Mindful Eating with Children

Every January I undertake one behavior change, and one dietary shift. This year, those two categories merge, and stem from the same concept: mindfulness.

Most of my behaviors reflect being a mother of young, impressionable children. While we have made great strides during mealtimes, this year I will invite my kids to routinely share in dinner preparation.

As a nutritionist-mom, kids’ participation in meal planning has many layers: they eat more diverse foods, so that I may increase the nutrient-density of meals, regain my kitchen creativity, and practice specific dietary approaches.

The foundation to healthy eating behaviors arises from a simple practice of mindfulness around food.

Mindful eating begins with awareness of eating patterns, the environment we parents are cultivating, and how we portray a positive relationship to food. Assess our own inner thoughts while eating (do we self-sabotage or offer compassion?), as well as the language we use when speaking about food (do we call foods “treats” or “junk”?), and our behaviors (do we eat the foods we restrict from our children?). Is food used as punishment or reward? Are mealtimes volatile or peaceful? Does eating cause angst or bring joy?

Mindfulness is carving out time to envision ideal scenarios. In the ideal, notice how your children’s behaviors are different from reality. Are your kids voluntarily chopping vegetables or setting the table? Write down words you would like to use when talking about food, especially foods that provoke challenges, such as certain snacks, desserts or vegetables. Use your senses when describing details of a lovely family meal, reflecting on environment, ritual, types of food, flavors and conversation.

Mindfulness is identifying barriers. Are there too many processed, sugary foods in the pantry, too little time to prepare breakfast in the mornings, or too little self-control when eating out? Do we eat when we’re bored, restless, or feeling self-doubt? Barriers alter our experiences and thoughts toward food, cause feelings of guilt and patterns of mindless eating, and veer us from the present moment.

Mindfulness for healthy habit change means deciding where to start. Make a list and identify which one aspect of mindful eating is the most important to you right now. Envision the ideal twice, in detail. Write it down. Recognize what you and your kids are doing differently. Write it down. Use your intuition about yourself and your family and, addressing barriers, come up with your own way to achieve this ideal scenario. Write it down. Consider setbacks – how will you respond if your plan goes awry? Write it down.

My mindful eating resolution:

  • Goal: kids’ participation in dinner preparation
  • Vision: son Avery happily chopping veggies; daughter Aylee eager to set the table; all of us engaged in calm conversation about our day
  • Barriers: we are all tired in evenings; their help equates to extra effort for me
  • Plan: lay out cutting board, kid-friendly knife & vegetables before I begin other prep; tell Avery how much I appreciate his help; ensure that napkins, utensils & plates, are accessible for Aylee to set the table;
  • Setbacks: maintain calmness and show love.

Your mindful eating practices will have layers and setbacks, but please don’t overcomplicate. Try one thing and, in doing so, practice non-judgment – when we recognize that barriers, setbacks and adverse behaviors are normal, we are kinder to ourselves and to our children. Remember that each situation is impermanent – we can try again! Every meal is an opportunity to practice. Enjoy the moment; delight in the process.

 

RESOURCES

Albers, S. (2008). Eat, drink, and be mindful. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Kabatznick, R. (2013a). Barriers to mindful eating [audio]. The Center for Mindful Eating. Retrieved from http://www.thecenterformindfuleating.org/archive-barriers-mindful-eating