What is intuitive eating and how can it be implemented?

Updated: Dec 21, 2020



“A child who trusts that they can choose to eat or not eat and learn to like foods in their own time will become more relaxed around food and more adventurous in their eating.’ - Mariel Baron @nuturing.intuitive.eaters.rd


Is it really that important to say goodbye to picky eating? I’m sure any adult reading this right now has some weird aversion to one or more foods. But we’re adults, we can make those decisions ourselves, right? I have an aunt in her fifties and whenever I have my family over for dinner I make sure that I make her a separate dish that doesn’t have mushrooms in it (love you, Aunty Jane haha). Would I do this for my kid? Probably, not. These learned picky behaviours happen at a young age and are usually associated with a negative and very memorable eating episode.

When I was a child I was a very picky eater. I often sat at the table for hours every night while my parents begged me to eat. I have horrible memories of my grandmother frying hamburger for lunches and making me eat every bite. I would put a forkful of the god awful meat in my mouth and quickly take a drink of milk to try to get rid of the taste. I would sit there and gag as the little hamburger bits floated around in the milk in my little mouth and my grandmother would tell me to swallow. Gulp! Then on to the next dreaded bite. This would go on for hours every single time. I love my grandmother with all my heart and otherwise she was an amazing cook but the episodes with the hamburger ruined me. As an adult I do not eat meat or drink milk and I know this played a big role in it.

But that was the way my grandparent’s generation was raised and their kids were raised. You were grateful for what you were given and you finished what was on your plate.

My parent’s generation often laughs at the way parents do things these days. Our generation tends to read many different books and articles to help us understand our children’s minds. We research best sleeping, feeding, and engagement practices. The problem is, there is just way too much information out there. Who do we listen to? What if we totally screw up our kids? Baby boomers would say, “We just did what we did because we had to! There were no books or manuals! We did what we learned from our parents and if you kids didn’t like it then too bad.” There is some validity to these statements (I’m laughing so hard right now because I could hear my grandmother and mother’s voices in my head as I wrote those statements) as it is important not to go overboard and turn our offspring into tiny, demanding monsters.

So, if we aren’t forcing them to eat or living by “You must clean your plate!” then what should we be doing?

When I was a child I was a very picky eater. I often sat at the table for hours every night while my parents begged me to eat. I have horrible memories of my grandmother frying hamburger for lunches and making me eat every bite. I would put a forkful of the god awful meat in my mouth and quickly take a drink of milk to try to get rid of the taste. I would sit there and gag as the little hamburger bits floated around in the milk in my little mouth and my grandmother would tell me to swallow. Gulp! Then on to the next dreaded bite. This would go on for hours every single time. I love my grandmother with all my heart and otherwise, she was an amazing cook but the episodes with the hamburger ruined me. As an adult, I do not eat meat or drink milk and I know this played a big role in it. in). If we are not allowing our children to listen to the satiation cues that their bodies are sending them because we are worried they didn’t consume the world’s most nutritious meal, then we are setting them up for a lifetime of not listening to their gut. Some days they surprise us and eat all their veggies and other days they consume 2 crackers and a grape. Either way, they are listening to those hunger and satiety cues. A Canadian child and family nutrition expert, Sarah Remmer has a beautiful system for intuitive eating that she calls the A-B-C approach. She states that is more about having a healthy long-term relationship with food than it is about having perfect nutrition.


Here is a summarized version of her A-B-C Approach to teaching kids about intuitive eating:


A - Accept that your child may eat more (or less) at mealtime. I’m sure you’ve heard before that as the parent, we choose when the meal or snack is served and what it will be. It is up to the child to decide how much will be eaten based on cues from their bodies. That way it is an internal trust they develop with their bodies instead of an external force dictating what they should do. We must take the pressure off of mealtimes and lose the desire for our kids to eat. Basically lower your expectations and then be pleasantly surprised when they make a healthy choice.


B - Bond with your children at mealtime! Instead of putting the focus on sitting at the table to eat, make the environment pressure-free, and just talk to your children while you model eating healthy foods. Maybe even refer to it as family time instead of mealtime. We have these cute cards from @manners_co called TableTALK that my kids love to read through at dinner time and we also ask would you rather questions (my boys are gross so I will not be giving any examples of those here haha). But it is so true! If you put the focus on being together and enjoying each other's company (whether they are eating or not) over time they will not view eating as a negative experience.


C - Close the kitchen after mealtime! I love this one and it may also be the hardest. Just as it is important to not make separate meals for everyone in your family, it is important to understand that meals are offered at a certain time and if you choose not to eat at the set time then you can wait until the kitchen reopens. This is an amazing strategy to teach your children how to self-regulate. Although it may be extremely difficult at first (especially if your child is a snacker), they will begin to respect the set times for eating. Parents can remind kids that if they are not feeling hungry at this particular mealtime, they are more than welcome to wait to eat when you announce the next mealtime.


To read her entire article or to get more information on the services she offers,

go to https://www.sarahremmer.com/teaching-kids-intuitive-eating/


So remember, if we push, they will push back and if we restrict, they will pine for whatever we are trying to restrict (ie treats). Give them the reins, allow them to listen to their bodies, and be the gentle encourager instead of the nagging mealtime bully.

This is where intuitive eating comes in. Babies are born intuitive eaters. They have the ability to listen to their bodies and to cry and fuss when they receive hunger cues and to stop eating when they are instinctively full. When they are babies we accept these cues and do not force them to continue eating. As they grow older they begin to develop preferences with food and the desire to drive their parents crazy at mealtime (haha just kidding, kind of). On top of that, there are many other factors that distract our children at mealtime. Intuitive eating is about listening to the cues our bodies send us. These cues can be physiological responses to our mealtime experience. For example, me gagging while the hamburger bits floated in my mouth (you’re welcome for bringing that up again). If we are not allowing our children to listen to the satiation cues that their bodies are sending them because we are worried they didn’t consume the world’s most nutritious meal, then we are setting them up for a lifetime of not listening to their gut. Some days they surprise us and eat all their veggies and other days they consume 2 crackers and a grape. Either way, they are listening to those hunger and satiety cues. A Canadian child and family nutrition expert, Sarah Remmer has a beautiful system for intuitive eating that she calls the A-B-C approach. She states that is more about having a healthy long-term relationship with food than it is about having perfect nutrition.

Sidenote: I was not sponsored by any brands or companies when writing this blog. They are just real tools and people I find helpful on my own journey with my family :)



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