As a parent, you want your kids to eat healthily. You want them to eat healthy foods, balanced meals, and create good eating habits that will last their whole life. You might have made some rules about food. Rules, like limiting treats, monitoring snacks, and requiring a certain number of bites of new foods, are common. But do these rules really work? What if you could help your kids become healthy eaters simply by paying attention to their food? That’s what mindful eating is all about. And teaching it to your kids is easy. Check out these tips for teaching mindful eating for kids in your home.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is the practice of becoming aware and fully present when you’re eating. Mindful eating teaches that by paying attention to food and to how it affects our bodies physically and mentally we can find more joy in eating. And the result will be healthier eating habits.
What your kids eat on a day to day basis is important. But when you’re building healthy habits around eating you also want to focus on helping your kids build a healthy relationship to food. Mindful eating can help your kids get started on developing that relationship and they will benefit all their lives from getting an early start on healthy eating habits.
How to Teach Mindful Eating for Kids
1. Talk About Food
A great first step in how to teach mindful eating for kids is to talk about food. Have conversations with your kids about what a healthy food is. Talk to them about how healthy foods help our bodies be strong and help them grow. Talk about how food gives us energy.
Part of mindful eating is learning to be present in the moment while you eat. When you’re eating meals as a family, talk about what you’re eating. Ask your kids what color their food is? How does it smell? How does it feel in their fingers? Then, how does it feel on their tongue? This doesn’t have to take over as your only dinner conversation but it’s a fun way to introduce new foods and to practice really thinking about and engaging with what you’re eating.
2. No More Food Rules
Teaching your kids mindful eating means putting an end to any food rules you currently have. Set aside any rules you currently have about your kids having to take a few bites of veggies before they can have dessert. Or requiring they clean their plate. Or to have a bite of everything before they can leave the table. Chances are both you and your children will feel more relaxed at mealtimes when you’re not engaging in power struggles around food or trying to control every bite they put in their mouths.
3. Know Who Makes Food Decisions
Now that you’ve set aside your family’s food rules, how do you start setting new ones? When you’re teaching mindful eating to your kids, it’s important to know what parents are responsible for and what kids are responsible for.
With mindful eating for kids, parents decide what to offer and when and where to offer it. Your home is not a restaurant where your child can choose anything they want off of the menu. At meals and snack times you will offer healthy foods for your kids to choose from and eat. As parents, you will also choose when to offer them and where they will be consumed.
Your kids get to decide if they are going to eat the food you’re offering. And how much. It’s that simple.
4. Keep Offering Healthy Foods to Your Kids
It can take multiple introductions of a new food before some kids will even be willing to try it. Be patient if your kids reject new foods on the first (or even tenth) offering. Continue to offer each food and eventually most kids will give it a try. You can also ask your kids why they are rejecting a certain food. If the problem is the texture or color, consider other ways to cook this particular food or dress it up to make it more tempting.
And we’ve all had our kids love something one day and then insist they hate it the next time it shows up at the table. Continue to offer these foods as well. Eventually, it will come back around again.
5. Get Kids Involved in Food Preparation
Getting your kids involved in preparing the food they eat is a great way to get them excited about what you’re eating. You can involve your kids in everything from meal planning to grocery shopping to the actual food preparation. Planning and cooking meals as a family can be a fun way to spend time together at the end of the day.
In addition to encouraging your kids to eat healthy foods, helping in the kitchen also teaches important life skills that will benefit your child from now through adulthood. And can inspire a lifetime of healthy eating.
6. Turn Off Distractions
Mindful eating for kids is all about being fully present while you eat and enjoying the food in front of you. This means turning off the television, putting away cell phones, books, homework, or anything else distracting from the enjoyment of the meal or snack being eaten.
Electronics have become so all-present in our lives that keeping them off at the table can seem challenging. Use meal times as a chance to talk and catch up on the days events with your kids while you enjoy the healthy food you’ve prepared as a family.
7. Avoid Using Food as a Reward
Who among us hasn’t offered our kids a dessert as a reward for eating something healthy off of their dinner plate? I am certainly guilty of this. But if your goal is to teach your kids to eat mindfully and develop healthy eating habits, this is a flawed approach.
Offering a treat as a bribe for eating healthy reinforces the idea that the healthier food isn’t as good. That a treat is a “reward” for consuming something that is a chore to eat. This sends all the wrong messages about sweets and about healthy food.
Mindful eating does not mean never eating dessert or treats. But it does mean not using these things as a reward for eating healthy foods or for any other type of positive behavior. You want to avoid having your kids connect sugary, sweet treats with happiness or success because this connection can lead to emotional eating and other unhealthy food habits.
Eat dessert! But have it as a family with no strings attached other than enjoying it mindfully.
8. Model Mindful Eating
When you want to teach healthy habits to your kids, the place to start is always with yourself. You are your child’s teacher and role model. They are watching everything you do. When you sit down to eat and are fully present, with no electronics or other distractions, enjoying your food and eating a healthy, balanced meal, your kids will learn to follow your example.