Food, it can be a contentious topic for parents. There is so much information about what’s healthy and what’s not, and the pressure can start as early as when our child’s first solids begin - should babies lead their own transition to solids or be spoon fed? And then as they get older there might be body image influences, or philosophical slants that affect what they want to eat. If you’re anything like me, you can find all the information and issues a bit overwhelming!
I think when it comes down to it, we all just love our kids and want to do the best we can to give them a healthy and happy start to their lives. We know that nutrition is so important, but we can’t ‘force’ our kids to eat the good stuff (apart from when we sneak it in). And whilst I love a good ‘sneak’ (avocado in a chocolate smoothies, veggies in bolognese etc etc), I also want to foster a healthy relationship with food for my kids. I want to facilitate them to make good choices for themselves (if not all the time, at least some of it!). So what can we do? What eventually gave me peace of mind around the topic of food (and many other areas of parenting, and the rest of life in fact) was the concept of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the concept of being right where you are. When you stop and think about it, being present in the moment with your thoughts and focus brings such peace of mind. When your focus is on the present moment, you can’t be thinking about something that happened in the past (which is gone) or worrying about something in the future (which hasn’t happened yet, and may never happen). I realised I wasn’t finding dinner times peaceful because I was worried about what my daughter wasn’t eating, and trying to find ways to ‘make’ her it eat.
I was off in the future, thinking about her health, wellbeing, growth, immunity…feeling frustrated that I had learned so much about food and how to nourish our bodies, and was offering up all the goodness, but it wasn’t being utilised!! And I believe that our kids pick up on our cues, so our meal times often weren’t the relaxed, enjoyable experiences I hoped for.
And with my anxious vibe, and use of various strategies for trying to make her eat, I was just giving her something to resist and push up against. I certainly wasn’t empowering her to start making choices for herself, to listen to her own body, or to have pleasant and relaxed experiences at meal times.
Learning about mindfulness also led me to explore the concept of joy, and how I want to enjoy each moment of my life. When I really stopped and thought about it, I realised food is one of the true joys in my life. I thought about how amazing it would be if I could turn the mealtimes in our house from the groans and eye-rolls when I mentioned what was for dinner, to a vibe of “how great is food, it’s fun and yummy, and I love trying new foods sometimes”. It seemed ambitious but I felt it was worth trying!
Enter mindful eating, which is the concept of paying deliberate attention to our food, moment by moment, and being aware with our senses of the experience we are having as we are eating.
I hoped this concept would help me bring an appreciation of food to our family meals so we could really enjoy these times together. I hoped it would solve my worry about my kids not eating enough of the ‘good stuff’ by improving their relationship with food and opening them up to explore more naturally. This seemed far better than the badgering and my feelings of stress and worry when they didn’t eat their meal. Here are the ways I went about introducing mindful eating within our family.
Sitting together at the dinner table, with no distractions. This brings everyone’s focus to exactly what’s happening, and is also amazing for making meals a special time when we all come together and connect with each other.
Asking the kids to start thinking about how hungry they are, and to notice it throughout their meal. This gets them making the connection between their hunger and the amount of food they eat.
Letting the kids serve themselves. This is great for empowering them to follow their cues about how hungry they are, and can make them feel more inclined to try new things that are presented because it’s their own choice. I just always ensure there are at least one or two things on offer that I know they like.
Talking about the food, and asking them what they like about it. What textures do they like or not like? I love asking my kids to guess the ingredients, it’s a fun way to really get them using their sense of taste. If they don’t like the food, see if they can explain why.
Trying to slow down the eating, which is great for mindfulness, and also digestion. I’d heard it recommended that cutlery should be put down between each mouthful, and that food should be chewed really slowly. I knew this one would be tricky at our place and would be distracting from the meal itself. Besides that, the only one I need to worry about rushing their meal is my constantly ravenous son! Instead, I just gently remind him that there is plenty more if he is still hungry once he’s finished, and since he is clearly enjoying it so much why not slow down and enjoy it for longer. It’s a work in progress!
Not stocking the occasional treat items that they eat just because they are there. I learned this was one of the ways to encourage mindful eating with kids but I was pretty much doing it already. It’s much easier not having the food there, than having to say no all the time.
Ask them how they feel after indulging, like at a birthday party. It gets them making the link between the types of food they eat and how they feel. My kids have now made the link between eating lots of ‘sometimes’ foods and feeling not so great, and I’ve heard them all make better choices at one time or another, like “my tummy’s had enough cake now” or “I’ve had enough treats for today”.
Introducing mindful eating switched up the way I went about getting my kids to eat more nutritious food. This approach is not only more enjoyable than insisting or convincing or arguing, but has brought me more peace around what they are actually eating (I’m not off in the future stressing that they’re malnourished because they didn’t eat all their veggies!).
As well as leading to more peaceful mealtimes, mindful eating fosters really healthy relationships with food. And alongside the health and nourishment, my hope is that it will lead my kids to see food as one of the joys in their lives too.
Our sustainable range of children dinnerware can help you getting started in your Mindful Eating Journey, you can shop for our products HERE .
This article was written by Jessica Kent, Co-founder and Writer of The Grow Journal. Jessica is offering all of our Blog Readers a fantastic 10% off using code EMONDO10 at checkout!