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Flexible Mealtimes in a Part-Day Program:

Supporting Children to Listen to Their Own Hunger Cues

Teaching Strategies Video Series

Director and preschool teacher Anne Marie Boroughs describes their program's approach for helping children learn to listen to their bodies and decide when they are hungry and ready to eat. In this part-day program, children may independently access the food they brought to school throughout the morning. They are encouraged to eat when they're hungry and stop when they're full, which helps them learn healthy behaviors and develop initiative and self-competency through their daily routines.

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    • This video highlights practices in a part-day program where children bring their own food. Are there elements of this approach that might work in a different type of program - such as in a full-day program that wanted to provide flexibility for snack time?
    • What are the advantages and disadvantages of letting children decide when to eat? 
    • What are the current practices and rules related to eating times in our program, and why do those rules and practices exist?
    • In what ways do our current practices and rules around lunch and/or snack meet the needs of all children? Are there some children whose needs are not being met as well by our current practices?
    • Do we have any practices or rules that are primarily designed for the convenience of staff?
  • Flexible Mealtimes in a Part-Day Program:
    Supporting Children to Listen to Their Own Hunger Cues

    (This video has captions. You can turn them on by clicking the CC icon at the bottom of the video.)
    Download a printable transcript in English and Spanish.

    Child: Blueberries!

    Anne Marie Boroughs, Director and Lead Teacher, The Sea School: We decided very early on that we didn’t want hungry children. Preschoolers do not function well when they’re hungry, and it’s really important and a really huge part of our nutritional curriculum to have children eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full.

    Child: I’m super hungry. I just want to eat.

    Anne Marie Boroughs: Like any other aspect of our program, we have a lot of freedom within parameters. So, the parameter is you have to wash your hands and eat at a clean table. And they eat when they’re hungry, and when they’re full, they pack it up put it away. And if they go running around on the green and they get hungry again, they can access their lunch, you know, when we get back to the classroom. Anybody’s hungry or thirsty, they can just take care of those needs.

    Anne Marie Boroughs: No matter what time of day it is, if there’s children sitting at the table eating, we’ll sit down with them.

    Teacher: Are those raisins? Covered in yogurt? Nice.

    Anne Marie Boroughs: What we’ve found is they’re very responsible. And they’re also still socializing.

    Child: I got blueberries, too!

    Anne Marie Boroughs: We do find that some classes tend to be really hungry earlier in the day, so we just adjust and we’re flexible in that regard. I know once they go off to public school, there’s going to be a lunch time, but they’re going to be older and in a very different developmental stage in life.

    Child: Mia! I put it in! I put it in myself!

    Anne Marie Boroughs: What we’re trying to give children opportunities to do is understand their bodies and their body’s needs. I can’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be able to take care of their own nutritional needs. And they thrive with it.

    © 2021 Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University.
    May be reprinted for educational purposes.

  • Producer and Scriptwriter: Julia DeLapp
    Editor: Chris Hominski (Eastern student)
    Videographers: Ken Measimer, Sean Leser

    The Center wishes to thank The Sea School in Mystic, Connecticut, for sharing their strategy and and to the teachers, children, and families for their collaboration in the making of this video.