How often have you been able to sneak a couple of vegetables into your kiddo’s mouth without them noticing if you let them play with their favourite toy? Or recognized that you can get your kids to eat ANYTHING when you put them in front of a screen?
That’s because sometimes we encourage our kids to eat mindlessly. You know- the same kind of eating we do when we’re eating lunch at our desk trying to work through the latest sales reports, or watching TV while eating a “Few chips” and end up eating the whole bag.
When we feed our kids mindlessly we may get in a few extra veggies or a couple of more bites that one night, but because they are distracted this doesn’t often have a long term impact. In fact if you asked a child who ate tomato ten times while distracted they would probably tell you that they’ve never eaten a tomato before in their life! For that reason when we are working toward creating healthy food relationships for our kids in the long term it’s important to create an environment where we can support our kids in eating mindfully. YES even if that means that their veggies don’t get finished every night.
My top three strategies for promoting mindfulness during mealtime are:
Reduce distractions! Consider the distractions during your mealtime, include the television, homework, the radio on in the background, parents on the phone. When we’re eating distracted we ALWAYS overeat or under-eat and so will our kids because it’s incredibly difficult to listen to what your body and tummy are telling you when there are distractions around you. Think about the last time you went to a movie and got some popcorn- my guess is that the bag was either done before the previews were or was completely full even as the credits were rolling. There is no real in between! So to create a more enjoyable mealtime consider removing distractions from your mealtime EVEN if you’re not all sitting down to dinner together every night.
Shift statements at mealtime from “Try it” statements to “What is it” statements. So often at mealtime as parents we focus on convincing our kids to eat food because it’s good for you, or ask our kids to eat a few more bites when they say that they’re done their meal. To encourage our kids to eat more mindfully we need to encourage them to be more curious at the dinner table both about the food they are eating and about how their bodies are feeling throughout the meal.
Look what colour this strawberry is!
Can you smell this orange- what does it smell like to you?
What do you think would happen if you snapped this green bean? What kind of sound would it make?
Is your tummy feeling happily full or is it asking for more food? Is your tummy saying it’s all done?
Questions like these encourage them to consider all aspects of the meal, the sights, smells, sounds and feelings that are there rather than JUST how much food is getting eaten.
3. Remove rules- within reason! Don’t get me wrong, I am all about table manners. I also believe that sometimes they need to go out the window. Encouraging our kids to feel, smell, or even lick with food is a great way to have them explore their senses and become more mindfully engaged with the food. Interacting with new food through play is also a great first introduction to new foods and can happen at mealtime or away from.
Before dinner you can give your kids the opportunity to stir the pot, or add an ingredient to a recipe for dinner and then talk about the transformations after.
You can play games with food or build structures with new foods!
Or make a taster plate for dinner and encourage your kids to eat with their hands instead of utensils (yes! I know this is a BIG one for lots of mamas)
To begin creating a more mindful eating experience tonight shift the mealtime question form “What” can I get my child to eat tonight to “How” can I set up a more mindful eating experience for the family tonight. Choose one way to talk about the sights, smells and feelings you are experiencing at the dinner table and see how that changes mealtime for the whole family!
Ahuva Magder is a registered Dietitian and mom on a mission to end mealtime stress and reduce the mental load of feeding your family.