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Nine tips on the art of mindful eating for kids

Take a moment and think about your answers to these questions:

  • Do you eat in front of the TV?
  • Do you dash-board-dine (eat in your car)?
  • Do you eat out of a bag?
  • Do you drink calorie filled drinks all day long?
  • Do you taste the food you put in your mouth?
  • Most importantly, are you involving your children in mind LESS eating, too?

 

Confession:  To get through potty training, I have resorted to bartering with M&M’s.  I have brought suckers and pretzels to sports games to keep my children quiet,  agreed to the multiple fruit snacks in the morning for my own peace and quiet and even provided the boys with snacks in the car during car rides to keep them happy.  Then, I had to put my foot down…what was I doing?!  What was I teaching our boys? Are they eating for nutrition or am I pacifying them with food?  Am I teaching the dreaded mindless eating habits so many Americans practice?  There is a balance, but, what is it?

Hunger and appetite make us eat.  Hunger is to support our bodily need for energy.  Appetite though is driven by our senses, social situations, cultural practices and my favorite …emotions! Healthy eating involves awareness: making the choice of what you put in your mouth and paying attention to how it tastes and feels.

What is interesting is that a baby actually gives feeding cues and communicates with us, the parents, as to when they are hungry. It is our part in the relationship to understand these cues, act on them AND provide the most nutritious foods for appropriate growth.  Many a parent tells me that they use the bottle and snacks to pacify their infant/child when they cry/act out because it works.  At least it works for a few minutes.  Paying close attention to what our children tell us helps us help them remain mindful eaters.  When a baby fusses or cries…Are they really hungry? What else could they possibly need? Could they be trying to tell us something else?  Pacifying our children with food is easy to do, even when we do not intend to do so.  Please take a look at feeding cues and satiety in infants.

When we start providing our toddlers with table foods, we need to continue to understand those feeding cues and when the child is really hungry and full.  Clean the plate award? Picky Eaters?  Food Jags?  These are challenges we all face and make it easy to derail our mindful eating efforts.

Here are nine tips for mindful eating that have worked for our boys:

  1. Know portion sizes for your kids.  Young children need less than older children or parents..  Sometimes parents worry their child is not eating well, when the child is actually consuming a healthy portion size. Please refer to the Dayton Children’s website for more information about toddler portion sizes.
  2. When serving a new food or one they don’t prefer, encourage them to try it before they give you an opinion.  It can take up to 8-10 exposures to a new food before children may like it. We involve the kids with new foods…if they touch it, play with it and/or help cook it, tasting it  MAY lead to success.  Matthew will say, “Mom, because I tried this food, I now know I like it!” (SUCCESS!)
  3. Family meal time is not just for nutritious meals. Kids love to model and may try those new foods if the others at the table are eating them. This is also a time to talk with your children.  At our table, we have Round Table: go around the table saying something that was “good about their day.”  It is always fun to hear what Edward may say.  Sometimes we make up another theme and get a conversation going.  It feels good when the kids, out of the blue, ask, “Mom, how was your day?”.
  4. Toddlers and children need to eat up to six times a day (three meals with two to three snacks a day).  Their stomach is the size of their fist.
  5. Encourage infants and toddlers to feed themselves.  When daycare would encourage our boys as toddlers to use the spoon and eat cereal with milk…I thought they were crazy.  Yes, it was messy, but, the boys rose to the challenge.
  6. Think your drink: When the boys were toddlers, we encouraged them to sit when drinking water (between meals) out of their cup.  This makes them think about their drink and keeping it in the kitchen.  We would keep their leftover milk from mealtime and encourage it at “snack” time, sitting at the kitchen table.
  7. Have regular meal times and snacks.  The child desires structure.  Listen to your child though.  If the child does skip a meal or snack, they will know another one is around the corner.
  8. Is the TV off?  Are the games off the table?  Allow meal/snack time to be about the food and not the other fun.
  9. Toddlers don’t need candy, chips and other low nutrient foods.  Every time they eat is an opportunity for good nutrition.  In daycare, I know the staff knew the “Gonter-Dray” boys were not allowed juice until they were between ages 2-3 years for snacks.  I wanted them to have the extra milk and all the “good” it provides!  Of course, Edward had juice a bit earlier…the staff can tell you that!  Balance-Moderation-Variety

Overall, we remember the following:

  • Yes, there will be times to eat in the car or bring food to sporting events…finding that balance and being mindful is the key.
  • Children do not always eat a balanced diet every day, but their diet will balance out over the week. We must do our best to help them along this journey.

How do you steer clear of mind LESS eating in your home??

Consider this app on your smart phone/touch to help log your mindful eating!

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We have created this blog as a way to communicate key childrens' health and safety issues to parents and other child advocates. It is managed by Dayton Children's department of marketing communications. Comments can be sent to rodneyg@childrensdayton.org.

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