Mastering Mindful Eating (Grades 6-8)
Students will explore hunger, satiety, and mindful eating to discover how our eating habits are impacted by our awareness to physiological signals of hunger or fullness. Students will also practice mindful eating practices and explore portion sizes as they sort foods, create meals using portion-size food models, and track their food using mindful eating practices. Grades 6-8
- How Does Your Body Know You're Full? by Hilary Coller
Activity 1: Hunger and Mindful Eating
- Hunger Scale to project
- How Mindful Eating Improves Your Relationship with Food
- Mindful Eating Placemat, 1 copy per student printed on 11" x 17" paper
- As an alternative, students may also design and create their own placemat.
Activity 2: Mindful Food Selections
- How Portions Sizes Have Changed slide deck
- Mindful Eating Placemat (from Activity 1)
- Hunger Scenario Cards, 1 or 2 copies to give each student a card
- Food Models, purchase ready-made cards from agclassroomstore.com or print your own
- Note: If you teach in Utah and Idaho, see the promotion.
Activity 3: Mindful Food Tracking
- Food for Thought Tracker, 1 copy per student
hunger: an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach that is caused by the need for food; when a person cannot get enough of the right kinds of foods to be healthy
intuitive eating: a framework containing ten principles driven to reject diet mentality, make peace with food, and listen to inner cues regarding the eating experience
mindful eating: a non-judgmental technique used to examine a person’s eating experience intending to bring awareness to hunger and satiety cues as well as the smell, color, texture, and temperature of the food
portion size: the amount of a particular food eaten during a meal or snack
satiety: the feeling or state of being full
serving size: the amount of a particular food listed on that food's Nutrition Facts label along with the calorie and nutrient content
Did You Know?
- Fast food portions are two to five times larger today than they were in the 1980s.20
- 20 years ago the average bagel was 3 inches in diameter and contained 140 calories. Today it is six inches in diameter and contains 250 calories.20
- In 1908 a candy bar was 0.6 ounces and today it ranges from 1.6-8 ounces.20
- Reserach shows that people unintentionally consume more calories when served larger portions.20
Background Agricultural Connections
There are many factors that affect eating patterns and influence food choice. Hormones, stress, sleep, and physical activity are some of these factors discussed further below. The body tells the brain when it’s hungry. Ghrelin is a hunger hormone that tells the brain when the body is ready to eat. Leptin is a satiety hormone that tells the brain when the body is full.1 Stress can alter eating patterns.2 Stress can cause an imbalance in the ghrelin and leptin hormones, influencing people to eat more or less than they usually do.2 Sleep helps our body reenergize and repair itself, so we don’t feel lethargic and sluggish throughout the day.3-4 Lack of sleep can sometimes lead to intake of more food than the body needs, in an effort to feel more energized.3-4 Physical activity can help control the release of ghrelin and leptin hormones, reduce stress, boost mood, improve sleep, and is protective against chronic diseases.5 It is recommended that children and teens are active for at least 60 minutes a day.6
Healthy eating is a term used to describe the consumption of a variety of foods that provide essential nutrients for maintaining physiological processes, health, wellness, and adequate energy.7 Adolescents’ food choices are influenced by various factors, including increased appetite, peer influence, culture, family eating patterns, and increased eating away from home. As they become more independent with their food choices, it’s important for them to prioritize foods that they not only enjoy, but also fuel their bodies with the nutrients they need.8
Focusing on nutrient dense foods to consume more of, versus foods to limit, can be a positive way to improve eating patterns. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans shows that the majority of adolescents are under consuming fruits, vegetables, dairy, and protein.5 The MyPlate resource can be a useful tool to help adolescents choose more of these foods that contribute a variety of nutrients to fuel their bodies, while still tasting great!9
Healthy Relationships with Food
Having a healthy relationship with food is an important component of overall wellbeing.10 A healthy relationship with food involves feeling a sense of ease with the social, emotional, and physical components around food, emphasizes listening to your body’s hunger and satiety cues, and embracing balance and flexibility of one’s diet.11 Both mindful eating and intuitive eating are strategies that can be used to foster or maintain a healthy relationship with food, while also working on making more nutritious food choices.
When we practice mindful eating, it means that we consciously choose to be present and to purposely pay attention to the details of our food, including smells, color, texture, and taste. While eating mindfully, you might even think about where the farm is located that produced your food or who the farmer is! Mindful eating promotes psychological wellbeing, healthful food selection, enjoyable meal experiences, and body satisfaction.12 Food trackers and food diaries can be used as tools to increase mindful eating by recording details about our eating experiences to reflect on.
Intuitive eating is a framework designed from mindful eating. It emphasizes instinct, emotion, and rational thought. It does not include any focus on weight loss and more so supports personal wellness.13 Intuitive eating is associated with a lower risk of disordered eating and body image concerns, which often begin in adolescence.14 When learning about nutrition and healthy eating habits, it’s important to encourage eating behaviors that are not overly restrictive, and support positive body image.
Intuitive eating can be included in part of a movement called “Health at Every Size”.13 This movement is centered on the knowledge that everyone’s bodies are built slightly different from one another.15 We all have our unique genetic makeup resulting in individualized body shapes, sizes, and functions, which means that healthy eating will look a little different for all of us.15
A portion size is the amount of food an individual chooses to eat at one time. A serving size is the amount of food used to calculate the information found on the Nutrition Facts label.
Food trackers are a physical tool that can be used to practice mindful and intuitive eating.16&17 The American Society of Nutrition explains that food tracking can act as a reminder of foods eaten in a day or for a number of days.18 Food trackers bring awareness to portion control and food quality.18 They can also be used to track other components of the eating experience, including hunger, fullness, emotional state, and more.18 Monitoring food intake and other components can help identify reasons behind eating, such as boredom or because of genuine hunger.18 It can also bring awareness to negative food habits and point out opportunities to make healthier choices.18 An example of this can be that the food tracker shows limited to no intake of a specific food group, bringing awareness of the opportunity to increase one’s variety of food intake. Food tracking tools can also be used for meal planning. Improved food variety, increased healthy food choices, and better adherence to the DGA guidelines are associated with meal planning.19
- Write the words satiety and hunger on the board. Instruct students to keep these vocabulary terms in their mind as they watch a video clip.
- Play, How Does Your Body Know You're Full? by Hilary Coller.
- Have a discussion about some of the topics introduced in the video. Examples include:
- What is the definition of satiety?
- What makes us feel hungry?
- What makes us feel full?
- Do you think satiety is entirely physiological? Could there by a psychological component?
Explore and Explain
Activity 1: Hunger and Mindful Eating
- Ask students if they have ever felt so hungry they could eat anything, or so full they could barely move?
- Help students identify where they (currently) are on the hunger scale. Ask them to think about how they are feeling, if they are thirsty or dehydrated, and if they are craving anything.
- Display the hunger scale. Have students silently identify where they are on the scale. Your class discussion will change depending on the time of day.
- Once students identify their number on the scale, help them identify why they feel hungry, if they should eat something, and what they should eat. Have students answer these follow up questions:
- When did you eat last?
- When will you eat next?
- Explain that it's ideal to stay in the 4-6 (green) range. Both 3 and 7 (pale orange) are ok as well, but those are the stages to be most aware of to avoid moving to the extremes of hungry (1 and 2) and full (8-10).
- Introduce the concept of mindful eating. Explain that our body will tell us when it is hungry or full, but we have to be aware in order to recognize the signals. Point out that this is especially true for babies and young children. A baby is very aware of what their body needs for food and will let you know by crying when they are hungry.
- Watch, How Mindful Eating Improves Your Relationship with Food.
- Give each student one copy of the Mindful Eating Placemat. Discuss the tips as a class:
- Which tip(s) do you think would be hardest to implement?
- Which tip(s) do you think would be easiest to implement?
- Which tip(s) do you think would be most valuable to improve your mindfulness when you are eating?
- How can mindful eating improve our relationship with food, overall health, and body positivity?
- Optional: Select a food to eat in class and follow the instructions/narrative to allow students to practice and experience mindful eating. You can also use the audio in the Mindful Eating Exercise video to guide your students. If you choose the video, only use the audio to decrease distractions.
*If you have time, rather than using the prepared Mindful Eating Placemat for step six, assign students to research mindful eating and create their own placemat.
Activity 2: Mindful Food Selections
- Share the How Portions Sizes Have Changed slide deck. Discuss how portion sizes at restaurants and single-serve food packaging (sodas, chips, etc.) impact our overall food choices.
- Ask, "If we instantly went back to the portion sizes of 20 years ago, what would happen?" Discuss expectations and factors that contribute to feeling content with our food choices and portion sizes when we eat.
- Offer the idea that practicing mindful eating will likely change our eating habits and our relationship with food in a positive way.
- Give each student one Hunger Scenario Card.
- Make the Food Models available to the class. It may be helpful to divide the models into food groups before class to spread them out and make them more accessible to students during the activity.
- Have each student consider the hunger scenario they have been given and select foods to put on their place mat from Activity 1.
- Have students share their hunger scenarios and their reasons for their food choices in small groups. Share the following questions on the board to provide prompts for their discussions.
- How did the time of day impact your eating choice?
- How did your hunger level impact your eating choice?
- Did the available time you had to eat impact your food selection?
*For more ideas for using the Food Models in the classroom, see the Elaborating Activities below.
Activity 3: Mindful Food Tracking
*Use steps 1-3 of this activity to assign the tracking activity. Complete steps 4-5 after the tracking period.
- Give each student a copy of the Food for Thought Tracker handout. Explain that food tracking can help us understand our eating habits better.
- Instruct all of the students to track their food and drink intake for three days. Encourage students to record the days in continuous order instead of choosing three non-consecutive days. This will better identify their dietary trends. It is recommended that students record two weekdays and one weekend day if possible. Be sure students recognize that they should not calculate calories in this activity. The tracking activity is meant to bring awareness to hunger levels, mood, and eating patterns. It will also provide a learning experience in achieving daily recommendations for each of the five food groups.
- The Dietary Guidelines for Americans contains recommended daily amounts of each food group for different ages. The recommended amount for each food group for adolescents can be found in Chapter 3 beginning on page 83.
- Answer questions and be sure students know how to fill out the tracker. Students should record their hunger levels prior to each meal.
- Optional: In addition to tracking food and hunger, invite students to journal on a separate sheet of paper things like physical activity for the day, reasoning for eating, eating environment, and any other factors that they feel may influence their food choices and their ability to practice mindful eating.
- After students have completed food tracking for three days, use the questions below to guide a reflection conversation. Write the questions on the board for the students.
- Was this activity hard or easy to complete? Explain why.
- How did tracking impact your thoughts about what you ate?
- Did you notice that your mood was correlated with any of your food choices?
- What trends do you notice?
- Was there a food group that you tend to under or over consume?
- Were there any times when you waited until you were VERY hungry to eat? What happened?
- What behaviors will you plan to continue? What behaviors would you like to change and why?
- Remind students that everyone has different nutrient needs, as well as different cultural, taste, and personal food preferences. There’s no single “right” way to eat! Be cautious of students wanting to restrict certain food groups. All food groups provide essential nutrients. A diet high in food variety is encouraged. Remind students to aim for consistency and not perfection.
|Be mindful that some students may not feel comfortable sharing their dietary behaviors. Do not force anyone to share, instead ask for volunteers. Promote a positive sharing environment or self reflection. Teachers are encouraged to participate in this activity and it may be helpful if you share your experiences with the class. Remember that mindful eating promotes psychological wellbeing, healthful food selection, enjoyable meal experiences, and body satisfaction.12 Make adaptations in your class that will foster food and body image positivity.|
Explain that the FDA regulates food labels in the United States. From 2016 to 2021 serving sizes were updated to reflect typical larger portion sizes. Have students read, Food Serving Sizes Get a Reality Check. To learn more about how food labels changed, see the lesson plan, What's New on the Nutrition Facts Label?
Use the Food Models for an in-depth look at the the vitamin and mineral content of foods. Which food groups contain the most vitamins and minerals? Which contain the least? See the Fruits and Vegetables: The Right Pick for Vitamins and Minerals lesson plan for more activities.
Use the Food Models to investigate the sugar and sodium content of foods. Which foods have high levels of added sugar or sodium? See the Nutrients to Get Less Of lesson plan for more resources.
Test students' knowledge of the MyPlate food groups by having a relay race using the Food Models. Prepare for the relay race by removing the "combination" foods and the "other" category (condiments, sweets, etc.). Give teams of students a random, but equal assortment of food models. Start the timer and see how fast and accurately they can sort.
Use the Food Models to assign a "Farm-to-Fork" exploration of foods. Have students discover the climate each food can be produced in and the common path it follows from production to processing and consumption.
Use the Food Models to support a lesson on MyPlate. Can students create meals following the dietary principles taught in the MyPlate model?
Use the Food Models to assign students (in groups) to gather a day's worth of food—breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Once they have gathered what they might eat in a day, calculate nutrient content and how many servings of each food group they would consume.
Use the food models to find healthy snack pairs or groups of foods. Prepare students by showing them some healthy snack box ideas. Discuss qualities of healthy snacks (no/low added sugars, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain carbohydrates, protein, etc.). Give each student 1-2 food model cards. Play music while students mingle and discover which foods their classmates have. When the music stops students should group their foods into a healthy snack. Encourage pairings or groups of foods that include a protein. (Do not use the food models from the "combination" foods or the "other" food group.)
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key points:
- Mindful eating brings awareness to the experience of eating and the taste, texture, and smells of foods. It is a strategy designed to encourage a healthy relationship with food and better awareness to our body's hunger and satiety cues.
- A portion size is the amount of food an individual chooses to eat at one time.
- A serving size is the amount of food used to calculate information found on the Nutrition Facts label.
- Cues for hunger and satiety are controlled by hormones. Stress, lack of sleep, and physical activity can impact the release of these hormones that manage our physiological signals for hunger or satiety.
- American Gastroenterological Association: https://www.gastrojournal.org/article/S0016-5085%2807%2900575-6/fulltext
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4214609/
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3763921/
- Cleveland Clinic: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-more-sleep-can-lead-to-better-food-choices/
- 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf
- The Center for Disease Control: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/physicalactivity/toolkit/youth_pa_guidelines_schools.pdf
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7071223/#:~:text=A%20healthy%20diet%20is%20one,of%20the%20body%20%5B10%5D.
- Stanford Children’s Health: https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=healthy-eating-during-adolescence-90-P01610#:~:text=Teens%20are%20becoming%20more%20independent,heavily%20influenced%20by%20their%20peers
- MyPlate.gov: https://www.myplate.gov/
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5719018/#:~:text=Research%20suggests%20that%20%E2%80%9Chealthy%E2%80%9D%20food,and%20alleviate%20a%20negative%20mood
- National Eating Disorders Association: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/how-have-healthy-relationship-food
- Harvard School of Public Health: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/mindful-eating/
- Intuitive Eating: https://www.intuitiveeating.org/definition-of-intuitive-eating/
- PubMed.gov: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28131005/
- National Eating Disorder Association: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/size-diversity-health-every-size
- PubMed: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27130588/
- PubMed: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28342799/
- American Society of Nutrition: https://nutrition.org/the-benefits-of-food-journaling/
- National Center for Bioechnology Information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5288891/