Mindful Eating Can Change the Course of a Child's Life
So rather than policing children when it comes to food, as that doesn’t seem to consistently work for even adults, why not introduce good habits while they are still young.
We know that by now the buzz word may be experiencing overkill, but “mindfulness” is actually one of those approaches to diet and lifestyle, because it’s NOT a diet, that has the potential to create long-term healthy habits. Several studies have explored this concept and its relationship to eating, and have yielded results that show less caloric intake, less impulsive eating and healthier snack choices.
A startling three in 10 children in the US are obese. And there has been much discussion and study on the suggested causes such as broad access to cheap, fat and sugar laden foods, little access to whole foods such as fruits and vegetables, less exercise, junk food ads targeting children, and mindlessly eating in front of the television or some other type of screen. We know these are bad habits that when introduced in youth can be very difficult to change as adults and lead to years of poor health and stress on the body and mind.
So rather than policing children when it comes to food, as that doesn’t seem to consistently work for even adults, why not introduce good habits while they are still young. We’ve put together a list of helpful ways to get your kids eating more mindfully.
1. Fruit is inviting when it’s on display and reachable. You’d be surprised at the magic a bowl of fruit can do when on your kitchen table or counter around the clock. And there are bonus points for fruits that are in season! Studies have shown that having fruit available at all times and in plain sight, increases consumption. The concept is that fruit is there to be eaten independently whenever your child is inclined. And providing seasonal fruits can create talking points about how food is grown and where it comes from, which can also heighten interest in eating fruit.
2. Ask for their help preparing foods. A great way to get kids involved and appreciating their food more, is to involve them in cooking and preparing meals and snacks. The reward itself of making something helps to create a positive relationship with food. And for little ones that you don’t want handling knives or hot stoves, salad kits are a great tool! Let them pour each ingredient in the bowl and then toss, and all of the sudden, they LOVE salad!
3. Take time to sit down and eat, feed the brain and the body. We know how hectic life can get, and sometimes it seems difficult to get the whole family together at one table for a meal, but whenever you can, you’re helping your children on many levels from good nutrition to a strong vocabulary. In fact, studies have shown that children who have family dinner consume more fruits and vegetables, and as teens they are less likely to be obese and more likely to maintain healthy eating habits when they live on their own. In addition, studies have shown that children that have regular family dinners are twice as likely o get As, have higher achievement scores, and significantly broaden their vocabulary from the conversation. And if that’s not enough, studies have also shown, children who have regular family meals are less likely to smoke, binge drink, use drugs and engage in other high-risk teen behaviors. So encourage your children to eat all snacks and meals sitting down at the table and avoid screen time while eating. Parents, put away your phones at meal times, so you can be present with your children.
4. Talk about food, gratitude, and caring for the planet. In order to gain respect for their food and where it comes from, there’s a lot to learn, and these topics can be fascinating for children. Discuss about how grateful we are to have the food we have and discuss how that’s not the case for all people. Not the old “children are starving in Africa…” speech to get kids to clean their plates, but more of a conversation to simply raise their awareness that hunger exists, even in our own neighborhoods, schools, churches and communities. Getting kids involved in a charity is also a great way to teach them about food. In addition, talk about how we need to take care of our planet, so we can continue to produce good food. How can we waste less? If you’re packing lunches, how about including regular silverware and a cloth napkin that they can bring home, wash and re-use, rather than throwing away plastic utensils and napkins.
5. Avoid “restrictive” language. Lots of talk about dieting, cutting calories, and banning foods, even when not directed towards children can be damaging. Be careful to avoid these topics when talking to them about food or even your own eating habits, as you serve as a role model. Instead, have lots of healthy snack options on hand and let them independently choose what they’d like to have. Teach them about taking their time to eat and know that it’s time to stop eating when you feel full.
Those are a few suggestions to get started, and we would love to hear your mindful eating tips as well! If you’ve found success is this approach to eating and shopping for food, come on over to our Facebook page and tell us!