Mindful Nutrition: Teaching Kids Mealtime Mindfulness For Healthy Habits

How do we break the epidemic of obesity and disease plaguing the Western world or countries of affluence? That is a very heavy question that could easily incite a heated debate. Various scientists and medical professionals could weigh in with studies that focus on the whole food plant-based diet as promoted in The China Study written by T. Colin Campbell, PhD, and Thomas M. Campbell II and others that subscribe to more moderate diets that favor animal-based protein. While I am not here to jump into the deep and write a book, I do believe it is vital that we take a vested interest in educating our young about the importance of nutrition and how to take at least a mindful approach to diet and what foods promote a healthy, balanced life. 

In an era inundated by marketing and innovative technologies capable of manufacturing processed foods catering to every diet under the sun, Westerners are now becoming more and more aware of the impact nutrition has on our health not only by noticing our society’s expanding waistline but the medical bills that come along with a fast food lifestyle.

But what is mindful nutrition you may ask, and more importantly, how do we not only implement it into our lives but the lives of the next generation whose life expectancy is anticipated to be shorter than their predecessor based on a list of variables including dietary and lifestyle implications as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? The key factors attributed to mindful nutrition focus on meal preparation and consumption as a means to promote a balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight, and diminish potential disease. Selecting enjoyable foods that are healthy, acknowledging food preferences nonjudgmentally, becoming conscious, and honoring physical hunger and satiety cues are all aspects of mindful nutrition. Becoming knowledgeable about the diet, the nutrition, and the impact certain foods have on your individual body improves not only how you feel physically, often increasing your energy and agility, but also supports a more positive outlook on life. That’s some dense material. Let’s break it down into actionable steps that are so easy even children can jump on board and foster a new relationship with food that will promote a healthier way of being that minimizes disease and increases energy and vitality.

Cultivating your own mindfulness practice will substantiate your effort to teach these skills to your children. Taking this holistic approach centered around the table and in the kitchen will instill children with imperative competencies that will not only impact them on a personal level but will potentially aid them in social and professional circles. Improving attention, especially in school, is one the most important takeaways we can impart on our youth. Fostering mindfulness techniques will also help kids manage stress and calm themselves down in taxing situations and make decisions to act instead of react to what life throws their way.

Who would think that applying mindfulness to nutrition would influence so many diverse aspects of our lives? Encouraging new habits and curiosity as it pertains to food can reverse the onslaught of obesity and thwart off the risk of becoming overweight and dealing with health issues as an adult.


Reflection: Why Do We Eat?

There are three overarching reasons why we eat and becoming aware when each comes to play in our lives will lead to clues on how we can change old behaviors and curb triggers that might incite bad practices.

  1. Physical Hunger: Simply we feel famished. Our energy is low, our stomach is growling, and we look to food to nourish our empty bellies.
  2. Psychological Hunger: Normally habitual and often unconscious, this hunger can be routine, self-soothing, mindless, and sabotaging. We have all been there; we have all had a bad day and felt like that piece of chocolate cake would set everything right in the world, right?!
  3. Environment: We are social beings and being out in a crowd, on a date, or at a family gathering can impact our food choices. From traveling coast-to-coast on a Boeing 787 or sitting on campus, often we find our food choices dictated by what’s available around us.


Check In With Yourself

Whether you use a food journal or just take a few moments throughout a meal to check in with yourself, you are adopting a newfound awareness. Various foods will impact individuals differently. Check in with portion control. Managing the quantity of foods we consume, although it sounds like drudgery, will have a significant impact on how you feel and this can be experienced right away. The Center for Mindful Eating wrote “Mindful eating has an intent that at the end of the meal the person will feel physically better after eating than before.” Creating a familiarity with what exactly “comfortably full” feels like will be a benchmark leveraging a new way of being. The simple act of slowing down, allowing the brain and stomach to interact and become in sync, will also prevent overeating and weight gain.

My challenge to you: Take a second when you sit down for your next meal to become attentive to your senses. Look, listen, touch, smell, and taste. When we become aware of how we interact on this level we are fully engaged in the dining experience and are present to our physical sensations.


How can we impart this knowledge to our children?

  • Show Gratitude: Take a moment to breathe and be thankful for all that is before you. Sitting down for a meal and nourishing our bodies is a gift. Having food on the table is a privilege we can often overlook and take for granted. Sharing thanks and being conscious of our blessings sets a positive tone that everyone can relish in.
  • Ask: How hungry are you? Parents can ascertain this information and help children make wise choices by offering options based on their hunger level.
  • Allow Self-Service: Hand over the reins and let kids serve themselves at mealtime. Noting that less is more and that seconds are always available, parents are encouraging children to become aware of what appropriate portion sizes look like and more importantly how they feel after ingesting them.
  • Eliminate Distractions: Turn off the electronics or anything that will draw children’s attention away from the matter at hand. Try putting down the fork between bites to become more present, chewing every bite fully.
  • Pause: Wait 10-15 minutes before reaching for seconds. It takes time for your body to register how full it is. So often we get caught up overeating because we race through the meal or continue to eat because something tastes good. Taking a break allows our systems to catch up and respond to one another.
  • Commit To Dinner Time: Yesteryear is gone away and for some so has family dinner time, but maybe we should rekindle this tradition. Sitting down to a meal surrounded by loved ones adds a profound sense of connectedness to the whole dining experience that can impact children in more ways than one.
  • Grow: Do you have a green thumb? Share your passion for gardening with your kids. Ask them to get involved. Planting a seed can spur an interest not only in the produce but that simple act of connecting with nature.
  • Cook: Master Chef Junior, anyone? Maybe you have a creative rock star on your hands and you just don’t know it yet. Kids that gravitate to art may find working with foods just as rewarding, deepening their appreciation for not only the visual aesthetics but experimenting with flavors and temperatures.
  • Shop: Head to the grocery store and let your little one push the cart and help make decisions. Allowing kids to have a part in the decision-making process gives them a sense of autonomy and pride, helping the family eat healthy.
  • Reflect: Sometimes it takes more than just thoughts to foster the change you want to see. Using a food journal or subscribing to an app can help create a visual aid that helps see more clearly what issues need addressed.