5 Fantastic Ways to Teach Your Baby Mindful Eating

It seems like everywhere I turn these days I come across people talking about mindful eating. I couldn’t be happier about it. It’s something that I’ve valued and taught in my 20 plus years of nutrition experience. Why is mindful eating so important? It’s important because mindful eating is a key to having a healthy relationship with food. And in turn, having a healthy relationship with food is a key component of true healthy eating – real wellness.

Even though I wrote the title of this post myself, to be really accurate I should call these ‘ways to prevent your baby from becoming a mindless eater’. Babies are naturally mindful eaters. Unfortunately, we’re taught to become mindless eaters by our experiences in life. As such, these tips that I’m sharing with you today are really about how to avoid starting your child down the wrong path.

#1: Eat With Your Baby

Eating is a social activity. In every culture around the word, people gather to share food. Babies simply eat better when a trusted adult eats with them. Join your child for both meals and snacks. As your baby’s nap routine changes, move their solid food feeding times to match when you eat meals. Bring your baby to the table for meals. Offer finger food versions of foods that you are eating at that meal. Depending on what you are eating, either offer just finger-food versions of your meal or some finger food versions of your meal in addition to baby food. Join your child for snacks too. Even if you don’t need a full snack yourself at that time, perhaps you can share some fruit or veggies in common (most of us could use to eat more fruit and veggies). Or just have a glass of water or coffee/tea. It may not work in your schedule for every meal and snack, but the more the better.

#2: Sit to Eat

It’s so common to eat on the run now. We eat in our car, at our work desks, and while walking down the street. Unfortunately this is another example where multi-tasking isn’t actually helping us out. Kids are easily distracted. They just can’t do as good a job at feeding themselves when multitasking. This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever leave the house again. Sit on a blanket at the park and have a snack picnic. Use a table at the food court at the mall to eat your meal (even if you packed it rom home). Stop for a few minutes after swimming lessons to sit on the bench in the foyer and eat your snack. An added benefit: kids who are used to stopping and sitting to eat, become quick eaters. They get down to the task of eating and in just a few minutes, you’ll be done and back living your busy life. It can actually save time to stop, sit and eat with your child instead of eating on the run.

#3: No Screens

When it’s time to eat, turn off the TV and put the iPad away. Yes, this means putting your phone away too. Why do parents resort to using screens during meals and snacks? Because it gets more food in the child. However, when kids are staring at screens, they can’t listen to their bodies’ own hunger and fullness cues. They’re just too distracted by the screen. So while you may get food in today, you are teaching your child to not listen to their own body’s hunger and satiety cues. And, you’re teaching them to overeat. This strategy is just not worth it. It’s normal for kids to eat a lot one day and very little another day. I recognize that it can be disconcerting as a parent to see your child eat very little. However, when kids choose how much they eat, they regulate their food intake well and have a healthy growth pattern. There are many strategies to ensure that your child is getting enough to eat. Teaching them to mindlessly feed themselves isn’t a successful one.

#4: Pleasant Conversation Only

You want your child to associate eating with happy memories. Meals and snacks aren’t the times to be reviewing what your child did wrong today. Nor are they the time for nagging or family arguments. Create a family routine of having everyone take turns talking about their days. Yes, you can even do this if it’s just you and your baby. While your baby may not yet understand the words that you are saying, they can pick up on your energy and tone of voice. You’re establishing a routine where the table is a place to which they look forward to coming – not a place from which they want to run screaming.

#5 Role Model Trying New Food

Babies are little sponges. They observe everything that you do and copy it. Be honest with yourself. When was the last time that you tried a new food? Being open to trying new things is a part of having a healthy relationship with food. If you want your baby to be open to trying new foods, you need to walk the talk. Note that this doesn’t include pretending to like something. Mindfulness doesn’t include deception or being fake. If you try something and don’t like it, it’s an opportunity for you to role model staying calm (and having good manners) in this situation.

Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD helps moms and dads support your picky kids to get good nutrition today…and instill a life-long love of healthy eating.

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