Wondering how to teach your children to eat mindfully? Here are 18 tips.
- Teach young children to use all of their senses when eating. Ask them to describe the food to you with as many descriptive words as they can.
- Explain the differences between hunger, appetite, and emotional eating. Appetite is a desire or a craving, emotional eating is when you turn to food for comfort, to cope with stress, anger, or boredom, or as a reward.
- Ask children what they really want to eat. As soon as your child gets home from school or practice, ask him or her to get changed and wash their hands. This will give them a few minutes to think before they immediately start eating.
- Remind children that it takes 20 minutes to sense fullness and meals should take 20-30 minutes to finish. You may even want to set a timer.
- After eating, have children rank their hunger and fullness on a scale of one to ten. If one is starving and ten is so stuffed that their stomach hurts, they will benefit from learning to eat when they are a three on the scale, and to stop eating when they are at a seven. Parents can practice this with their children!
- Ensure that children, as often as possible, are sitting at the kitchen table to eat all of their meals and snacks. A lot of families do well at this when it is dinner time, but the rest of the day is pretty much a free-for-all.
- Make nutritious snacks available. Whole-grain crackers with cheese, an apple or pear with nut butter, a piece of fresh fruit and yogurt or cut up vegetables with hummus are good options.
- Let children serve themselves whenever possible; small children are very good at determining how hungry they are.
- Make a ritual of expressing gratitude or taking three deep breaths before eating. Similar to getting changed or washing your hands before eating, this gives you a moment to think before digging in.
- Teach your children to put foods in a bowl rather than eating from the bag/box.
- Remind children to drink water as they might confuse hunger with thirst.
- Never pacify, punish, or reward with food.
- Help youngsters to learn appropriate portion sizes by talking about hunger and fullness.
- If children help to grow it, prepare it, or cook it, they tend to like it more.
- Talk about how the first bite is always the best, so make it count!
- No judging yourself or others, or comparing yourself to others, allowed.
- Discuss who or what was involved in bringing this food to the table. A farmer, a truck driver, a processor, various people at the grocery store, etc.
- Do not allow anyone to describe food or the way that they eat as “good” or “bad.”
References and recommended reading
Bays JC. Mindful eating. Psychology Today website. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mindful-eating/200902/mindful-eating. Published February 5, 2009. Accessed April 20, 2016.
Beach SR. 8 ways to teach mindfulness to kids. Huffington Post website. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sarah-rudell-beach-/8-ways-to-teach-mindfulness-to-kids_b_5611721.html. Updated September 22, 2014. Accessed April 20, 2016.
Boulanger B. SMArt kids practice mindful eating. http://blog.harvardvanguard.org/2013/04/smart-kids-practice-mindful-eating/. Published April 4, 2013. Accessed April 20, 2016.
Gonter-Dray B. Mindful eating for families. Dayton Children’s website. http://blog.childrensdayton.org/nine-tips-on-the-art-of-mindful-eating-for-kids/. Accessed April 20, 2016.
Mindful eating. Healthy Kids Association website. https://healthy-kids.com.au/parents/developing-positive-eating-behaviours/mindful-eating/. Accessed April 20, 2016.
Shaw G. How to practice mindful eating. WebMD website. http://www.webmd.com/parenting/raising-fit-kids/food/mindful-eating-for-families. Accessed April 20, 2016.
Tips for teaching mindfulness to kids. Mindful website. http://www.mindful.org/tips-for-teaching-mindfulness-to-kids/. Published April 29, 2013. Accessed April 20, 2016.
Contributed by Elaine Hinzey, RDN, LD/N at Nutrition 411
Erica Leon is a Registered Dietitian and practices from a Health at Every Size (HAES®) lens. She is certified as an eating disorder specialist and is passionate about helping women at midlife, menopause and beyond to make peace with food and body image.
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