The parents’ guide to mindful eating

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We often find family mealtimes or snacking can become a matter of habit. Does eating in front of the TV or while using a mobile phone sound familiar? While this might seem normal in many households, it can result in children growing up without a full awareness of their food, bodies or environment. This is where mindful eating comes in.

Mindful eating focuses on being in the present moment while eating. It increases awareness of thoughts, senses and feelings during and after eating. It can aid digestion, regulate appetite and help us to develop a healthier relationship with food. This enables us to 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?

Hungry or hangry?

Hunger feels different to everybody, so start by having a conversation with your child about how hunger feels in their body.

Ask things like:

  • Where do you usually feel hunger in your body?
  • Is it in your tummy, your head or is it a feeling?
  • How is it different 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 (having eaten recently), it might be helpful to ask them how they are feeling.

Be a positive role model

Children learn by the example you set. Research shows that kids eat more fruit and vegetables when their parents do, and it’s the same for mindful eating.

If we show them how to eat undistracted, to avoid labelling foods and don’t use food as a bribe, then their relationship with food will naturally improve.

Teaching 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 learned at any age.

Get them involved

Whether it’s helping with the shopping, cooking, baking or laying the table; these skills are helpful for children to increase their mindfulness around the cooking and eating process.

Make it fun

Think of creative ways to increase their awareness of taste, colour or textures in food in a fun way.

Perhaps try painting a picture around a broccoli tree or squishing blueberries and blackberries. You might want to play a blind taste-test game: get several similar foods and get them to guess which each is without seeing it or smelling them.

Or play about with presentation, doing things like serving food in a smiley face shape.

Slow down

Sometimes we just want to get mealtime over and done with, but part of mindful eating is to appreciate the present moment.

You could try:

  • Taking your time when eating your meal together. If you all struggle to do this, have a timer and see if you can slowly increase your mealtimes.
  • Chewing food more slowly.
  • If you notice your children eat too fast, encourage them to put their cutlery down in between bites

Avoid distractions

Slowly wean children off watching TV or having a device on the table while eating. Try with a few minutes of no devices at first and discuss the different types of food — what it looks like, colours, textures, smells and tastes.

Remove the pressure

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 at least 10-15 times of exposure. Also, avoid using food as a reward. It reinforces that certain foods are more desirable than others.

Give it time

Remember, this process takes time and we and our children will develop this skill slowly. We can improve our relationship with food, enjoy mealtimes and appreciate food so much more.

31 March, 2023