Why mindful eating is important for families
Eating mindfully can help children develop healthy eating habits. Here are five tips to ensure the whole family enjoys mealtimes
What is mindfulness?
Do you ever feel that you’re racing between home, school, work and the kids’ activities, without coming up for air? Mindfulness is an approach, a bit like meditation, that encourages us to pause and take a moment to reflect on what’s going on around us and how we are feeling. Both kids and adults alike can learn techniques that will help them to live more mindfully and become calmer and more centred.
Why is mindfulness important at mealtimes?
When we’re busy, it’s easy to eat on the go, rushing meals before getting on with the next part of our day. Mindful eating centres on trying to slow down at mealtimes, removing distractions and taking time to enjoy the food in front of us. A growing body of research suggests that this more thoughtful approach to eating may be associated with making more nutritious choices. In other words, if we stop to think about it, we’re less likely to refuel quickly on junk and more likely to give our bodies the goodness we need to function at our best. When we slow down to eat, we also help our stomach digest, our minds settle and our tastebuds savour our food.
If we can find techniques to help us eat more mindfully, our habits around mealtimes can drastically improve. And, while it’s probably unrealistic for us to adopt mindful eating at every mealtime, we can still reap the benefits whenever we do have the opportunity.
Five tips to help your family with mindful eating
1. Eat together at the table
Sitting down to share a meal together is one of life’s most straightforward pleasures. Family meals are a simple way to connect, hear about one another’s days and help children both learn about food and build healthy relationships around eating. Furthermore, while we all love family movie night on the sofa sometimes, eating at the table encourages better posture, which in turn aids digestion.
2. Make time for meals
Even on busy days, try to break from whatever you’re all doing to eat, even if you can only afford a few moments. Hurrying over food and shovelling it down on the go doesn’t give your body time to digest. Planning ahead by prepping nutritious snacks or healthy lunchboxes can lend you all a little more time to actually eat, rather than grabbing last-minute at the first food available (often not the healthiest choice). When we’re tired and hungry, we also often make less wholesome choices – so meal-prepping ahead can mean sticking to healthier habits. Find a quiet moment each weekend to plan meals, write a shopping list and organise yourself for the week ahead. It’ll save you money and pay dividends on hectic weeknights when you can come home to a pre-planned, nutritious meal rather than fretting about what to cook at the last minute.
3. Stick to regular mealtimes
Teenagers in particular can develop irregular mindless eating patterns, skipping breakfast, grazing through the day and snacking late at night. Sugary biscuits or junk food snacks lead to short-term energy spikes followed by blood-sugar crashes. Conversely, eating substantial meals based on complex carbohydrates will give them the sustained energy they need for the day, as well as regulating their mood, improving sleep and aiding concentration. A nutritious day’s meals could be overnight oats for breakfast (which can be prepped ahead), a Buddha bowl for lunch and veggie-loaded noodles for dinner.
4. Avoid eating in front of screens
When we look at a screen while eating – whether it’s a laptop, smartphone or television – we pay less attention to what we’re eating and miss cues associated with appetite and satiety. Think about the last time you went to the cinema and ate through a tub of popcorn without really noticing. It’s very easy to eat without savouring the food or realising you’ve eaten enough. If we remove distractions, we tend to stick to sensible portions, as well as relishing the food in front of us.
5. Enjoy your food!
Teach your kids the life skill of cooking, and get them to help with meal prep. Try different cuisines, ingredients or cooking techniques, and eat out together. Visit food markets and take cooking classes with one another. Be a role model for healthy eating, so your kids learn the value of good nutrition. Ensure they know the difference between junk and whole foods as they grow up, but also let them know that chocolate and kale both have a place in a balanced diet. The more you all value healthy food, the more time you’ll take to appreciate it, and the more your body will thank you.
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