Did you know that mindful eating can help kids enjoy their meals and protect them from unhealthy weight gain? Here's how to incorporate mindful eating into your child's routine.

By Elisa Zied
Updated January 28, 2020
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Mindful eating means getting in touch with the taste, texture, and flavors of food. It also involves savoring the eating experience, rather than doing it automatically. And while this practice may seem unnecessary, it actually has plenty of benefits for kids—including a better eating experience, the ability to feel satisfied with less sustenance, and protection from unhealthy weight gain. It can also help kids incorporate healthier foods into their diet, providing nutrients needed for growth and development.

We talked to mindful eating expert and author Susan Albers, PsyD about mindful eating. Here are 10 tips for kids, which you can incorporate into your daily mealtime routine.

Thoroughly chew food.

Kids should chew all food throughly and put their fork down between bites. Chewing leads to food-related gratification, which may prevent your child from eating too much.

Teach kids the "S-S-S Model."

Dr. Albers likes to follow the S-S-S Model for mindful eating: Encourage kids to SIT down while they eat, SLOW down, and SAVOR their food. Too often, kids run around and get distracted during meals. This model teaches them to pay attention to what they're ingesting, which breaks the body out of autopilot mode (scoop food, eat it, repeat).

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Keep healthy snacks visible.

Both children and adults will eat foods that are easy to grab. That's why it's important to place healthy food in a highly visible location, such as on the counter or on a low shelf. It's okay to have treats as well—just keep them out of sight (maybe in the back of the pantry or in high cupboards).

Only snack at the table.

Too often kids eat in front of the TV—but distraction is the number one trigger for mindless eating. Consider making an unbreakable rule: you're only allowed to eat snacks at the kitchen table. Set an example by following the rule yourself, too!

Portion snacks into small bags.

When kids grab a bag of crackers or chips, it's easy to eat two (or three or four) times the recommended portion size. To combat these extra calories, parents should divide snacks into small bags.  Kids can grab one whenever they're feeling peckish, whether it's fruit in the fridge or trail mix in the pantry.

Consider bento boxes.

In a bento box, food is artistically arranged in smaller compartments. Kids will enjoy eating these fun foods, which might encourage them to slow down.

Get kids involved with menu planning.

Who says lunch duty must fall solely on the parents? Encourage kids to get involved in making their own lunch or reviewing their school's lunch menu each week. Kids can learn from your healthy-eating lessons (for example, each meal should have a carb, fat, and protein) and implement these tactics into their life long-term.

Stay hydrated.

People often mistake thirst for hunger, so proper hydration can prevent mindless, unnecessary eating. Encourage your kids to carry reusable water bottles (preferably BPA-free) and always fill them before leaving the house.

Compare labels.

Want a teachable moment? Help your kids compare two different food labels while grocery shopping. For example, see if you can find the cereal with the least amount of ingredients, the least sugar, and the most fiber. This sets kids up for caring about what's in the food they eat.

Encourage overall mindfulness.

Mindful eating is part of a larger practice called mindfulness, which involves being present with your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Parents can teach mindfulness in many different ways, but apps can make can make the practice easier. Consider Stop, Breathe and Think Kids (free; App Store; ages 5-10). The app encourages kids to get in touch with their emotions, practice deep breathing techniques, and complete a variety of mindful activities. In the end, your child will become familiar with the concepts of slowing down and focusing; this can help their mindful eating progress. Stop, Breathe and Think Kids also improves focus, quells negative emotions, and leads to better sleep.

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