Part of the SNAP-Ed Strategies & Interventions Toolkit.*
Mindful Eating in Preschool Setting (MEPS) is an intervention designed to prevent and reverse childhood obesity, help children develop healthy relationships with food, prevent the development of eating disorders, and instill early taste preferences for diverse healthy foods. MEPS includes training child care centers’ teaching staff on the basics of mindfulness and mindful eating and its implementation in classrooms. Its main premises are removing all distractions (technology, TV, toys) while eating; bringing children’s attention to foods on the table, and talking about foods’ colors, tastes, textures, and origins; engaging children in table setting and cleaning, serving themselves, and helping their peers (elements of family-style dining); encouraging (never forcing) children to try different foods; ensuring mealtimes are always at a table, using plates – never on-the-go; teaching children to eat when hungry, and not to turn to food in distress or when bored. Staff training consists of 3 1-hour training sessions with a follow-up upon need with workshops and technique demonstrations for further implementation in classroom settings.
The teaching staff was surprised to learn from an ongoing discussion about their own eating patterns that do not correspond with physical hunger. They reported they would eat just because the food is in front of them or when being prompted by societal cues like going to the movies, watching TV, and eating with others. Their realization of their non-hunger eating lead them to understand the principles of unwanted weight gain and developing comorbidities. The results of the survey post mindful eating exercise demonstrate strong evidence of acute behavior change towards more mindful eating (86% of participants reported mindful eating in 83% of eating activities during the experiment). Participants also verbally reported that they had improved satiety and taste sensitivity, ate less, and had less desire to eat all M&Ms in the bowl in front of them; they were able to notice the colors and texture along with the strength of taste.
There are costs associated with purchasing of communal bowls and child-size serving utensils, along with books/printables of fruits and veggies with textured fabrics for sensory associations.
*SNAP-Ed Strategies & Interventions: An Obesity Prevention Toolkit for States is a compilation of interventions. The toolkit was developed by USDA's Food and Nutrition Service, The Association of SNAP-Ed Nutrition Education Administrators (ASNNA), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Center for Training and Research Translation (Center TRT), and the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR), a partnership between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes for Health (NIH), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the USDA. It is designed and updated to help state SNAP-Ed administrative and implementing agencies identify evidence-based obesity prevention programs and policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) strategies and interventions to include in their SNAP-Ed plans.