Making it Mindful – Evaluating Effort

By Megrette Fletcher M.Ed., RD, CDE

Now that you know what a carbohydrate is, the role of fiber in promoting balanced energy and health, and how food processing changes the nutrient density of food, you are wondering how to put it all together! Keep in mind that most foods are processed, so avoiding all processed foods may not be possible or practical because life gets busy and doesn’t always follow our best plan. What to do?

Mindful eating is very focused on behavior. It asks you to shift your focus from achieving a specific outcome to how much effort a behavior takes. To help your children understand effort, you will need to create an effective way to communicate the concept of effort, not just for the child but also for yourself.

Evaluating Effort (1)The tool that I have found the most effective to evaluate and communicate effort is the red, yellow and green effort gauge, which is pictured in above. Show this to your child and explain what each color means.

Red = a lot of effort. You might be able to be in the red for a short time. Staying in the red for a long time is hard and often painful. Staying in the red zone is a short-term, temporary change.

Yellow = is a moderate amount of effort. You would be able to stay in the yellow for a very long time. The yellow zone is a balance of effort and comfort, a place where you feel as if you are working, changing, making progress.

Green = is a very easy amount of effort. You would be able to stay in the green zone forever, but nothing would get done, nothing would change. The green zone can often become so easy, you might feel lazy or even bored.

If your children want processed foods instead of less-processed foods, I can empathize. Like every parent, I have had that day, week or month when dinnertime harmony is an essential nutrient! Like you, I wanted to serve the lower-nutrient, more processed comfort foods to avoid a food fight! What to do then? The mindful eating perspective takes a step back. Ask yourself, how much effort can I give to changing my family’s diet? You want to identify tips and cooking hacks that will keep you in the yellow zone. Avoid diets, ideas and hacks that you think will put you in the red zone. If you find a change that was easy to make, and you are thinking, I am in the green zone, step up your game and do more to move back into the yellow zone. Remember the yellow zone is a balance between effort and comfort!

There are many reasons changing your family diet is challenging. This is why Discover Mindful Eating for Kids has a four-part change format: Discover, Explore, Play and Challenge. Start each idea for change in the Discover mode! Since we are talking about carbohydrates, fiber, and eating foods that are less processed, I suggest starting to discover as much as you can about these three topics. You might even spend time reading about different types of carbohydrate foods, such as ancient grains or exotic fruits, and exploring different types of milk, from cow’s milk to nondairy products, including soy, rice, almond and hemp milk. In the Discover phase, you need to give yourself permission to learn! You can discover if there are less-processed alternatives to your favorite “junk” foods. You can also learn more about fiber in your family’s diet, reading labels or trying a new food app, like Fooducate, to help you learn about more food options.

Now move to the Explore phase. Maybe purchase different whole grain breads and cereals and see if you like any of them. Purchase an ancient grain or exotic fruit, make a few recipes, and really kick the tires of this dietary change. You haven’t committed to anything; you are just narrowing your choices and really exploring your options!

Here is our story about 5-grain cereal. My oldest daughter is more adventurous with food than most kids. We were shopping, and she wanted to purchase frozen 5-grain cereal. I said sure. We got it, and she really liked eating it for breakfast. It was yummy, and filling, but it was sold in a store that is far from our house and it was also very expensive. We “Discovered” that 5-grain hot cereal was a great breakfast option, but we needed to “Explore” alternatives because the availability and cost just weren’t working for our family. I was sharing this story with a friend, who said, “I have a recipe. We make that all the time at home. We soak the grains overnight and make a pot on Sunday. Then we keep it in the fridge and eat it throughout the week.” I talked to my daughter, who loved the idea. We purchased the ingredients, and one winter, we had this 5-grain cereal almost every morning! We “Played” with each batch, trying different grains, adding nuts and fruit, topping it with yogurt or different types of milk. Then spring arrived, and hot cereal wasn’t really what we wanted. Soon our 5-grain cereal was forgotten. The next winter came, and I kept hinting to my daughter to start making our satisfying hot breakfast again. She was busy, things got in the way of her cooking, and I could see we had fallen into the typical breakfast rut. I mentioned again the joy of our hot cereal breakfast, and she said, “Mom, that is too much effort for me to make it in the morning.” I knew my daughter was in the red zone. I challenged myself to step up and get out of my comfortable green zone and make this hot cereal. When I did, my daughter was so grateful for the new breakfast option, but she did mention that her recipe was better than mine. We laughed, and the 5-cereal breakfast challenge was on! I played with the recipe to find the combinations of grains, fruits, and nuts we liked the best.

This story shows that changing your family’s diet isn’t something that just happens. Take the slow approach, change at a rate that keeps you in the yellow zone, and remember it is helpful to follow a format that allows you to Discover, Explore, Play and Challenge yourself. 

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