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Top Ten Mindful Eating Steps to Teach Kids

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You want your child to eat healthy meals. To drink milk, eat more fruits and vegetables, less candy, and no soda. You want them to have a healthy relationship with food with no fear of new foods or obsession with habitual ones.

In an attempt to achieve that, parents form their definition and checklist of healthy foods. Food rules get created; no sugar, no candy, no preservatives, and the list can go on. Before they realize it, they take the joy out of eating, especially healthy foods.

Teaching your child to eat healthful and mindful can start as early as toddlerhood. While mindfulness seems like a new health trend, your child is born a pro. Infants and toddlers are connected to their senses; they look, feel, smell, and taste their food before they eat. The younger the child, the closer he is to mindful eating.

The parents’ role is to use mindful eating techniques to help the child self-select healthier foods. Set your child up for success by practicing these strategies:

  1. Accept that each person is different and unique, including your child. There’s no right or wrong way of eating, instead, there’s a variety of ways and food experiences.
  2. Consider the concept of Division of Responsibility. Parents decide:
    • What to offer -healthy foods
    • When – meals times, not grazing throughout the day
    • Where – in an environment supportive of feeding

    The Child decides:

    • If she’s going to eat and how much.

    New to some parents and difficult to adopt for others, consider how you can apply this concept with your child.

  3. Talk about food. Toddlers are learning colors, shapes, and textures, and food is the perfect teaching tool. During conversations, discuss what a healthy food is. They don’t have a big understanding of health, so start with the basics.  Instead of classifying food into good and bad, teach them to think of a healthy food as something that will help them grow, get tall, become strong, play more, or run fast. See Give Your Family’s Diet an Honest Look.
  4. Get your child involved in food selection and meal preparation. Comfort foods are taking shape, and habits they develop now will stay with them for years after.
    • Take your child grocery shopping and encourage her to select produce she wants to try.
    • Make a habit of trying one different food, as a family, once a week.
    • Children like to help; let your child wash produce, set the table, toss the salad, sprinkle cheese or spices, or anything safe for her age.
    • Make your child aware of the effort it takes to prepare a healthy meal, let her respect and understand the value of it.
  5. Make meal times for meals only. While it’s tempting to turn the TV on or feed your child when he’s playing, try to avoid doing so. One of the principles of mindful eating is to direct all awareness to the feeding experience. Give him utensils and let him eat on his own (don’t stress about the mess). At least once a day, eat meals together as a family. For younger kids, bring the highchair close to the table, or remove its tray and let your child use the family table.
  6. Be a role model. Your actions and attitudes matter. Children who fear trying new foods have mothers who do too, and children who are picky with vegetables have mothers who don’t vary their vegetable intake. Children want what their parents have, so make sure you are eating healthy foods to nourish your body too. Be aware of how you think of or label foods. Avoid being judgmental. Read more about parent role modeling.
  7. Don’t reward eating a healthy food with something that is not. “If you don’t eat your vegetables, you can’t have dessert.” That implies he has to eat something nasty or causes discomfort to get something that is sweet, delicious, and triggers joy. This does not encourage your child to love eating vegetables. It also makes him attach happiness and success to unhealthy foods. Instead, make fruits and vegetables festive, reward with fun activities or special attention, and offer dessert occasionally, detached from eating any other food. Learn more about avoiding food as a reward.
  8. Be patient and continue to offer a variety of foods. When your child refuses to eat something, ask her why. Help her acknowledge what caused her response: is it taste, smell, texture, or temperature? Remember that it takes 10 to 15 times for children to trust and try a new food. Offer it in different cooking methods, shapes, temperatures, and offer something that looks good. Let her move it around on her plate, and she will eventually make that jump from a food in her hand to a food in her mouth.
  9. Abandon food rules. Create too many unattainable rules you can’t keep and end up with power struggles with your child. Be strict about the rules and risk raising a child that fears or over-control his intake. While general guidelines help your family be well nourished, be careful not to go overboard. Remember that your child is developing impressions and attitudes towards food. Instead of countless rules, stick to a simple one: if you ate it once today, you can’t eat it again.
  10. Take it easy. They won’t eat the way you want all the time. Have an occasional treat, and allow your child to experiment with all foods. Most important of all, don’t take the pleasure out of food. Create healthy eating memories, and at the same time, don’t surrender or become a short-order cook. If they don’t eat what you’ve offered for one meal, hunger will eventually kick in.

Test Your Knowledge
The best thing for your child to do while eating is:
a. Watching TV
b. Focusing on the food and eating experience
c. Playing with toys
Answer:
b. Focusing on the food and eating experience
If your child refused to eat a food more than 3 times, you should:
a. Respect her wishes and never offer the food again
b. Force her to eat the food
c. Keep trying again, offering it in a different texture, shape, or temperature
Answer:
c. Keep trying again, offering it in a different texture, shape, or temperature

 



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About the Author

Nour is a registered dietitian nutritionist. She specializes in functional nutritional therapies and coaching for digestive health, weight loss, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, food sensitivities, migraines and headaches, fatigue, fibromyalgia, eczema, hyperactivity, and autism. She sees patients in her office in Herndon, Northern Virginia, and offers coaching through phone and Skype. Nour has intensive functional nutrition training and constantly attends conferences and workshops to gain more knowledge and skills to better help her patients. Nour has been interviewed paper and online publications. When not working, Nour likes to have a good time with family and friends. Whenever possible, she’d rather be under the blue sky.


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