Mindful Eating for Children

I worked at the Contra Costa Child Care Council for my community nutrition rotation, and got to write a full newsletter (articles, recipes and all!)

The topic for my lead article was mindful eating for children, and you can read it in full below.

Mindful eating can help children eat healthier. Being mindful means being aware of yourself and your surroundings without judgment. This means acknowledging that how you are feeling (happy, sad, or angry) without deciding if how you are feeling is right or wrong.

A simple way to be more mindful when eating is to eat slowly. Eat with your all your senses. This is a good opportunity to teach children new words to describe sight, taste, smell, and touch. “Is that food crunchy or soft?” “Does it taste sweet, salty, bitter, or sour?” “Does it feel spongy? Fluffy? Hard?”

  • Having children eat slowly can be challenging. Try turning it into a game. Introduce eating with chopsticks as a fun way to slow down eating and have children practice their motor skills. Have a jar of conversation starters, such as “what is your favorite color?” or “if you could be any animal, what would you be and why?”

Eating slowly will help children notice flavors they might have missed, and children will be able to better recognize when they are starting to get full.

It is important to give your full attention to the food, and ask yourself why you are eating. The main reason we eat is because we are physically hungry, but there are other reasons why people might eat. Some people eat when they are “emotionally hungry”. For example, sometimes people eat because they are sad, stressed, angry, or lonely. When a child is seeking food just after eating, or eating without being physically hungry, this may be a sign that the child is using food to deal with stress or other emotions.

  • Listen to your child without judgment as he or she explores these feelings.
  • Teach children to use food to satisfy the physical hunger. Remind children that eating can only solve the problem of hunger.
  • Teach children to find non-food solutions to satisfy the emotional hunger, and manage stress.

Children should learn to eat when they are hungry and stop when they full. Learning to become aware of your body’s hunger and fullness cues is one of the main principles of mindful eating. Ignoring or overwhelming a child’s feeding cues can have long term consequences with regard to a child’s nutritional status, food regulation, and feelings about themselves and others.

  • Allow infants to start and end feedings. Do not poke a bottle or spoon into a child’s mouth. Hungry infants open their mouths to readily accept nourishment when they are hungry.
  • Allow children to serve themselves (family style), and do not force children to eat all the food on their plates.

When children slow down, and have the ability to control the amount of food they eat, they will learn to recognize their body’s hunger and fullness cues. Some children may have a hard time finding a comfortable level of fullness.

  • Ask children to check in with their fullness while they are eating. If they are not sure if they are full yet, have them wait 5 minutes and check in again.

It takes the stomach time to tell the brain how full it really is.

Sometimes children will mindlessly eat when there are too many distractions (examples: TV, computers, etc). Turn these off during mealtimes. Use mealtime as a time to have calm conversations, teach manners, and be a positive, healthy role model.

It can be frustrating for parents and childcare providers when a child does not like a food. It is important for adults to acknowledge the child’s responses to foods without judgment. Do not shame or make a child feel guilty when he or she does not like a food. Remember that each person’s experience with food is unique. A child might not like the food this time, but do not be afraid to continue to offer the food. It may take 10-15 or more exposures to a food before it is accepted… or not. There are no known negative nutritional implications of “picky eating” or “food jags”, but food battles can spoil the nurturing experience of mealtime.

To summarize the principles of mindful eating:

  • Give your full attention to the food from its preparation to consumption.
  • Choose to eat food that is both pleasing to you and nourishing to your body.
  • Learn to be aware of your body to guide your decision to begin eating and to stop eating.
  • Acknowledge responses to food (likes, dislikes) without judgment.

You can download newsletter in its entirety here. It also has ideas on how to connect children to their food, an article explaining expiration dates, and a fun activity for kids.


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