Mindful eating, simply put, is all about having an awareness of eating. When you eat, are you focused on your meal, or are you watching a show or reading material that is distracting you from the eating experience?
Do you think about the food you are eating? Are you aware of the physical sensations that occur when eating foods? When we slow down and focus on the sensations our food can give us, we can more fully appreciate the entire experience of eating.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is being aware of our food using the five senses: sight, touch, hear, smell, and taste. It is about feeling these sensations in our body and understanding our body’s reaction to food. When we are aware of our food, even before we eat it, our experience of eating can be enhanced and heightened to a point where we appreciate our food and feel it nourish our bodies.
Being mindful about eating helps discern when a person is beginning to feel full. Focusing on the food during mealtime allows us to understand the feeling of being satisfied with a meal.
In this way, we can be more aware of our experience of eating and our own hunger and fullness cues.
Why is Mindful Eating Important for Kids?
Mindful eating for kids establishes a healthy relationship with food early on. When kids are aware of the physical sensations of the food they are eating, they enjoy and appreciate food, and can understand how their bodies are reacting to the food.
When kids are aware of the food they are eating, they can respond to their hunger and fullness cues more easily. Being aware of fullness can prevent overeating or eating mindlessly which can lead to unintentionally overeating.
Mindful Eating Helps with Appetite Awareness
When kids are distracted, they are not aware of their appetite, hunger, and fullness cues. Distracted eating occurs when screens are on during meals and snacks, when meals and snacks are not structured (perhaps eaten on the go or between activities), or when kids are interested in playing at the table. Such distractions can prevent kids from being aware of their eating.
When kids tune into the process of eating, they can appreciate and enjoy the food without being distracted. This leads to a positive awareness of their body and the process of eating.
Mindful Eating for Kids May Reduce Emotional Eating
Kids who are in touch with their appetite and hunger cues can discern how their body feels around foods and eating. This awareness is essential to reduce emotional eating.
Emotional eating happens when a person feels a particular emotion and associates eating to cope with that emotion.
Mindful eating for kids establishes a good foundation of awareness around eating.
Teaching Mindful Eating to Kids
Now that the basics and benefits of mindful eating for kids have been covered, how do we teach mindful eating to kids?
First, make sure you know about mindful eating yourself. When you are aware of your eating habits and relationship with food, it may be easier to explain with your kids.
Here are some ideas to try next:
- Think of ways you can talk with your kids about how their body experiences mealtimes.
- Before their meal, ask them how hungry they are. After, ask them if they feel satisfied, still hungry, or too full.
- Encourage them to take a break mid-meal and check in with how their tummy is feeling.
- Eat meals without distractions and enjoy your time together.
Also, try these activities using the five senses at home the next time you are eating a meal with your kids to help teach them ways to be more aware of their food when eating:
- Sight: What does their food look like? Any cool shapes or fun colors?
- Smell: What does their food smell like? Anything familiar or something new?
- Hear: Does their food make sounds like crunching or crackling?
- Touch: What does their food feel like in their fingers? Is it hard or soft? Wet or dry?
- Taste: What does their food taste like? Is it a familiar loving taste, or something new that needs a new description?
Mindful Eating vs. Intuitive Eating
You may have also heard of Intuitive Eating, and I want to take a moment to define each for you so that you are aware of the subtle differences.
Broadly speaking, mindful eating is a simple process of paying close attention to your eating experience.
Intuitive Eating is a more complex philosophy created and validated through research by dietitians where focus is placed on hunger and satiety cues, rejecting diet mentality, permission to eat for hunger rather than emotions, and respecting your body.
Mindful Eating Activities You Can Do at Home
Mindful eating does not have to be complicated. There are activities you can do at home, even at your next meal with little planning or preparation.
Begin by simply talking with your kids about the experiences of eating, paying attention to their body, and understanding their five senses.
Talk with your kids about each of the five senses when experiencing food: sight, smell, touch, feel, taste. Ask your child questions rather than speak your opinion.
It may sound silly but slowing down to take in all the sensations can be helpful to tune into your experience of eating foods. When we slow down, we can focus, be present, and appreciate our foods.
Bring Your Kids into the Kitchen
Getting kids involved with cooking and baking is a wonderful activity to do at home. There are a lot of benefits of cooking with kids – you can read my article on that topic!
In addition, cooking with kids allows for many sensations. Kids enjoy the processes of cooking and baking like measuring, stirring, slicing, chopping, sorting, counting, smelling, tasting, and playing with foods. Getting your kids’ help in the kitchen is a very fun way to introduce and practice cooking and baking skills while developing our sensations around food too!
Begin a Mindful Garden at Home
Begin a small garden at home, and have your kids help plant the seeds, water and weed regularly, and pick the produce when it is ready. Kids enjoy having responsibility and feel a sense of ownership when they grow their own food.
Beyond my recommendations, I encourage you to pick up a book at your local library or bookstore if you are interested in learning more about mindful eating for kids. Here are some of my recommendations:
I help families with kids have happy mealtimes, in ways that matter to them. I meet families where they are at with the resources they have. My services cover mealtime behaviors, picky eating, meal planning, and more! To learn more about my services, you are welcome to visit my services page here. I would love to help your family!