for a while until my little food thief started climbing on the counters to reach the food. Right now, we put treats in the microwave. My son can’t reach it from the ground and he doesn’t tend to climb on the stove, so food is mostly safe up there. It’s just a pain when I have to take it out to actually use the microwave. I have also resorted to hiding food in places like an empty oats container.

I don’t want to hide food from my son, but I don’t know what else to do.

Hiding the treats works as an immediate solution. My son can’t eat what he can’t find, after all. However, this isn’t a good long-term solution. Eventually, my little food thief will move out of my house (at least I sure hope he will!) and he will need the self-control to eat a balanced diet. I won’t be there to hide treats from him. I really worry about what my son’s life will look like when he is out on his own. I also don’t want to eliminate all the treats as a consequence of food theft because I don’t want to punish my daughter for my son’s misbehavior. My daughter has a very healthy relationship with food and is perfectly happy limiting treats to mealtimes.

candy, fruit gels, gummy candy

The food thief’s latest caper was to sneak into the kitchen at night and scrape off all the icing from his leftover birthday cake.

I was so mad at my son. He knew that I was planning to make cake pops out of the leftover cake. That doesn’t work too well without any icing. I was glad that my son admitted to eating all the icing because he has also been in the habit of lying when asked about his misbehavior. I decided to go with natural consequences this time. My son had to finish the dry, stale cake on his own before he could get any other desserts. He wasn’t very happy when the next dinner rolled around and he got a piece of icing-less cake while his sister got a brownie. I’m not sure if this consequence will have any long-term effects, but at least my son saw that his behavior had a direct consequence.

In the end, I don’t think there is a quick fix for my son’s food issues.

He tends to be an impulsive person and I can’t change his personality. I have the feeling that he will eat a bunch of junk food when he is a young man living on his own. I just hope that I can teach him some healthy eating habits now and that he will keep these ideas in the back of his mind. I hope that my son will balance his junk food intake with healthier options. While I can encourage my son, the choice of what he eats is ultimately his. I will have to learn to accept his choices, even if I don’t agree with them. For now though, just don’t tell my son that the brownies are in the oats container.

food thief


  1. It does seem that not having sweets in the house works better for everyone. My son doesn’t really seem to miss them when they’re not there. Out of sight, out of mind!

  2. As a professional that has established weight management programs for children, my advice would be to remove any of the tempting treats from the home. I absolutely agree with Heather above that your home should be a safe place where he is not tempted or feels shame. This situation is a lot more common than you might think. You wouldn’t keep alcohol in a home if you lived with someone who had an alcohol dependency; the same goes for certain foods. There is enough research out there now to support that some foods trigger an addictive response in the brain for some people. I am not saying- or diagnosing your son with addictive-like eating but it does exist and/or he may have a dopamine response (like a runner’s high but with sugar).
    You are also not punishing your daughter or others in your home by keeping these foods out of the house. Just because she can have these foods doesn’t mean she should and/or needs them. You all can still enjoy these types of foods but I would recommend doing so outside of the home. Go out for a fun dessert or special treat as a family. He will soon come across enough external pressure from the obesigenic environment we live in so making home a place where he doesn’t have to battle with these types of issues will be a good thing. Good luck!!

  3. Yes, I’m thinking that I might need to remove sweets, at least for now. Ice cream seems to be the only safe treat because my son never wants to scoop it himself. He will ask if someone can get him some for dessert and does okay on the days when we tell him no, that it’s too late for dessert.

  4. Your son sounds very much like me as a child. I too have had almost no self control over food. To this day I still don’t know why I haven’t had self control, but over a long journey, I have learned how to create a healthy lifestyle for myself.

    Having sweets in the house for me was like torture because if I knew they were there, I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I ate it. My dad always made me feel ashamed for having no self control and honestly, I was ashamed of myself. I couldn’t control the food coming in so I tried to control the food going out, which led to bulimia.

    After years of learning how to deal with my emotions in healthy way, I have found the most helpful thing to my mental and physical health is to keep temptations out of the house. I remind myself this is still a positive form of self-control. I eat sweets on a regular basis in a healthy portion because there are always opportunities outside the house (cake for someone’s birthday, candy on a reception counter, ice cream with the family, etc.). But when I come home, I can relax without having to spend all evening talking myself down from something I can’t get out of my head.

    Keeping sweets out of the house might not make them forbidden to your son. It might make the house a safe place he doesn’t have to obsess over them.


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