We often find family mealtimes or snacking can become a matter of habit – does eating in front of the TV or whilst distracted with a phone/tablet sound familiar?! While this is a normal scenario in many households, it can result in children growing up without a full awareness of their food, body or environments.
This is where mindful eating comes in. It is an approach that focuses on being in the present moment while eating. It increases awareness of thoughts, senses and feelings during and after eating.
The benefits of mindful eating are to aid digestion, regulate appetite, develop a healthier relationship with food, and enjoy and appreciate meals more!
So, how can we encourage mindful eating in our children? And what does that look like in our day-to-day life?
Hunger feels different to everybody, and the physical sensations of hunger vary.
Start by having a conversation about how hunger feels in your child’s body.
Useful conversation starters: Where do you usually feel hunger in your body? Is your tummy, your head or is it a feeling? How does it differ when you feel full?
The next step is to understand how our emotions impact our hunger.
Sometimes, boredom, sadness, tiredness or loneliness can make us feel hungry. When your child asks for another snack or complains about hunger, (when they have eaten recently), it might be helpful to ask them how they are feeling.
Children learn by the example you set. Research shows that children eat more fruit and vegetables when their parents do, and eating mindfully is no different. If we show them how to eat undistracted, and avoid labelling foods, or using food as a bribe, then their relationship with food will naturally improve. Teaching them the skills of mindful eating from a young age may mean that as they become older, they practice it more often. But don’t forget, skills can be learnt at any age.
Whether it’s helping with the shopping, cooking, baking or laying the table; these skills are helpful for children to increase their awareness, thought and senses around the cooking and eating process.
Think of creative ways to increase their awareness of food taste, colour or textures in a fun way. You may want to try painting a picture around a broccoli tree or squishing blueberries and blackberries. You might want to play the blind test game- have a number of similar food and get them to guess what food it is without seeing it or smelling it.
Alternatively, think about serving the food in a smiley face shape for example!
Sometimes, we may just want to get meal time over and done with, but part of mindful eating is to take in the present moment.
Useful ways to do this include:
Slowly wean children off watching TV at meal times or having a device on the table. Try with a few minutes of no devices at first, and facilitate discussions around the table about the different types of food, what it looks like, colours, textures, smells and taste using their senses.
Often, children feel pressured to eat certain foods and do not enjoy mealtimes. Expose them to the same food in different forms many times, without pressure to try it. Studies suggest a minimum of 10-15 times of exposure. Also, avoid using food as a reward. It reinforces that certain foods are more desirable than others.
Remember, this process takes time and slowly we and our children can develop this skill, improve our relationship with food, enjoy meal times and appreciate food so much more! When we start noticing and talking about food, it is absolutely fascinating!
But what can I say, I may be biased 😉