Teaching Children to Listen to their Bodies

Families, Food and Fitness November 11, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF


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Children are usually not shy about telling us when they are hungry or full.  Sometimes, however, it would be helpful to see inside their small stomachs to know if what they are saying is really true!  Children must follow their bodies’ hunger and fullness cues to eat enough, but not too much. 


As children get older they can begin to lose touch with their hunger and fullness cues.  The types of foods offered to children and conversations at the table help or hinder children from listening to these cues.  Serving large portion sizes and energy-rich foods (like macaroni and cheese, pizza, cookies) at meals and snacks can override children’s internal cues and cause overeating

In addition, the way parents and caregivers pressure children to eat at the table can also distract children from their bodies’ cues. Let's learn more about children's eating cues and how caregivers can help kids regulate their eating habits.


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At the table:

Here are a number of strategies that can be used at the table to help children stay in touch with their hunger and fullness:

  • Let children serve themselves. 
  • Encourage small first portions.
  • Avoid praising a clean plate. Allow children to decide how much is eaten.
  • Do not reward children with food.  Instead reward with attention and words. 
  • Talk to children about how their stomach feels before, during, and after the meal.


Healthy Portions for Preschoolers logo More information on Healthy Portions for Preschoolers: 

MyPlate for Preschoolers

Teaching Children to Listen to Their Bodies


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.