Being a mum is no easy task. Maybe you’re operating on very little sleep. Maybe you rush from daycare to work back to daycare. Or maybe you are home all day doing the best you can to stay present with your little ones. Then dinner time arrives. Exhaustive meal planning, eating on-the-run, and impatient children ready to leave the table are all common scenarios. I recognize that mealtimes can be a stressful time for mums. Thankfully, incorporating mindfulness into your family meals can be an enjoyably simple antidote to this stress.
Does the word ‘mindful’ bring to mind an image of someone sitting on the floor cross-legged, eyes closed? Or someone who walks slowly through a crowd, speaking gently and quietly to those around them? You are not alone. So, how then, can one bring mindfulness into the meals they share with children? Children are clearly not wired for long periods of sitting and quiet speaking. I’m here to offer you another perspective and some new ideas to try!
What mindful eating means to me is this: Being present with food as I eat it, being present with those I am sharing the meal with, being present with myself if I am alone, and being aware of my hunger and fullness levels throughout the meal. Now this, children can do. And you, as a mum, will reap the benefits of slowing down, possibly getting a laugh or two in, and connecting with yourself after a long day.
Here are 6 playful ideas to bring some fun, creativity, connection, and mindfulness into your mealtimes as a family!
- Get the kids involved! Mums, do you want a break? How about planning a meal that is easy enough for the kids to do most of the cooking? Not only are you able to step back and take a breather, allowing your children to prepare their own food greatly increases their appreciation of it as they eat!
- Use chopsticks every once and a while! If you’ve ever eaten with chopsticks then you know that careful attention must be placed on the food for its entire journey from plate to mouth. Introducing your children to chopsticks is a fun way to slow down meal time and encourage children to be more aware of the food they are eating.
- Take turns guessing the ingredients and different flavors of the food you are eating. This one is especially fun for soups, casseroles, and dishes with multiple ingredients! While dining, go around the table and take turns trying to guess what the meal is made of. This encourages children and parents to approach their food with curiosity and awareness.
- Eat outside! For this one, I encourage all you mums to keep a spare picnic blanket in your car and house. I know life is busy and mealtimes are not always a relaxing experience with a generous timeframe. However, if you have 10 extra minutes between soccer practice and dance lessons, whip out the picnic blanket at the end of soccer and have an impromptu picnic instead of eating in the car. Being outside naturally eliminates the distraction of televisions, tablets, and other house toys while simultaneously providing children with something they need more of: nature. Additionally, this gives you as the mum a chance to let the great outdoors do the entertaining while you sit back and take some deep breaths, enjoy your meal, and be present before moving on to the next activity.
- Use creative metaphors to check in on hunger and fullness levels . Asking children if they are hungry can often result in a “yes,” “no,” or “maybe so” depending on your child’s lean. Prior to a meal, during a meal, and after a meal it may be helpful to provide your child with a prompt such as, “I’m hungry enough to eat a _____” or “My tummy could hold a _____ right now!” Encourage children to use the size of animals and objects as a way to accurately express how hungry or full they are. Not only does this help you gather more information about their hunger or fullness levels, it also encourages your children to check in with their bodies!
- Eat by candlelight! Set up some candles, maybe toss a tablecloth on the table, and make dinner a special occasion! Not only is candlelight proven to be one of the healthiest forms of light for our psyche, candles set a mood! This mood communicates to children and parents that this meal is a unique experience amidst the hustle and bustle of your day. Who doesn’t get excited by special occasions?
Try some things out and let me know how it goes! Feel free to share any other ideas you have for creating more mindful mealtimes!
Chelsea Hester is a passionate coach, writer, and public speaker working in the field of food and body image. Currently residing in South Carolina, Chelsea is a lover of life, children, families, Broadway, nature, and staying playful. Chelsea provides 1-on-1 coaching and public speaking to those seeking support. Learn more about Chelsea on her website, www.chelseahester.com