Wellness begins at home

Healthy Family

Mindful eating for your family

By Grace Laman, MS, RD, LD, Registered/Licensed Dietitian

As a mother and practicing pediatric dietitian, I am often struck at how in-tune children are with their hunger cues. 

Grace Laman, Pediatric DietitianInfants eat based on their physical hunger, as do most toddlers. However, at some point in childhood, we learn to ignore those cues; we tell our children, “Wait till dinner” or “You’ve had enough of that.” And, as adults, we are definitely guilty of not paying attention to our physical hunger — especially when we have “one more thing” to get done before lunch, and it’s almost 3 p.m.

There are three main reasons people eat: physical hunger (eating because you feel depleted), psychological hunger (emotional eating) and hunger due to environment (celebrations, traditions, etc.). 

The goal in teaching children how to eat is to help them to know the difference between these types of hunger and how they feel when the eat certain types of foods, or too little/too much.

In practice, I often use the stoplight method to teach patients about foods that may provide more sustainable energy and should be eaten more often. Learn more at columbiamemorial.org/healthy-eating. We also teach that it is OK to enjoy “fun foods” when you are eating due to environmental reasons, such as at a birthday party or for a holiday.

Developing a healthy relationship with food at a young age is critical to preventing eating disorders and malnutrition (both over- and under-nutrition). 

Tips to up your child’s awareness when eating

Adapted from Michigan State University Extension Office

  • Have them take a deep breath or take a second to be thankful before eating.
  • Ask them how hungry they are before a meal.
  • Allow them to serve themselves; this allows them to learn self-regulation.
  • Eat without electronics or other distractions.
  • Wait 15 minutes after eating to decide if they are still hungry for seconds.
  • Allow enough time to eat. 
  • Involve them in cooking and shopping to stir interest in trying new things.

Call 503-338-4526 or visit columbiamemorial.org/medical-nutrition-therapy to learn more about nutrition education.