For many families, it’s incredibly easy to take food for granted. As long as the kids are fed regularly and eat some veggies here and there, you should be in good shape, right?
Not so fast! Sometimes it’s not as easy as that. You may have noticed it with your kids, or kids that you know. Not only do they eat chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese a bit too regularly, but it’s also often the only thing they will eat willingly.
Regardless of what your family’s eating habits are, working the concept of mindful eating into your routine can only be a really great thing. Here’s a look at what mindful eating is, how to embrace it as a family, and the benefits it can provide.
What Is Mindful Eating?
At its most basic level, eating mindfully is exactly what it sounds like. Have you heard the term “eating mindlessly?” Mindful eating is the exact opposite!
Eating mindlessly is a common side effect of taking food for granted. Sometimes, we turn our brains off when it comes to eating, not really tasting it or thinking about where our dinner actually came from. You plop down on the couch in front of the TV with a bowl of popcorn and suddenly the popcorn is all gone. But did you really taste or enjoy the popcorn? That’s where mindful eating comes in.
Mindful eating involves thinking about every aspect of your food. So it’s not only what you’re eating, but also when and why you’re eating what you are. It also includes examining your feelings and emotions during and after eating.
Being thoughtful about what you’re eating is also a huge component. This includes reflecting on where your food came from, whether it was grown or raised organically, how it was prepared, who might have grown and/or killed it, and whether or not it includes processed ingredients.
It’s an acquired skill and it may seem tedious at times. When done correctly, though, mindful eating can have many physical and emotional benefits.
Encouraging the Family to Eat Mindfully
If learning to eat mindfully is a challenge for adults, you know that getting your family to do it could be even harder.
There are many ways parents can introduce the concept of mindful eating to their children, but, like anything, it all starts with leading by example.
First, get into the habit of eating when your bodies tell you to, rather than eating for the sake of eating. Learning to eat mindfully in a larger sense takes discipline, but allowing your body to tell you when it’s time to eat is a natural skill we’re all born with.
It can sometimes be difficult due to the busy-ness of your day-to-day schedule, but it helps to have at least one meal per day with the whole family present. This can help the kids learn to eat more slowly and actually connect mealtime with enjoyment.
Another good strategy is to get the kids to help shop for and prepare your food. While doing so, you can talk to them about where all of your food comes from, which will hopefully help to teach them not to take their food for granted.
You should also try to encourage your kids to be curious about food and become willing to try new things. This includes trying foods and dishes from other cultures. The closer kids get to the habit of being open to new foods, the further they’ll be from the daily chicken nuggets/mac and cheese diet.
Also, while you may want to avoid being overly preachy, talk to your kids about the health benefits and limitations of each kind of food. This part can be an educational endeavor for the entire family.
Why Mindful Eating Is Important
There are many benefits to eating mindfully. At its best, teaching your kids the habit of mindful eating will help them live happier and healthier lives.
We’ve already mentioned some of the benefits of mindful eating in passing. Some of this is about getting your kids to think critically about the food they consume, as well as when and how often they consume it.
Another big part of the mindful eating concept is how you and your family eat. This includes not eating too fast, an all-too-familiar trait for many who attempt to cram meals into their overly busy schedules.
Eating mindfully is a good opportunity to teach your kids about the spectrum of food nutrition. This includes being thoughtful about the nutrients and health benefits of individual foods. For example, foods like ginger and kimchi are great for digestion and cucumbers are great for detoxification. Making your mindful meal times teachable moments for your children will allow them to really understand why we eat what we eat.
It’s also worth thinking about the manner in which you eat. When you eat quickly, you likely don’t chew your food enough. It can take 30 chews or more to properly prepare your food for digestion. Fully chewing food is a great habit to get your kids into, both for healthy digestion and also to avoid overeating.
One aspect of mindful eating that often gets overlooked is that it should apply just as much too unhealthy foods as it does to the healthiest of organic options. Nobody is going to make healthy food decisions 100 percent of the time, but it’s important to be mindful of the decisions you do make and to teach your children about the importance of balance.
Teach your kids to be mindful of things such as sweets, or overly salty or greasy foods. This requires a bit more than just advising them to avoid these foods at all costs. That’s not realistic –, especially for kids! An occasional piece of deep-fried chicken or pepperoni pizza is not the end of the world.
Teaching balance is about being attentive to what you and your family are putting into your bodies, and realizing that tasty but not-so-healthy options are okay from time to time when enjoyed responsibly. Moderation is the key.
In the end, truly mindful eating isn’t something most people can pick up overnight. And that’s okay – really! It takes time and discipline to learn the ins and outs of the mindful eating lifestyle. It will take even more time and patience to teach and instill those same values into the rest of your family.
It’s a challenge that’s well worth the effort, though. The end result will be a happier and healthier family that does not treat food as an afterthought, but rather respects and appreciates everything you consume.