Mindful eating is the practice of cultivating awareness around food and your relationship with food. It teaches how to be present during meals and how to play close attention to how foods affect us not only physically, but mentally and emotionally, as well. On another (and perhaps evermore important) level, mindful eating teaches us how to reconnect with the pure joy of eating and allow this to influence a healthy relationship and gratitude for food.
By nature, children are curious and joyful when it comes to food, especially when they are little and being introduced to new foods, every day. Sadly, studies have shown that a shockingly high percentage of kids in grades 3-6 are unhappy with and wanting to change their bodies (especially girls) (1). Factors outside of the home such as the media play a big role, but attitudes towards food learned at home are critical in fostering a healthy relationship to food (and self esteem) in your children.
Really, similar rules apply to you and your kids when developing a practice of mindful eating. The key difference is that it’s up to you to show your children what this means in an attempt for the family to enjoy food together, mindfully.
Top 5 Ways to Encourage Mindful Eating at Home
Whether you are religious or not, practicing gratitude before a meal together with the family (or by yourself) is an important step in cultivating mindfulness. Take turns saying why you are grateful for the food in front of you, and be present together at the table. This one, simple practice that get everybody into the habit of appreciating their food and developing a healthy relationship with eating.
Cook as a Family
Involving your kids in cooking and meal prep is an excellent way to get them excited about food and eating. Kids love being involved with the whole process start to finish, from grocery shopping to setting the table. There are tasks even the smallest children can help with, such as mixing a salad. This is a wonderful way to find joy together as a family in food, not to mention a good tactic for getting your kiddos excited to try new things.
Turn off Electronics
We live in a culture bombarded by electronics, and kids often see adults perusing their smart phones while eating. Make meal time a device-free time in your household, free of TV and other distractions. If you’re a nursing mother, try and put this rule into practice as early as possible by showing your baby that nursing time is a bonding time between with mom. This is just as important a practice for your children as it is for you.
Talk About Food and Health
Talk as a family about healthy foods and why it is important. For you this might mean cultivating more awareness about how you feel when you eat junk food vs. nutrient dense foods (energy levels, brain function, etc), and for your kids it might be explaining that certain foods will allow them to run faster or play for longer. Explore the idea together with your kids that foods don’t need to be labelled “bad” or “good,” but instead understanding why healthy foods nourish and sustain us.
Be a Role Model
Everybody has their own issues around food to work on (especially women), and children pick up on their parent’s beliefs and attitudes around food and their bodies more than you might think. Use the practice of mindfulness as an opportunity to really dig in and resolve your own issues around foods (whether those be self-esteem or weight related, for example), so that you can be the role model your kids need to begin their own healthy relationships with food and with themselves.
Keep Dessert Out of it
This can be a tough one, but try to avoid rewarding eating “real” foods with unhealthy foods. Your kids will start to associate eating vegetables and actual meals with unpleasant feelings (discomfort, pain, etc), and eating unhealthy foods with success. Reward eating healthy foods with activities or outings (or whatever other way suits your family) and keep dessert as an occasional treat not related to the main course.
Continue to Offer Healthy Choices
Nutritionists and psychologists alike agree that it takes around 15-20 introductions of a new food for your child to try it. Be sensitive that kids (just like adults) have their own preferences and tastes, and ask why they don’t like certain foods. If it’s a taste/texture/smell issue, try other cooking methods but continue to offer. One of these days, they’ll try it.
Practicing mindful eating at home can help the whole family develop healthy relationships with food. Try out these tips and remember to be patient with your kids, as mindful eating is something you will all learn together in an atmosphere of love and acceptance.
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