What do children Need from Adults for Meal Time?
Children birth to 5 years are typically born with the ability to regulate their food intake to meet their body’s needs. This means they understand when they are hungry and when they are full. As a parent or caregiver responsible for feeding children, we need to provide them with three things.
- Healthy food options
- The time to consume the food.
- A safe space to eat the food.
The child needs to decide if they are going to eat and how much. Pressuring children to eat all the food on their plate, and even rewarding children for doing so, should not be common practice. Instead, as adults caring for young children, we can model our own enjoyment of eating different foods. Sitting with children during mealtimes and talking about what we are eating helps children to think and learn about the different foods.
Children practice their social skills when they say “please and thank you” and participate in conversations with their peers to support their language skills. They are learning math skills such as fractions (“1/2 of your plate is fruits and veggies”) and addition (“please take 3 chicken nuggets”). In addition to learning and development, children and adults can participate in mindful eating.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is the practice of paying attention in the present moment, without judgement and with curiosity, when choosing, preparing and eating food. When you practice mindful eating, you are choosing to experience food, one bit at a time. You experience it by being present in the moment, being intentional with each bite and aware of the foods taste, texture, smell and even the feeling eating the food gives you.
Adults engaging in mindful eating will begin to recognize their hunger and fullness cues, identify what triggers them to eat (sadness, boredom) and helps them to identify more effective ways to manage those feelings.
Adults can help children look for their hunger and fullness cues by asking them to think about their bellies (and even ask the child to put a hand on his/her own belly) and notice if their belly is hungry or full? Adults should invite children to choose a variety of foods, help prepare meals and eat together. When adults engage in mindful eating with children, children learn that sugary foods are not bad for them; instead, they learn how to consume these foods in healthy ways with healthy portions.
SAGE – Savoring, Active Contribution, Gratitude, Education
One strategy that can be helpful in practicing mindful eating for both you and children your care for is the SAGE mindful eating approach. The SAGE approach was developed by Helen Maffini with MindBe Education.
S- Savoring: Model healthy eating with curiosity. “This soup is creamy and smooth, it is warm in my belly.”
A – Active contribution: Invite children to wash and cut up fruits and veggies. Grow food in container gardens in your home or classroom, or if available plant a garden with children outside. Research supports increasing children’ likelihood to trying and eating foods when they are asked to help prepare and grow these foods.
G – Gratitude: Teach children where our food comes from and model being thankful for our food. “Thank you to the cow who provided us with this milk.” “I appreciate the farmer who planted these beans.” “I am thankful for our cook who prepared this lunch.”
E – Education: Learn about nutritional qualities of food and bring awareness to yourself about why we eat certain foods.