Mindful Eating for Kids
The following is an archived post
The term mindfulness has been thrown around quite a bit lately in the health world, from psychology to exercise, and particularly when it comes to diet.
According to Psychology Today, mindfulness means a state of active, open attention on the present. We often focus on coaching adults when it comes to techniques of mindful eating as it can help moderate overeating, but these tools can also be extremely useful with toddlers, school-age children and adolescents.
Despite any mealtime struggles you may have with your children, it’s fortunately never too late to educate them on mindful eating habits in ways that avoid negative interactions and tedious lectures.
Check out these 5 great ways to foster mindful eating behavior in your home. Don’t feel pressure to try all suggestions at once – perhaps pick one as a starting point and stick with it for a while. Habits don’t change overnight and consistency is key to see progress.
Don’t reward healthy food with unhealthy food. Bribing your child with dessert makes sweet treats not only rewarding, but also associates them with happiness and achievement. Instead, connect eating healthy foods with fun activities or something unrelated to food in order to avoid the inherent desire of dessert or the conditioning that sweet treats must always follow a healthful meal.
Meal time is for eating only. Doing other activities while eating is distracting for anyone, and it is a quick way to start losing sight of hunger cues and signs of fullness. Direct all awareness to the experience of eating, which means no TV or other screen time. Try to do this at least once each day, if not at both breakfast and dinner.
Understand your child’s intentions. When eating together, try to understand your child’s eating preferences better. Ask questions; why specifically does he/she like a particular food? Why does he/she not like something? What is the sensory experience involved with eating vegetables and how can you both improve upon that? Talking about the food in ways other than is it “good” or “bad” may help your child find positive qualities in foods that he/she otherwise might not have.
Get kids involved with food selection and/or preparation. Studies show that kids are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables when they are involved in the process of putting the meal together.1 Spending time in the kitchen allows your child to learn more about what he/she is eating and what exactly is in the meal. It’s kind of like doing a science experiment, and the only way to see the result is by tasting it!
Make simpler rules around eating. Instead of instituting strict rules about finishing your plate or vegetables, or even giving time restraints, let your child take charge (to an extent). Keep ground rules simple: parents decide the selection of food and when and where mealtimes occur. The child decides if he/she is going to eat and how much. Maintain a consistent yet flexible eating schedule, especially when school is out. In addition, an occasional treat is not the enemy, but remember that not all rewards should be attached to sweets.
References: Chu YL, Farmer A, Fung C, Kuhle S, Storey KE, Veugelers PJ. Involvement in home meal preparation is associated with food preference and self-efficacy among Canadian children. Public health nutrition. Jan 2013;16(1):108-112.