Date of this Version
Young Children: Journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 69:5 (Nov 2014), pp. 36-42.
DURING THE PAST THREE DECADES, childhood obesity rates increased dramatically in the United States. Despite new evidence suggesting a decrease in obesity rates in 2- to 5-year-olds during recent years (Ogden et al. 2014), the prevalence of obesity in this age group remains high and is a major concern for families and early childhood educators alike.
Researchers and policy makers now recognize the critical role of early childhood teachers in shaping children's eating habits through their mealtime interactions with children (Savage, Fisher, & Birch 2007). As a result, local, state, and federal entities have introduced obesity prevention programs in early childhood settings. Although such programs are designed to improve children's nutrition and increase physical activity, many require considerable teacher time and training for successful implementation. In this article we introduce a low-cost, feasible approach teachers can use to encourage children's healthy eating. Through mealtime conversations, teachers help children recognize their own internal cues for hunger and satiation. Strategies to encourage healthy eating during program mealtimes are also discussed.