Getting in touch with the taste, texture, and flavors of food—and being mindful of eating, rather than doing it automatically—can help kids enjoy their food more as well as help them feel more satisfied on less food and protect them from unhealthy weight gain.

By Elisa Zied

In her recent article in the Washington Post, Casey Seidenberg described the back-to-school mindful eating reboot she had planned for her kids after a summer filled with too many sweets and too much TV. Her story is something so many of us—even health experts—can relate to.

While my kids spent much of their summer at overnight camp, I know that their usual eating and lifestyle routines were altered. (Full disclosure: so were mine.) On most days, my kids ate at different times of day than usual, ate and were exposed to different foods, and had a far different routine (especially when it came to sleep) than the one they typically have during the school year.

But while I know my kids got more than enough daily physical activity and ate enough—but not too much—to meet their calorie needs, like Seidenberg's kids and so many others, they too could benefit from a food reboot. Getting in touch with the taste, texture, and flavors of food and being mindful of eating rather than doing it automatically as so many of us tend to do not only can help them enjoy their food more, but it can help them feel more satisfied on less food and protect them from unhealthy weight gain. It potentially can also help them incorporate more nutritious foods into their diets to meet their nutrient needs for growth and development.

In addition to the tips provided in the Washington Post article that include encouraging children to thoroughly chew food (chewing contributes to satiety, which can prevent overeating) and teaching children to put their fork down between bites to encourage slower eating, here are eight from mindful eating expert and author Susan Albers, PsyD:

1.  Teach kids Dr. Albers' S-S-S Model. Encourage them to SIT down while they eat, SLOW down, and SAVOR their food. Too often, kids run around while they eat. The S-S-S model teaches them to pay close attention to what they eat and to break out of autopilot in which they scoop food and eat it.

2.  Research indicates that location, location, location matters when it comes to snacking. 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 shelf kids can reach. It's okay to have treats as well—just keep them out of sight.

3. Make a table rule: have snacks, but only at a table. Too often kids eat in front of the TV, the number one trigger for mindless eating.

4. Proportion snacks into small bags. That enables kids to come home from school and grab portions that are truly snack sized.  Put snacks in baggies or make up brown paper sacks that you keep in the fridge.

5. Consider bento boxes. In a bento box, food is artistically arranged to look like bugs, animals, and faces. These boxes are popular among kids in Japan and make food fun to eat. And making food fun is a great way to help kids enjoy eating and slow down. Google 'bento box recipes' to learn more.

6.  Encourage kids to get involved in making their own lunch or reviewing their lunch menu each week before it begins. If they know Thursday is chicken nugget day and they don't like that, you can brainstorm other appealing ideas.

7.  Hydration is also a key to mindful eating. When we are thirsty, we often think it is hunger. Make a water bottle a staple item that kids carry around. Buy fun bottles (preferably BPA-free) and make it routine to fill them before you leave the house.

8.  It's a great teachable moment to help your kids compare two different cereal labels while food shopping. See if you can find the cereal with the least amount of ingredients, the least sugar, and the most fiber. It's a fun game that even little kids can play. This sets them up for caring about what's in the food they eat.

How do you help your kids practice mindful eating?

Image of mother and daughter shopping in supermarket via shutterstock.



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