Teaching your children how to eat mindfully is a gift. They can learn to eat without self-judgment, and experience the full joy of what it means to nourish our bodies. Instead of growing up thinking, “I am bad if I eat X or Y”, mindful eating allows us to eat peacefully, without reproaching ourselves.
The ability to involve all of our senses when we eat, for example, to delight in the scent, sight, crunch and fresh taste of a green apple, helps us to shift the focus away from how we might feel about ourselves, to more objective feelings towards the food in front of us.
Here are 3 tips to help your kids eat more mindfully:
- Explore their understanding of what it means to eat mindfully. Mindful eating means having an awareness of what, when, how, why, and how much we eat. This is a skill that comes with time and practice. It is not sitting down in front of the TV with a bag of chips, zoning out in front of our favorite show after a bad day at school, then feeling guilty for finishing the whole bag.
Rather, it is accepting that our bodies are like machines that need energy to do all the things we ask of it during the day. It is registering sensations of hunger in our bodies and responding to them, knowing and trusting when we are satiated, and differentiating between emotional and physical hunger.
- Set a good example. As with so much of parenting, modeling desirable behavior is key. It’s easy to fall into the trap of, “Do what I say, not what I do”, but remember kids are perceptive barometers of the emotions around them. They will notice if mommy comes home stressed and eats a bag of donuts.
Treat eating as an activity in itself. Don’t eat in the car on the way back from a hockey practice – eating is not an errand. Celebrate food by sitting down at a table to eat it.
- Acknowledge Individuality. Our emotional associations with food start from a very young age. Perhaps you like eating rice pudding because it brings back warm memories of your grandmother, not because you think it tastes fantastic.
There is no right or wrong in how link food to the people and events in our life. It is simply different. If you find your child has negative emotions regarding food, try talking about it. The sooner you address any rules and reward systems that a young person has regarding eating, the easier it will be to resolve them and start a positive relationship with food.