Teaching kids the art of mindful eating

Developing a mindfulness practice can help kids make better choices at the table.

Mindfulness, or awareness, is noticing thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and your immediate environment without judgment. Witnessing the present moment means you’re not stuck thinking about the past or worrying about the future. You’re able to direct your own attention to where you want it to be at any given moment and keep it there. Often times this does not come naturally or easily and requires practice. Having your own mindfulness practice will support your efforts in teaching this skill to your children.

Helping your children develop their own mindfulness practice can be very beneficial and these skills can be applied to many areas of life. Mindfulness can improve your child’s ability to pay attention (especially helpful in school), to calm down when they’re upset and to make the decision to act instead of react to certain situations. Mindfulness can also be applied to the way we eat and have an effect on our relationship with food. Developing a good relationship with food at a young age is important and can help prevent childhood obesity and even obesity in adulthood with the continuation of this practice.

The three main reasons we eat are out of physical hunger, psychological hunger or due to our environment. Most adults engage in psychological hunger or habitual eating at some point in their day or week. The goal is to teach your kids the difference between these three types of hunger and for them to have the ability to be aware of how certain types of food and quantities make them feel after eating.

A quote from the Center for Mindful Eating, “Mindful eating has an intent that at the end of the meal the person will feel physically better after eating than before.” Teaching kids to apply mindfulness during eating will increase the likelihood they will become familiar with what feeling full actually feels like. They can become more aware of times when they are actually eating out of boredom, the need to be comforted or out of habit. Slowing down and being present during the meal also lets our brain catch up to our stomach and tell us when we’re full. This can help prevent overeating and weight gain, not only for children but adults too!

Here is a mindfulness activity from SMArt Kids Practice Mindful Eating:

In this activity, we will have the kids act as a scientist and use all of their senses to investigate their food. This activity is great to have them slow down and take notice of every part of the experience.

Enjoy a snack; Have a few different kinds of apples to choose from.

  1. Look - what colors and shapes do you see?
  2. Listen - does your food make a sound?
  3. Touch - is it smooth, bumpy or rough?
  4. Smell - what does your food smell like?
  5. Taste - have them put the food on their tongue but don’t let them chew it just yet. Notice how it feels in your mouth. Do you taste anything yet? Start to chew, does the flavor change? How many different flavors are there?

Tips to increase your child’s awareness when eating:

  • Have them take a deep breath or take a second to be thankful for their meal before eating.
  • Ask them how hungry they are before a meal.
  • Allow them to serve themselves, this will allow them to become familiar with appropriate serving sizes.
  • Eat without distractions such as the television or computer.Have them put down their fork in between bites.
  • Wait 15 minutes after eating to decide if they are still hungry for seconds (it takes about 15 minutes for your brain to register if you’re full or not).
  • Allow enough time to eat.
  • Grow your own garden and let them be a part of that experience.

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