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Cheerios to Cheetos: Mindful Eating Lessons From a Toddler

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Brook, a one and a half year old, handed over a half eaten ice cream cone and announced to her mother, "finished." Many adults wish that they had the ability to stop eating when satisfied. The majority of adults would eat the rest of the cone whether they wanted it or not.

Up until the age of two, healthy toddlers are naturally mindful eaters. They know when they are hungry and don't eat when they are full. Once babies reach their first birthday, they begin to be influenced by their environment. They start choosing foods based on the cartoon character on a box of cereal and will eat cookies given to them as a reward or for comfort even if they aren't hungry. We could all learn a lesson or two from babies. Here are a ten kid-inspired tips on how to eat mindfully.

1) No More! When toddlers are full, they push away the remainder of their food -- sometimes literally sending it sailing over the edge of their tray. They give their caretakers very distinct signals that they are done, such as turning their head away from food or pushing it aside. When you are full, move food out of reach to prevent grazing on the last few bites. Put your plate in the sink or on the other side of the table at a restaurant. Create your own ritual to signal you are done, such as placing your napkin over your plate or finishing a glass of water.

2) Focus. Thankfully, kids don't have a "to do" list swirling around in their head when they eat. When little ones eat, they just eat. Adults too often get caught in the trap of multitasking while they consume food. So, put down the newspaper. Avoid eating and driving. Be truly present mentally and physically whenever you take a bite.

3) Taste it. Some parents find their kids to be "picky eaters." However, it may be that their child definitely knows what he or she likes and doesn't like -- and sticks to it. Kids actually taste their food. Have you noticed that when you eat mindlessly in a robotic like fashion that you barely taste the food -- like munching mindlessly on popcorn? The next time you take a bite, really taste it. Savor it. Notice the taste and texture. Like kids, only eat what you like and skip the rest. Be picky. With each bite, truly consider whether you enjoy it and if it is worth eating.

4) Touch. We've all seen pictures of babies with a bowl of spaghetti on their head or a photo of a one year old squishing birthday cake between his fingers gleefully. Making food fun helps you eat it mindfully. Put fruit on skewers. Place a strawberry on a glass rim. Arrange veggies artfully on a tray. You are more likely to appreciate it and eat it mindfully when it looks attractive and you make it fun (rather than about guilt and dieting!)

5) Sit Down. Kids often don't have a choice in the matter. They eat buckled into a high chair. The good news is that it teaches them to stay still while they eat -- which is a challenge for many adults. Make sure you are sitting the next time you eat instead of snacking over the sink or spooning cereal as you walk through the house. Sitting down helps you be more in control of your portion sizes.

6) Sleep. Sleep is an important factor in regulating your hunger and fullness. When you are sleep deprived, your hormones become out of balance causing your appetite to be disrupted too. With naps and structured bed times, kids often get plenty of sleep. To eat mindfully, make sure you are getting enough shut eye. Aim for between 7-9 hours. More or less than that can wreak havoc on your appetite.

7) Snacks. Any experienced parent totes along a few snacks wherever they go. They know that a child can go from a happy camper to a bear in a matter of moments if they are hungry. We encourage kids to eat snacks to keep their hunger regulated. Parents often do a much better job anticipating their child's hunger than their own. Be prepared with your own snacks. Put a granola bar or apple in your purse or bag. If you keep your hunger at a moderate level, this will prevent you from overeating food at meals.

8) Kid Sized! Little people need smaller portion sizes. Foods designed for toddlers often have much less sugar and often more reasonable portion sizes. So, take a trip down the children's aisle or look for snacks made for kids. Try kid friendly juice with no added sugar and cookies made for tots.

9) Slow Down! If you are a parent, you know there is no such thing as a quick bite to eat. Kids take their time and chew slowly. To slow down, take a sip of liquid between bites. Count the number of times you chew. Or, just make a conscious effort to be more aware of how fast you are eating.

10) Treats. Infant's palates have not yet been corrupted by added sugar and preservatives. They love whole foods and fruits. Kids look at olives and whole tomatoes as if they are cupcakes. De-saturate your own taste buds. Make a list and stock up on whole foods that taste great but aren't on your traditional list of desserts -- like a bowl of cold grapes, a creamy yogurt or a mouthwatering mango.

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