The Benefits of Mindful Eating14 May 2020
When it comes to mindful eating, most of us begin our lives as mindful eaters. From our very first feed, we rely on smell, taste, sight and touch. Babies take their time feeding and are usually very good at intuitively eating – starting to eat when they are hungry and stopping once full. However, somewhere along the way as we grow older and our lifestyle changes, we lose the skill and practice of eating mindfully.
Whilst most of the current research into the benefits of mindful eating has been done in adults, there is research to indicate children benefit from mindful eating too. From improved digestion, increased feelings of fullness, enhanced enjoyment of eating and the development of a positive relationship with food there are many reasons to encourage your children to eat mindfully.
Anna and Alex, our in-house Dietitians from The Biting Truth share their 7 tips to encourage your child to eat more mindfully.
1. Limit distractions
A key part of eating mindfully is to remove distractions that cause us to eat mindlessly. Turn off the television and put mobile and table devices away. Focus on what you are eating and engage in mealtime conversation with your children. If you are a role model for eating mindfully and lead by example, you may be pleasantly surprised that your children are more inclined to follow.
2. Eat as a family whenever possible
Eating together with your family provides an opportunity for you to role model mindful eating. Remember monkey see, monkey do. If you want your child to eat mindfully, they need to see you doing it too. Realistically, it may be difficult for your whole family to eat together at every meal, but if you can try to dedicate at least 2-3 nights per week where you sit down and eat dinner together it can make a difference in the long term.
3. Let kids serve themselves
If your child is old enough, allow them to plate up and serve how much they would like to eat. While you can provide guidance so that they have enough veggies on their plate, allow them to decide how much food will fill them up. This not only gives them autonomy and means they’ll be more likely to eat what’s on their plate, it also encourages them to tune into their own hunger cues.
4. Encourage your child to put down their fork in between bites
Teach your child to take a bite and then put their fork down while they chew their food. This helps children to pause and chew properly instead of eating one bite after another. Chewing food properly will actually help to improve digestion and increase the absorption of nutrients. Having a conversation with your child over dinner will help with this as speaking allows for a natural break between mouthfuls.
5. Don’t rush mealtimes
Allow plenty of time at each meal so there is no rush for your child to finish what is on their plate. We usually recommend allowing for around 20 minutes at each main meal. It can be a good idea to inform your child of meal time (e.g. 6pm for dinner) and let your child know that you will sit together and talk and eat for 20 minutes. This can help them realise that mealtimes are not a race to finish and should not be rushed.
6. Don’t expect your child to finish their plate at every meal
We understand that some children can be fussy but try to avoid saying to your child “you can only leave the table once you’ve finished everything on your plate”. Appetites can vary throughout the day, and it’s important for children to learn how to adjust their food portion sizes depending on their hunger and growth needs. Give your child autonomy to decide when they have had enough to eat.
7. Engage the five senses
Rather than asking your children to try a new food or pressuring them into having “two more bites”, talk about the senses of the food. We recommend trying to do this from a place of inquisition rather than using it as a form of pressure. You might ask your child questions such as “what colours and shapes do you see on your plate?” or make comments like “how crunchy was that yummy capsicum I just ate, did anyone hear that crunch sound?”.
Engaging your child in mindful eating practices at mealtimes early in life will help nurture their ability to eat mindfully and provide them with long-term skills for later in life!