Mindful eating for children

Mealtimes can be chaotic when you’ve got children, but it’s worth taking a breather by introducing your child to mindful eating.

Mindfulness is all about being fully present in the moment, focusing fully on what you’re feeling and doing. You might think about it as something you do to calm anxiety, but it can also work during mealtimes to help you (and your kids) truly savour what you eat.  

How to help your child to eat more mindfully 

Mindful eating can help children who eat too fast to slow down, and children who don’t eat enough of the right foods to explore new things. It’s all about paying attention to eating without distractions, and focusing on the textures, tastes and smells of food. Here are some easy ways you can try it with your kids. 

  • Before you start, make sure mealtimes are a space where you’re focusing on eating and nothing else. That means no screens and no TV on in the background. If you’ve got a dining table, sit at it together.  
  • Talk about it. Chat to each other about what you’re eating. Talk about what it looks like, what it feels like when you hold it, what it feels like in your mouth, and what it tastes like. This is especially helpful if your child is reluctant to try something new. Just make sure there’s no pressure, and that you’re doing it together. 
  • Slow down. Encourage your child to take small bites and to chew thoroughly. Make sure mealtimes aren’t too late in the day, and that you leave enough time before having to go somewhere or do something. It’s not nice to be pressured to eat your food quickly because you’re in a rush, especially if it’s something you’re not sure about! 
  • Embrace the mess. This isn’t the time to be overly concerned about mess. Don’t stress about spills and splatters, things can always be cleaned up after the mealtime is over, or you can buy a cheap wipe clean tablecloth and floor protector to keep things tidy. Most foods will wash out of clothes, and as for your child, they can go straight in the bath or shower if they get messy! Letting your child explore foods with their hands and enjoying sensory play is a fantastic way of building a positive relationship with food, so it’s well worth putting up with the mess. 

The benefits of eating mindfully 

  • Improved digestion. Taking your time when eating and chewing food properly (as opposed to gulping it down!) aids digestion, which should help to cut down on things like heartburn and indigestion.  
  • Bonding over meals. Making an occasion of mealtimes is a great way of getting the family together, even if you can’t do it every time. Sharing experiences while you eat and talking about your days is something that can bring everyone closer together and will make your child feel positively about mealtimes. 
  • Being in touch with your body. When you start eating mindfully, you’ll start to connect better with your body. It’s not unusual to find that children who focus on eating mindfully have a better understanding of their hunger and fullness cues, which should help to cut down on overeating. 
  • Stress reduction. Taking time out to enjoy a family mealtime and to focus on the present creates a calming atmosphere that will help children (and adults alike) manage stress. 

Remember, you don’t have to be perfect at eating mindfully to give it a go! There will always be days when you’re just trying to get some food in the kids before doing the next thing on your busy to-do list, but if you can do it at least some of the time it’ll go a long way to helping your children with their relationship with food.