Teaching Your Child to Eat Mindfully

Teaching kids healthy habits from a young age is important. It helps them to grow up to be happy, healthy eaters who make good choices when it comes to diet. We’ve talked a lot about the importance of what kids eat, where they eat, how to talk about eating, and so on, but we haven’t yet talked about the act of eating itself- how to eat. It may sound silly, but there is a way to approach eating that we’ve been hinting at in past posts, which is mindful eating. In this post, we’re going to break down what mindful eating is, why it’s important, and some ways to practice mindful eating at home.

Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is a term you might have heard before. It is the idea of removing any distractions and focusing on the experience and act of eating when you sit down to enjoy a snack or meal. Sounds simple, right? But in a world where we’re constantly busy and rushing from one thing to the next, we are rarely sitting down to eat and actually focusing on the taste, texture, fullness, or the enjoyment of food.

Why is mindful eating important?
Mindful eating help kids (and adults) to pay attention to their hunger cues, recognize fullness and avoid overeating. Not to mention, many people find it helps them to enjoy their food even more, too! For kids, mindful eating helps them to listen to their bodies and self-regulate, meaning they know when they are hungry and can stop eating when they are full. This is important for building their autonomy in caring for themselves and their own needs.

Ways to encourage mindful eating
There are a number of ways to encourage mindful eating at home that will help kids make choices no matter where they are. Below are some ways to encourage the practice of mindful eating and setting your kid up for health in the long-term!

Photo from Pexels by August de Richelieu

Allow kids to self-serve:
When preparing their meal, ask kids how much they want on their plate, and honor their requests. If they’re old enough, allow them to serve themselves. You can certainly offer some guidance. For example, if they say I don’t want any vegetables, encourage them to try a few. But asking them rather than filling a plate and requiring them to eat everything on it helps to build their autonomy and self-regulation of their likes, dislikes, and ability to understand their hunger and how much they need. It also improves competence when it comes to serving themselves food.

Ditch the rigid rules:
Having strict rules can often backfire, causing kids to push back or become resentful. Things like the “clean your plate” rule force kids to override their hunger cues and eat whether they want to or not. It is okay to be encouraging (in fact, we have a whole post on this) or make a family agreement that you all at least taste the vegetables served at dinner, but putting extremely strict rules on food with no wiggle room is a set up for failure- and often fights.

Eat at the table:
And without distractions! We talked about this a bit in family meals post, but it is an important one. Removing distractions like the TV, books, toys, tablets, and so forth can help kids focus on the meal and practice mindfulness. When a distraction is present, kids lose focus of the meal itself, and therefore lose focus of their hunger cues, which can lead to overeating, or undereating and wanting unhealthy snacks later. Eating without distractions helps to draw attention to the meal and the people they’re eating with, making the food more enjoyable and the time with family all the more meaningful!

Teach Table Manners
Not only are table manners a good practice, but they can also help with mindfulness, too! Encourage your child to set utensils down when speaking, and not to speak with their mouth full. This teaches kids to pause when eating, which can help with recognizing fullness. It also helps them to focus on chewing and enjoying their food when their mouth is full. Simple, but effective!

Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

Talk about how they feel before, during, and after a meal
Encouraging kids to take stock in how their body feels before, during, and after eating teaches them to tune in to what their bodies need. Before eating, ask your kid how hungry they are, and what about the meal they’re looking forward to. During the meal, ask them what they’re enjoying the most and what they like about it. Ask them what they think of the temperature, the texture, or the taste. It’s also a good idea to do a “belly check” mid-meal. Ask how their bellies are feeling, which helps them pay special attention to fullness, and when that are finished eating. After a meal, ask them how they’re feeling and do another belly check to reinforce the idea of recognizing fullness. Again, this is a great way to support their autonomy and self-regulation of hunger and fullness!

Be Flexible
Some days your kids are going to eat their vegetables, and some days they might outright refuse. That’s okay! Not every meal is perfect, and as a mom, you know what it means to roll with the punches. Trying to make most meals healthy is a great goal, but give yourself some grace when things don’t go perfectly according to plan. You’re doing your best, mom, and you’re awesome no matter what.

Like any skill that you learn, mindful eating takes practice! Have you tried any of these tips to encourage mindful eating at home? Which ones work best for you? Tell us in the comments!