The thought of sitting at the dinner table can conjure up all sort of emotions. Some families use this time to re-connect and spend quality time together, whereas for some families, it can be a time of anxiety. One anxiety inducing element to a family dinner is encouraging children to try new foods. I heard of a child once who refused to eat anything but marmite sandwiches…apparently for a number of years. You could try something new and turn the introduction of new foods into a “mindful game”. If you research mindful eating you are bound to come across the “raisin exercise” which is used widely to teach people about mindful eating. But, you could use the mindful eating game to encourage your children to try new fruits (maybe even veggies, although that might be less successful). Research has suggested that eating mindfully will help improve digestion, regulating our appetite, allowing us to make better food choices and prevent us from over eating.
How do we go about eating mindfully? In essence, to eat mindfully, we need to slow down and really taste, smell and feel the texture of our food avoiding the temptation to wolf our food down. Fruit snacks are a good way to introduce mindful eating to children. It might be harder to ask younger children to sit quietly whilst you explain to them that they are going to try a mindfulness exercise or mindful eating game, so turn this exercise into a family event. The best time to introduce mindful eating could be at the dinner table. You could call this new game, “guess what I am eating” or maybe you can think of a more interesting title.
Start by selecting some fruits (or other foods) which you place on a selection of covered small plates. The first person selects a plate and when everyone else has their eyes closed, unveils what they need to eat and describe to the group. The person doing the describing, really needs to pay attention to the food and explain it in all its glorious detail to the rest of the family who need to guess what the food is. The person who guesses correctly first, could be the next person to eat an item of food and explain it to the rest of the group who will again have their eyes closed.
Below are some tips for eating mindfully and really paying attention to every aspect of the food you are eating.
- Is the food heavy or light?
- Does the food feel warm or cool?
- Is the food smooth or rough?
- What do you see? In, other words describe what the food looks like in as much detail as possible.
- Is the food one colour?
- What can you tell the group about the shape and texture of the food?
- You can delve deeper into where the food came from, how it grew (fruit,veggies etc), how it was processed before you were able to buy it, where you bought it from and so on. By this stage your group might have guessed what the food is.
- Bring your families attention to the smell of the food. Some smells will be very subtle and much harder to describe.
- How does the smell of the food make you feel?
- Slowly bite and take one chew at a time noticing how the taste changes. Focus all your attention on your mouth, how do your teeth feel, how does your tongue feel? What do you smell? How does the fruit feel in your hand/mouth etc.
Have the rest of the group guessed what food you are describing yet?
Once the group have guessed the food and before the next person has a turn describing the food for the group, everyone should taste the food that was being described and eat the piece of fruit or food of choice very slowly taking in all the smells, tastes and sensations. At first this will seem very odd as it may take quite a while to eat the food, which can make some people feel the exercise is a bit silly and raise a few laughs! Compare notes. Did the rest of the group taste and smell and feel the texture of the food the same way you described it?
Eating mindfully can seem very strange at first, as we have become accustomed to eating fast and for some eating on the run without even sitting at a table, has become the norm. Our modern lives seem to be eroding this precious family time, so with a bit of coaxing and taking a relaxed approach to this fun exercise, mealtimes could become fun again and an opportunity for families to slow down and reconnect. You may even find that your children start eating different foods when they realise that after a bit of mindful eating, they do actually like them.
Contact me here to find out about developing your own meditation practice and learning how to facilitate mindfulness in children and teenagers.