Macronutrients Are About Energy!

By Megrette Fletcher M.Ed, RD, CDE

Trying to understand the latest nutrition information is confusing. There appear to be heaps of foods and chemicals to avoid, leaving very little left to eat! If you aren’t sure what to feed your family, join me in learning about nutrition, specifically macronutrients!

June images macronutrients.001What is a macronutrient? The easiest way to identify a macronutrient is to see if it contains calories. Before you roll your eyes and think OMG another list to memorize, please know that there are only four macronutrients! If you are trying to remember what these mysterious four macronutrients are, let me help jog your memory: carbohydrates, fat, protein, and alcohol. These fabulous four macronutrients provide your body with 100 percent of your energy needs. If you are feeling a dip in your energy before or after eating, consider playing with the balance of your macronutrients.

The media and popular weight-loss experts promote one extreme diet after another. What these diets have in common is a restrictive eating focus and a promise to lose weight and be thin. This emphasis on weight and weight loss minimizes the importance of eating a balanced diet. As a parent, teaching our children about a balanced diet is essential because a child’s body is always changing, growing and adapting. I hear every day how parents are consumed by trying to feed themselves and their families. The outcome of this is feeling trapped by the desire to be “perfect” and “thin.” This just fuels an all-too-familiar cycle of temptation and deprivation at each meal, which results in “joyless eating.” 

June images macronutrients.002It breaks my heart when my families are told to follow a plan that is laced with guilt, shame and fear. Mindful eating offers, a gentler approach, which begins by understanding no one is “perfect.” We are all trying to find a balance between our wants and needs and our all-too-human cravings. If you and your family are ready to break free of the restrictive eating cycle, join me in learning about mindful eating and macronutrients – sign up to receive more blogs about mindful eating and nutrition. 

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The “Choice” Challenge

By Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDE

For the last month, we have been talking about choice. Now it is time to create a change challenge about choice. In all challenges, you can choose to do this once (recommended) or for a span of time, say, a week (suggested after you have tried the challenge for a day). After you have done a change once and then expanded for a set period (say, a week), you can continue to expand your span (two weeks or a month) and evaluate the results.

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Like all changes, often the most difficult is creating a way to remember to do the new behavior. An effective way to remember is to pair the new behavior with an anchor behavior, which is described as a well-established action that you don’t need to be reminded of. For myself, my morning cup of coffee is a great anchor that I never forget! I have associated taking my morning medication, changing over the laundry and feeding the dog and cats as activities I do before or immediately after pouring my first cup of java!

Challenge yourself in a fun way!

Challenging yourself in a fun way may require some creative thinking. Here are suggestions from Dr. BJ Fogg for the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab.

Make sure to celebrate your success immediately after you do something. He calls these “celebrations,” and he has 10 attaboys that range from saying “I’m awesome” to a little dance. 

Associate the desired change with an anchor behavior described above.

Try to do the change after you have done something. For example: After I pour my coffee, I will take my pills. Or, After I brush my teeth, I will …, After I sit down to eat a meal, I will…, After I go the bathroom, I will… or After I take off my coat, I will…

Make the challenge really, really, really small. When something takes a lot of effort, it requires an equal amount of motivation. So, if your choice challenge is hard, you will need to import the motivation to keep with it. He suggests creating small changes that require very little motivation to complete. To learn more about BJ Fogg, watch this excellent TED video! Forget Big Change.

Challenging my choices!

Create a challenge that helps you become more aware of choice. These could be about selection, amount, choices about eating, stopping, or if you are attracted to food or not. Here are a few suggestions to consider:

When you select any food, use the kinetic activity with your hands (see post) to get a sense of your gut response to food. Here’s how this challenge might look:

After I have portioned my meal or snack, I will pause and position my hands in either palm up, receiving position or in a stop mode. I will notice if I have one hand receiving and the other hand as the stop. This challenge will help me recognize any deeper gut feelings, including foods I overeat and foods I might be resistant to eat.

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.010Challenge yourself to notice the two parts of every food choice: What and how much. Here’s how this challenge might look:

Before making a selection of what to eat, I will challenge myself to choose a food that does not harm my body (and may benefit it). If I am unable to choose a food that will not harm me, I will focus on the amount eaten.

After making a selection of what to eat, I will challenge myself to choose an amount that does not harm my body (and may benefit it).

Challenge your level of curiosity. Here’s how this challenge might look:

After taking a few bites of food, start to ask questions. (You can choose one below or make up your own.)

  • “Am I still hungry or am I feeling full?
  • “Am I enjoying myself?”
  • “How much pleasure is this bite giving me?”
  • “Does this still taste good to me?”

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Choice Begins with WHY?

By Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDE

Having a choice is at the heart of mindful eating, and the ability to choose creates autonomy, independence and confidence around food and eating. How can such a seemingly small thing have such a big outcome? Choice is asking you to check in and learn, “Why am I eating this food?” You are no longer passively receiving food but actively choosing it! The benefits of having a choice don’t stop there. Asking questions stimulate learning, allowing you to adapt, change and modify a situation based on your needs.

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Try it yourself!

The next time you decide to eat, ask yourself, “Why?” Why am I choosing this food instead of that food? You may begin to see patterns or start to uncover something deeper about your motives, which is great. However, if this idea of asking “Why?” has left you feeling empty with a sense of having absolutely no clue, don’t despair. Most decisions regarding food and eating can be divided into two groups: internal and external cues, triggers or reasons.   

Internal cues are information that only you know. This would include influences like hunger, fullness, likes, dislikes, preferences, attitudes and memories or associations. External cues are information that is known by everyone or obtained from outside tests and measures. Typically, if you need a machine or a tool, it is considered external information. Examples of external influences include clocks, food labels, blood sugar or cholesterol levels, temperature, or portion size. All of these examples need some sort of tool or device to obtain the data. External information can also include other people, environment, and atmosphere.

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Resist thinking that one of these groups is “good” and the other “bad.” That binary view is not accurate and often triggers feelings of guilt, fear and shame. Instead, try to realize that food and eating choices are a blend and balance of both internal and external reasons. The key is understanding why you are choosing to eat. The moment you ask, “Why?” you are taking steps to counter mindless eating. It is amazing to realize what a person will eat, even if it tastes bad. In the book Mindless Eating, author Brian Wansink shares an example of how an external trigger, people eating popcorn, can cause someone to eat stale popcorn. Really? He did an experiment and found that if you are offered free stale popcorn and you hear other people eating popcorn, you will start eating it, even if it is gross and unappealing! 

The key is to check in with those internal cues to decide if eating stale popcorn is enjoyable. Being able to stop eating something that tastes bad, like stale popcorn, may not seem like a huge skill, but it really is. Mindful eating works by asking you to “check in.” Sure, you might be triggered to taste the popcorn, but you don’t have to keep eating it if it isn’t enjoyable. This is because you have the choice, and at any point you can ask, “Why am I eating bad-tasting, stale popcorn?” What is driving this choice? Kindhearted curiosity will help you explore and understand the reason for choosing food. Continue asking these friendly, gentle questions to help yourself see the choice in every situation. 

Here are some of my favorites:

  • “Why am I making this choice?”
  • “Am I hungry?”
  • “What does my body need?”
  • “What would help me physically?”
  • “What would taste good to me?”
  • “What are my options?”
  • “Am I still hungry or am I feeling full?
  • “Am I enjoying myself?”
  • “How much pleasure is this bite giving me?”
  • “Does this still taste good to me?”

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Food Choice 101: Selection & Choice

By Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDE

When it comes to food, the idea that you have a choice is often misleading. Most people are surprised to realize they are not making one choice, but two! Every choice you make has two parts: what to eat, or the selection, and how much to eat, or the portion.

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.010This two-part decision-making process is why the logic of “good” and “bad” foods doesn’t work. When a person chooses a “healthy” item and then eats a very large amount, is it still healthy? The health value of any food decreases when it is over consumed. This is because when something is overeaten, it will bring a diet out of balance. The same is true if a person chooses an “unhealthy” item but limits the amount. This smaller portion of unhealthy items doesn’t bring the diet out of balance. In fact, small amounts seem to move the forbidden, unhealthy food into the realm of acceptable. Think for a moment about adding a small amount of food, such as bacon or cheese. Will a sprinkle of bacon or cheese on a salad, casserole or entree ruin the nutrients in these foods? It’s unlikely because the meal and overall diet can handle this tiny amount of “unhealthy” food. The portion doesn’t cause the meal, day or overall diet to be out of balance.

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.008Yes, but there are still foods that are unhealthy, right?

A lot of health messaging encourages people to limit their overall perspective of food to fit into the good/bad food box. If you pause and think about how many calories a moderately active woman would eat in a year (about 657,000 calories) you can quickly see that most diets have wiggle room in them. Even if you overeat 50 percent of your calorie needs (or 900 calories) that represents 0.0013 of your total calories in a year. It is helpful to remember that if you are trying to be “good,” there is room for fun, discovery and adventure in everyone’s meal choices. The key is seeing the bigger picture. For example, if you eat three meals a day, in a year you are eating 1,095 meals. If one of those meals is “bad,” this represents 1/1095 or 0.00091 of your total meals. Choosing to see the big picture shows how insignificant one food or one meal is to your overall health. 

Now you know that the problem isn’t the exception or the infrequent choice. The issue that most people face is the unconscious habit of choosing less-nourishing foods (selection) or overeating (portion) any food, meal after meal, day after day, year after year. Over time, consistently eating low-nutrient foods, overeating any food, or a combination of the two will decrease health.

How mindful eating can help

Becoming more aware, or mindful, can help you uncover the opportunity in your food and eating selections. It is true that this tiny shift in thinking will not overhaul your diet or radically transform your food choice, but it might just be the change you were seeking.  Opening your eyes to opportunity requires you to give yourself time with your food and eating. Moving away from the frantic, rushing, quick, quick, quick mindset is often the most effective change a person can make.

If you are not sure this is the issue, take a minute and add up how much time you spend at each meal choosing, preparing and cooking food? Is it enough to consider the broader view of food and eating? Is it enough to ask and learn if you are selecting nutrient-dense foods at this meal or snack? If you are not choosing nutrient-dense foods, consider asking more questions, like “Why?” Was there a healthier choice available? Did I just not see it because I was so focused on another deadline, problem or issue?  Was there not enough time to prepare or eat a more nutritious item?

More time surrounding your food and eating choices offers an opportunity to pause, evaluate, consider, taste and even savor your selection. If having more time is not possible, consider how you can make it easier to select either a food or portion that will keep your diet in balance. Planning your next step takes time, and so does creating a plan for your meals, to bring lunch or order food from a place that offer more options than a burger and fries.

Many people share another consequence of the rush, rush, rush pace of life; they lack  creative energy and inspiration. The Internet, specifically Pinterest, can help. There are tons of cooking ideas, simple meals and tasty snacks that seem to float around social media. Why not get serious and find a board, a blog or a writer that you enjoy? Acknowledging that your busy life has decreased the time available for meal preparation isn’t a bad thing. If this is true for you, shift your focus to accepting that you have less time and that you would do better to have a plan, a strategy, a way to navigate the two-part process of choice: selection and portion.

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The Gas and Brake in Your Brain

By Megrette Fletcher M.Ed., RD, CDE

Many of our choices are not based in knowledge but on more subtle information.  Your “gut” response to a situation can be categorized as either wanting to go toward a choice or move away from a choice. For example, if I offered you some kale chips, would you move toward them? If the thought of kale chips makes you say, “Yum,” and you feel your salivary glands activate, you are likely to move toward that choice. However, if these dark green crisps aren’t familiar or on your list of delicious foods, you might say, no thank you and moving away from this choice. The desire to move toward or away from a choice is so automatic, it may be completely invisible.

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.001Neuroscientist Daniel Siegel, MD, offers the analogy of a car to understand how a person unconsciously enters into a choice situation. If a person is moving toward something, it is like giving the car some gas. If you’re pressing the gas pedal, you are moving toward a choice. If you don’t wish to move toward something, you use the brake. The gas and brake analogy is helpful to begin to see this invisible force behind the choice.  Modifying this analogy for a child can be done by using a simple kinesthetic learning technique with your hands.

Try it yourself

Look at a choice, such as eating kale chips. Now place your hands in the stop position. Ask yourself if the stop gesture is how you feel about eating the kale chips. Now try turning your hands over, palms up, in the receiving position. Ask yourself if this accepting position is how you feel about the kale chips. Now turn one hand to the stop position and the other hand to the accept position, and ask yourself if this mix of emotions is how I feel about kale chips?

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.002How a person responds to a situation is often a mix of emotions. It isn’t as simple as go or stop, gas or brake. Emotions are mixed, and often parents and children will find they have the brake and gas on at the same time. This creates the feeling of being stuck.

How mindful eating can help

Mindful eating can help by creating a pause. This pause allows people to gain insight to their direct experience, include this subtle gut feeling to a situation. For example, how does my child respond when presented with a new food? Does he move toward it –  hand out – receiving the opportunity? Or does he put on the brake, his hand in a full stop position? Gaining insight to your child’s habitual reaction to a situation can help you and your child untangle thoughts, feelings, and behaviors about choice. For a child, using the hand position to understand this concept of a gut reaction is helpful because it helps a child see her intention to be open, hands and mind in a receiving position; closed, hands and mind in a stop position; or confused with each hand offering a different position.

Understanding and exploring a child’s gut reaction to a situation is part of discovering and exploring the concept of choice. The real choice that you are offering your child goes beyond the acceptance or rejection of a food. It now includes the third choices the ability to be with  the feeling of being unsure, feeling stuck, or being confused by a food choice.

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Giving the Gift of “No. Thank you.”

By Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDE

Teaching a child the value of giving is a noble cause that has gotten a lot of interest. There are loads of great resources on the Internet about how giving builds connections, relationships and feels great! So, you are hooked. I want to teach my kid about giving. How? Learning how to give things, your attention, time and honest feedback is a lifelong skill.

Before you have a conversation with your child, reach inside and ask, “Am I caring for myself while preparing for the holiday?” If you are, congratulations! If you are not, remember this lack of self-care is also something your child is learning.

Dec 2015 giving graphical quotes.003Most parents explain that they are busy, that they don’t have time, that they have so many extra activities during the season their needs are often forgotten. If you are shaking your head and thinking, “I can relate,” here is a gift that will help you and your family in so many ways. It is the gift of saying “No. Thank you.”

Before you ask, “Why would you teach a child to say ‘No. Thank you’?” Ask yourself: Is it a skill I have? Is it a skill I am using? Mindful eating talks a lot about savoring the bite, the taste. It talks about permission to eat, but it is often forgotten in the conversation that everyone needs permission to say “No. Thank you.” To food, and to other things, activities and situations.

When you have so much to say yes to, saying no is forgotten. But this doesn’t change the fact that you can’t eat everything and you don’t have to eat food simply because it is offered. You even don’t have to try food simply because it is there. You don’t have to experience every taste at a party. Mindful eating is about choice, and hopefully half (if not more) of your choices include comfort and ease in saying “No. Thank you.”

The grammar nerds that are reading have noticed the punctuation choice of a period after “No.” This means that there is more than a quick pause. “No,” as written, is a firm declination of the offer. The “Thank you” is a separate thought, offered to acknowledge the kindness behind the offer. 

Try it for yourself. Say “No.” Let your voice drop at the end. Pause for one or two seconds before offering the “Thank you.”

Now lets up the ante and look at a few examples of how to send a clear intention to decline food.

You are in the break room, and someone brought in donuts. The box has been left open, so they are hard and stale. Go ahead, say “No. Thank you.” That was easy because you are not hungry, and the food choice wasn’t very tasty. You can use this skill with your child as well. If the food offered is unappealing, go ahead and practice saying “No. Thank you.” Celebrate the ability to say no, so it feels like a reward instead of deprivation. Start on the easy foods and slowly work up to more challenging situations like the ones below.

You are picking up friends at their house after work. You are not hungry, but the moment you step into the kitchen you notice the plate of brownies and temptation sets in. You want the brownies (which is normal), but you also know there will be more food at the party, and you are not physically hungry. Can you say “No. Thank you”? If you can’t, add the step of empathy. Try this: “Your brownies look wonderful! I am going to resist them because I am not hungry, and there will be loads of food at the party.” You can use this skill of adding empathy about food temptation with your child as well. “Oh, you are right. They look good!” You can ask, “Are you able to resist?” Coach the child because he/she may not realize that more choices will be available. You can also set an expectation that he/she will eat at the party. You can even see if you can save the brownie for the party.

Dec 2015 giving graphical quotes empathy.001Now for the hardest situation. You notice that you are hungry, tired and a little bit frazzled by the day. You find yourself in a food oasis, surrounded by all your favorite chips and desserts, and you can smell peppermint hot chocolate. Your head begins to swirl in a delusional food fantasy. What to do? Here is when using your ability to say no softens. You are going to make a food choice because of the delight it will bring. The key is choice because you know you can’t eat it all. It is hard to make a choice in these situations, so again, begin with self-empathy. “Man, I am so tired and frazzled by the day, it is hard to make a choice.” Now focus on what you would enjoy most. Ask, “What would make me feel the best right now?” Connect with your largest need and then make a plan to meet that need. You can use this skill with your child as well. Empathy first, then begin to advocate self-care when dealing with a very tempting situation. “John, look at this amount of crazy food! Let me help you make a choice.” Scan the situation with your child. Explain, “Let’s look at everything. Come with me and we will walk around and see what is available.” If he sees more than one food that he has to have, comfort him because mindful eating is about choosing between two wonderful things. It isn’t about restriction or deprivation, such as suggesting to a child to choose applesauce instead of apple pie.  The intention is to enjoy food, and that includes enjoying a dessert.

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Getting and Giving

By Megrette Fletcher, MEd RD, CDE

This month, Mindful Eating for Kids is exploring the idea of teaching kids to give. Parents understand that talking about giving, and how to give, is a complex topic. It involves conversations about giving that require you to examine how you give your time, attention and control in the holiday planning.

Talk to your kids not just about what to give but also how to give. Questions help your child learn what makes giving special or yucky to him/her. It takes courage, as a parent, to not sweep the yucky gifting experience under the table. It takes courage to listen to your child express the associated feelings and frustrations of how a gift-giving flop triggers fears of “He doesn’t like me.” It takes patience to keep learning how your child feels about giving different types of items during the holidays. In the Explore phase of change, you and the child are learning about likes, dislikes, wants and needs in an endless conversation that is fueled by curiosity instead of fear, avoidance and wishful thinking. 

Dec 2015 giving graphical quotes.006A lot of people, myself included, struggle with giving because of the unspoken expectations that can be associated with the holiday. Is this true for your child? Getting and giving what everyone else is receiving feels safe but can leave a person feeling empty. Talk with your child to learn if this is part of a larger desire. Resist questions such as, “Michael, what do you want to give your coach, Mr. Dyson?” because you will likely hear “I don’t know” or the usual safe “gift card” response.

Helping your child connect to what he likes about Mr. Dyson will be more effective. “Michael, tell me three things you like about Mr. Dyson.” “What are three things Mr. Dyson values?” If your child can’t come up with any likes or values for the recipient, decide if you are comfortable turning the conversation to what are the expectations and desires surrounding giving. Guide children to reexamine the desire to give: Is it to fit in, influence, or something else? For giving to not feel hollow, it has to come from a place of open-handed generosity. Explore with a child what would feel comfortable to him/her. Would a holiday card feel welcome and valued? Many children are not aware that a card with a heartfelt message, poem or picture is a valuable expression of time and effort.

If you are giving food, ask your child if every gift has to be dessert. Begin this conversation with questions about the values and beliefs of the people receiving the gift. Does Ms. Ways enjoy eating healthy? What are other things to try instead of cookies? Would she enjoy soup, spice mix, hot cocoa mix, or a casserole instead? Does she have a dog? Could we make cookies for her pets, or create a bird tree, or even donate food to a local animal shelter in her name? When a gift reflects the shared connection between two people, the connection is strengthened. This process of connecting is also happening between you and your child while you explore, plan, gather and create. When the process of giving fills a need, eases pain, or soothes a hurt, the gift bears witness to a larger awareness between giver and recipient, making the friendship stronger. The gesture becomes what’s valued, not the thing.

Here is a video of Mr. Rogers as he demonstrates this concept. Mr. Rogers’ words are so heartfelt and genuine that it still makes me cry (so have your tissues ready!).  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcNxY4TudXo

Looking for other resources and ideas?

I am a huge fan of the magazine Chop Chop, and in the tradition of the holiday there is a whole issue about edible gift ideas for kids to make.

Looking for some simple and fun gift ideas? Wellness momma.com offers these yummy combinations with a few money-saving tips (got to love those)! http://wellnessmama.com/4430/homemade-spice-blends/  You can follow her spice board on Pinterest, too!

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Spice up the Curiosity at Home!

The first of the four tools that will help your children become happy, healthy eaters is creating the intention to have them start Discovering new things about nutrition, food and health. When I talk about discovering, it is simply dropping the concept into the childs thoughts. Discovering begins with an introduction to a topic or concept.

cropped-mefk_websiteheader4.jpgI like to think of the Discover phase as a handshake or a brief introduction. You are pairing a name, Hi, I am Megrette,with a face. This is appropriate for very young children. It is easy to forget that they simply dont know things. For example, every child has to discover what a vegetable is. It is easy to forget that a child doesnt know. In the Discover mode, you may say, Did you know green beans are a vegetable?You might discover if a child can name other vegetables. Maybe look at some pictures and pick out other foods that are also vegetables. When I say discover, it is recognizing that many children may not have a clear idea what is or isnt a vegetable. Kids are natural at discovering things, and it can be a fun game to go to a grocery store and ask the children to find other vegetables that they can name! I remember asking my daughter to get some fresh ginger at the store. She looked at me and said, “Which one is ginger?” This made me realize all of the different ways a child could discover something about food, such as how it tastes, or how a spice smells. The possibilities are endless if you discover together. 

Support a sense of curiosity

Approach each eating experience with a sense of wonder and curiosity

Does every child like discovering new things? No. In fact, many children are afraid of new experiences. This was the case with my youngest child. She needed to be introduced to a concept many times before it’s interesting. This reality can often be misinterpreted as “The child is not interested in these activities.” I had to coach myself first to remember there is a spectrum of curiosity that ranges from very interested to refusal, in all phases of learning. I encourage parents to remember that this is normal and that if they have more than one child, to see each child as unique. If one child is interested, it doesn’t guarantee the other child will be receptive. If the child doesn’t seem interested in learning about food or eating, don’t worry – just stay in the Discover phase a little longer. Keep finding new things to point out. Interest and motivation are two dynamic aspects of learning and behavior that have normal highs and lows. Most children need repetition for something to even be noticed. 

Key Points: Concrete Ways to DiscoverWith Kids

The Discover phase is an introduction to a topic or concept. It is pairing a visual cue with a name. Just as with people, sometimes we need to be introduced many times before we remember something.

Many children need to be reminded and reintroduced to a topic or idea. This is a normal part of learning. Repetition is an important part of all teaching. So keeping finding ways to Discoverwith your child to generate interest in health, food and eating.

Fun Spice Combinations to Try at Home

Take an enjoyed entree, for example, chicken. Now ask a child to select a new flavor to try on the chicken. You can have the child smell, touch and help prepare the meal. Most children like the smell of basil, garlic, tarragon or ginger.

You can create some international variations using the following spices:

  • Asian – try 1Tb fresh ginger, grated, 2 tsp garlic, minced and 1/4 tsp pepper.
  • Indian – try 1 tsp of ground cardamon and coriander, 1/4 tsp of cinnamon, ground cumin and 1/8 tsp of cloves and pepper.
  • Indonesian – try 1Tb of minced garlic and 1Tb of curry powder with salt to taste
  • Mexican – try 2 tsp minced garlic, 1/2 tsp chili power and 1/2 cup fresh, chopped cilantro.
  • Moroccan – try 1/2 tsp of cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp of nutmeg, pepper and salt to taste. You can also add a few raisins

These great spice combinations were from QuickFlip to Delicious Dinners by Eileen Faughey, MA, RD.

It’s All Fun and Games At The Table

By Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDE

Mindful eating is not a rigid way of feeding a child. Mindful eating is a flexible approach to food and eating at the heart of which is kindness. Mindful Eating for Kids is more than just a book of handouts. It is a new way of thinking about mealtimes that is divided into four key sections.

  • Discover – Create the desire to try new foods and have new experiences and adventures with food and eating.
  • Explore – Approach each experience with a sense of wonder and curiosity.
  • Play – Have fun! Being loud and silly and making a mess can bring enjoyment back to food and eating.
  • Challenge – the norm of eating. Find and gently explore the boundaries of food, eating and nutrition with the child.

Here is a story to prove just how much mindful eating can change mealtimes by focusing on play! When Walter was 15 years old, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Many people with schizophrenia are of normal intelligence but struggle to make emotional and social connections with people. This explains Walter’s behavior perfectly. Walter relates better to things than people. His behavior at meals is often so focused on eating that there is little awareness of people, social graces or his surroundings. His eating cannot be described as mindless because he is so engaged in the sensory flavor of the bite. However, his behavior is not mindful because he is unaware of the other people at the table. “It is like we don’t exist,” explains his father.

“Many times a person remains stuck developmentally at the age diagnosed with schizophrenia.”

In short, Walter acts like a disinterested teenager at the dinner table. On a whim, the family decided to play a game while eating dinner. The father explained: “Walter’s stepsister is in theater, and she suggested playing a game called Encore.” The game is simple, requiring one person to think of a word – for example, boat. The other players have to sing a song with the word “boat” in it. In this case, Row, Row, Row Your Boat could be sung. The next person has to think of a new song with the word “boat” in it.

“No one expected Walter to participate, but round after round he played and won! The whole dinner table was congratulating Walter for coming up with great songs. We were laughing and having a blast. The game transformed mealtime and was able to engage Walter.”

Mindful eating is more than having your children taste their food. Mindful eating is about creating connections and enjoying the meal. Shifting the focus to include fun, laughter and connection adds so much more than flavor to a meal. When asked to describe the meal, everyone agreed: It was more delicious and nourishing because Walter participated in the mealtime conversation.

Mindful Eating for Kids offers 75 activities with a wide variety of strategies such as touching, cooking and playing with food. These carefully designed exercises use all the child’s senses to explore new foods. They help you create opportunities for the child to choose foods that are both satisfying and nourishing. You’ll have everything you need to help kids make new connections and develop a healthy, mindful relationship with food.

Creating Your Own Principles of Mindful Eating

Mindful Eating can help you untangle your thoughts and feelings about food, eating and nutrition. Reading the Principles of Mindful Eating.  Highlight any words or phrases that resonate with you.  Now, talk with your family about your thoughts so you can craft your own food philosophy

Creating your own Principles of Mindful Eating

Step one: Read the principles of mindful eating and highlight the words that resonated with you.

Here are words that jumped out for me:

“Freeing yourself. Balance, choice, wisdom and acceptance. Allowing. Aware. Positive and nurturing opportunities. Respecting your own inner wisdom.  Choosing. Satisfying. Nourishing to your body. Acknowledging responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment. Becoming aware of physical hunger. Your decisions to begin and end eatingNo right or wrong way. Varying degrees of awareness surrounding the experience of food. Eating experiences are unique. Choice. Attention. Moment-by-moment basis. Can make choices that support health and well being. Interconnection Earth, living beings, cultural. 

Step two: Think for a moment, if you want these same outcomes for your child. If you do, how are you going to teach him or her any of these concepts?  How do you teach a child, “That there is no right or wrong?” or “Attention” or “To respect his own inner wisdom?” This question may generate some doubt within you. You may experience frustration or even anger as a result of being asked.  If thoughts rushed in your head like, “This is stupid – I just won’t serve any junk food!” or “I don’t know how to answer these questions!” it is okay. Few parents have ever thought about how many different directions they could explore to teach a child about food and eating. Of course it can be overwhelming, it’s a big job.

Step three: Pick one aspect to focus on.  For example, in my home, as soon as my children were old enough (about 3-4 years old) they began to serve themselves.  In the 10 years since I started doing this, it has become a ‘house’ rule.  Friends, family and dinner guest are informed that this is how we serve food.  There is a pause before service where everyone does a ‘tummy check’ and then chooses an amount of food to meet this hunger level. In the beginning this step was more formal, but now – it is quick, often invisible when we are not entertaining. However, when there is an audience, a tummy check can become an opportunity for my children to break into a song and dance routine. (Kids can be creative, fun and crazy, which is why I love them!)

Step four: Recognize your own childhood food messages.  My childhood eating culture centered on, not wasting food. I was told to “Clean your plate.” I have to work very hard to stop these old food rules from my childhood from becoming my kid’s food rules.  I really want to create a different relationship with food than the one I had.  I try to honor my child’s sense of fullness and respect when my kid’s have had enough.  This can be easier for some children than others.  One of my kids is very respectful of her fullness. My other child is more detached from her direct experiences, which is challenging at times.  Instead of having lots of food rules, I try to relax and focus on my food culture. On seeing the big picture with food and eating. How might this work? For one of my kids, I try to coach her to “Choose an amount of food that does not overfill your stomach.” Over the last decade she has shared with me some of her own food struggles and I try to use these conversations and her own observations to help guide her food and eating choices.

My other child is very good at recognizing fullness, so good that there is a point that it becomes challenging for her to eat an adequate amount of nutrition or to try new foods.  I have to coach her in a different way.  For this child, we talk about the importance of eating (not just having on the plate) the high nutrient density foods provided. When she was younger, I would ask her – “What food did you select that has the most nutrition?” Overtime she did learn that it was not the dinner roll. The culture is to provide nutrient dense foods at each meal.  Our culture is to encourage everyone to eat these foods, and choose a diet that is balanced and supports health and well-being.

Step five: Repeat this view of food, eating and nutrition often until it becomes the culture surrounding the meal.  Remember that it is normal for your philosophy about food and eating to evolve as the child enters different developmental stages.  Keep asking questions instead of telling yourself your kids must eat a specific food or follow a rigid program.  Questions open the mind up to new possibilities and promote flexibility and choice.

Mindful Eating for Kids offers a simplified approach to teach nutrition that may be helpful to review. This approach can provide a basic framework to explore nutrition.