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7 ways to teach your child mindful eating

It’s no secret that family has a huge influence on a person's relationship with food. From a very young age, children observe, copy, and internalize eating habits they see their parents, caregivers, and loved ones demonstrate.

On the other side, as a parent, you have the power to foster healthy, mindful eating behaviors in your children, to help them have a healthy relationship with food and their bodies.

 minutes read
Last updated on 
October 31, 2023
October 31, 2023
7 ways to teach your child mindful eating
In this article

What is mindful eating?

The foundation of mindful eating for kids and adults alike is awareness. The practice is built around the idea of paying attention to whatever food is being eaten, on purpose, in every moment, without judgement.7

This often looks like eating slowly, using all your senses, and really savoring your food. And the intention behind this technique is to help kids build healthy eating habits and thoughts around food, such as:1

  • The idea that they should feel physically better after a meal
  • Recognizing when they're full, and eating accordingly
  • Understanding the differences between eating out of boredom, habit, or because they feel physically hungry

Promoting mindful eating by practicing it yourself and modeling the concept for your children can help reinforce these positive eating habits.1 And when people eat intuitively, they've generally been found to have better mental and physical health.5 This can help children avoid developing dangerous disordered eating behaviors, which sadly have started showing up in children at younger ages over the years.2


Tips to encourage mindful eating for kids

How to teach your child about food relationships, healthy habits around food, and the difference between distracted eating and mindful eating may feel overwhelming at first.

But whether you’re new to this type of mindfulness practice or you've been following it for years, there are some tips that may help you teach your child how to eat mindfully.1,4,7

1. Teach them to recognize hunger cues
2. Encourage them to slow down and tune into their senses
3. Create a distraction-free environment
4. Allow them to serve themself
5. Have them wait after eating to decide on seconds
6. Collaborate on a garden
7. Express gratitude

What to avoid when teaching kids about healthy relationships with food

While encouraging mindful eating practices can help proactively teach your child about food relationships, staying away from other habits can also help discourage negative thoughts and behaviors around food.

Here are a few things you should avoid when trying to encourage mindful eating for kids.5

Don’t: Teach them to finish everything on their plate 

Forcing your child to finish everything on their plate, even healthy foods, teaches them to ignore their internal hunger and satiety cues in favor of a household rule. This can cause a disconnect between mind and body and lead to disordered eating behaviors.

It’s also very important not to tell your child to stop eating when you think they’ve had “enough” of something, especially something you perceive as “bad” or “unhealthy.” This also teaches them to ignore their body’s built-in hunger and satiety cues and can cultivate a disordered relationship with food and their bodies.

Don’t: Force them to eat because it’s dinner time

It's important for a child to eat regular meals, but not everyone has the same internal clock when it comes to hunger.

In fact, many people will eat dinner, typically the largest meal of the day, not necessarily because they're hungry for it, but because it's the "right time" to eat dinner. This isn’t a useful practice and is counterintuitive to mindful eating, which involves acknowledging your hunger cues, eating food to satiate and nourish your body, and being present while you eat.

Don’t force your child to eat at a certain time if they aren’t hungry during that time. Wait and allow them to tell you when they are hungry. Much like the tip above, forcing a certain dinner time teaches them to eat when they aren’t hungry, which can lead to a dysfunctional relationship with food.

Don’t: Expose them to diets

It’s important to model healthy eating behaviors for your children, including savoring food and eating nutritious snacks when hungry between mealtimes. Many people also rely on the rules of a diet to help them through the day, but these programs are considered by many experts to actually be forms of disordered eating.6

Exposing a child to the concept of caloric restriction or cutting out entire food groups can leave a dangerous impression and work to reinforce the unhelpful idea that foods are either "good" or "bad." Not only are diets unhealthy, but they also communicate an unhealthy goal-oriented attitude towards food.

Meanwhile, mindful eating does not have a goal; it is simply about enjoying the process and doing what feels good and right for your body in the present moment. 

Don’t: Engage in negative talk about your body 

Similar to modeling disordered behaviors to a child in the form of excessive diets is modeling disordered thoughts around food, eating, or body image. And one of the most common ways these ideas get passed down is from parents making derogatory remarks about their own body or appearance.

Your child hears and internalizes everything you say. If you talk about needing to lose weight, how you hate your body, or how you “feel” fat, your child will mimic this attitude, and it may do long-term damage their relationship with food and their body.

Don’t: Label foods as “good” or “bad,” “healthy” or “unhealthy”

When considering how to teach your child about food relationships, try to avoid referring to certain foods as “good," “bad,” “healthy," “unhealthy,” “allowed,” “not allowed,” or any other type of generalization.

This goes for assigning value to certain foods (tree nuts are “healthier” than peanuts), types of food (“junk” food is “bad” for you), or aspects or ingredients in food (white flour and sugar are “bad” for you), as well as assigning limits to how much or little you “should” eat of something (you “shouldn’t” eat a lot of carbs).

This can be very hard to do. The prevailing diet culture does much to emphasize this kind of black and white thinking, where certain foods or body types are inherently "good" or "bad." In reality, no food is inherently bad, but eating something that's considered "forbidden" can lead to feelings of shame and encourage disordered eating patterns. 

Food is fuel, a source of energy for our bodies. It can be a source of pleasure and source of community. Mindful eating is one way we can help keep it that way for our kids.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.


  1. Michigan State University Extension. (2016). Teaching Kids the Art of Mindful Eating.
  2. Rosen, D.S. (2010). Clinical Report: Identification and Management of Eating Disorders in Children and AdolescentsPediatrics, 126, 1240-1253.
  3. Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School. (2021). Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier.
  4. Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School. (2016). 8 Steps to Mindful Eating.
  5. Van Dyke, N., & Drinkwater, E. (2014). Review Article Relationships between Intuitive Eating and Health Indicators: Literature Review. Public Health Nutrition, 17(8), 1757-1766. 
  6. Lowe, M. R., Doshi, S. D., Katterman, S. N., & Feig, E. H. (2013). Dieting and Restrained Eating as Prospective Predictors of Weight Gain. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 577. 
  7. Nelson, J. B. (2017). Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat. Diabetes spectrum: A publication of the American Diabetes Association, 30(3), 171–174.


How do I teach kids meal planning for mindful eating?

Most children will model the behavior of their caretakers or close family members, whether good, bad, or ugly. So when it comes to meal planning for mindful eating, the best method may be teaching by example.

You can look into the tenets of mindful eating yourself, and work on building up your own healthy eating habits first. As you do, explain to your child why you're doing what you're doing. Focus on the positive aspects of mindful eating rather than bringing up what a child "shouldn't" be doing. You can also help them by practicing the above tips.

What is mindful eating for kids?

Mindful eating for kids works in the same way as mindful eating for adults. In either case, the concept centers around paying attention to what is eaten, particularly through the five senses; eating slowly; and savoring food.

Eating mindfully helps someone focus on the joy of food and the pleasure of eating, rather than looking at eating as a problem that must be solved or associating the behavior with other negative mindsets that are more likely to lead to eating disorders or unhealthy relationships with food.

How to teach your child about food relationships?

The best way to teach your child about food relationships is to stay away from the diet culture mindset that foods are inherently "good" or "bad." This sets up a false dichotomy and encourages the type of black and white thinking that can play a role in disordered eating behaviors.

Instead, focusing on mindful eating encourages the idea that food is something we should be grateful for, and something that can help promote both mental and physical health.

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