Families often struggle with the best way to feed their kids. It can be hard to not fall into being too permissive or too restrictive. What we really want is kids who grow to be intuitive eaters who eat a variety of foods, right?
So it can be hard to know what to do. Do we let our kids dictate when and how much to eat or keep them on a schedule or use more restrictive or persuasive practices? Having a schedule when providing meals can definitely be beneficial as a way to provide structure but you may also want to consider some principles of intuitive eating when feeding your kids, as well.
Babies are born as intuitive eaters , letting you know when they are hungry and when they are full. Ideally, this would continue as children grow, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, as kids become more picky, we as parents, fall into negative feeding practices like bribing our kids to eat, pressuring them, rewarding them, or withholding food.
These feeding tactics remove children from their intuition with eating. You may have heard about intuitive eating as an approach to help adults mend their relationship with foods. It is an approach to eating that emphasizes listening to and trusting your body’s internal cues, such as hunger and fullness, to guide your eating habits. But intuitive eating is not only for adults; it is a valuable approach to eating that can benefit children as well.
How Can We Use Intuitive Eating Principles with Our Kids
Teaching kids about intuitive eating can help them develop a healthy relationship with food and their bodies. Here are some key principles of intuitive eating that parents can emphasize:
Encourage children to listen to their bodies and eat when they’re hungry. Help them recognize and respond to their hunger cues, rather than relying on external cues or strict meal schedules.
Teach children to pay attention to their bodies’ signals of fullness and to stop eating when they feel satisfied. Encourage them to eat slowly and savor their food, allowing their bodies to guide their portion sizes.
Encourage a variety of foods
Emphasize the importance of balanced nutrition and expose children to a wide range of foods. Encourage them to explore different flavors, textures, and colors. Avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad” and instead promote a sense of moderation and variety.
Reject food guilt
Help children understand that no food is inherently “bad” or “off-limits.” Discourage restrictive eating patterns and teach them that all foods can be enjoyed in moderation. Encourage them to let go of guilt or shame associated with eating.
Encourage body acceptance
Foster a positive body image by emphasizing that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Teach children to appreciate their bodies for what they can do rather than focusing on appearance. Avoid making negative comments about their bodies or comparing them to others.
Promote emotional well-being
Teach children that food is not a solution for emotional distress or boredom. Encourage them to explore other coping mechanisms like engaging in hobbies, spending time with loved ones, or seeking emotional support when they’re feeling down.
Practice mindful eating
Help children cultivate awareness and mindfulness around their eating experiences. Encourage them to eat without distractions, such as TV or electronic devices, and pay attention to the taste, texture, and satisfaction they derive from their meals.
Foster a positive mealtime environment
Create a supportive and non-judgmental atmosphere during meals. Avoid using food as a reward or punishment and instead focus on enjoying shared meals as a family. Encourage open conversations about food, nutrition, and body positivity.
Intuitive eating is a process, and it’s important to be patient and supportive with children as they develop their own eating habits and preferences. They may have been born as intuitive eaters, but we want to continue to foster intuitive eating practices for ourselves and our kids to help our children develop lifelong healthy relationships with food.