Mindful Eating: Teaching your child about nutrition

Discover how food education fosters healthier habits in children. From mindful eating to sustainable sourcing, unlock the path to a healthier future for your child.

Involve your child in cooking and food preparation for healthier food habits
Involve your child in cooking and food preparation for healthier food habits


What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is the practice of paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. Observe how the food makes you feel and the physical and mental sensations that arise during food preparation until long after you’ve finished eating.

How do you exercise mindful eating?

Mindful eating is an approach that helps people gain control over their eating habits. Here are some ways to exercise mindful eating.

  • Notice colours, smells and flavours: Pay attention to the colours, smells and flavours of your food. Pay attention to the textures and sounds when you bite into your food.
  • Eat slowly: By eating more slowly you can focus on the task at hand. This can also help with recognising when you’re full.
  • Listen to physical hunger cues: Understand and acknowledge your body’s signals for hunger and fullness. Eat when you’re hungry and not when you’re bored or stressed.
  • Eat without distraction: Turn off the TV and put down your phone. This can help you focus more on the food itself, how much you’re eating and improve your enjoyment of the meal.
  • Appreciate your food: Understand your food’s journey before it got to your plate. Consider how the food was grown, who harvested it and how it was cooked.
  • Understand your responses to food: Pay attention to the foods you enjoy, those you don’t and why, to help you understand your relationship with food.

Why should you teach your child about mindful eating?

In the age of fast food and convenience meals, teaching your child about the value of good nutrition has never been more crucial. Understanding what goes into their bodies will equip them to make healthier choices and fuel their growth and development.

Remember, it’s not just about telling your child what to eat, but why they should eat it. For example, explain that the calcium in their glass of milk helps strengthen their bones or that the protein in the chicken helps build their muscles. Such simple lessons can have a lasting impact.

Here are some reasons why teaching mindful eating to your child is beneficial:

  • Promotes healthy eating habits: Mindful eating encourages children to eat slowly, which can lead to smaller portion sizes and less overeating. It can also help children identify hunger and fullness cues, preventing them from eating out of boredom or emotional distress. 
  • Promotes better digestion: Eating slowly and thoroughly chewing food, as encouraged in mindful eating, can lead to better digestion and nutrient absorption.
  • Encourages a greater appreciation for food: When children understand the journey of food from the farm to the plate, it fosters a greater appreciation and respect for food and the environment.
  • Reduces picky eating: Mindful eating can make mealtimes more enjoyable and reduce stress around food, which might be beneficial for picky eaters.
  • Fosters a positive relationship with food: Educating your child about food helps them enjoy a more varied diet without attaching guilt or morality to their choices. This can help prevent eating disorders and promote a positive body image.
  • Develops emotional regulation: The practice of mindfulness can spill over into other areas of life, helping your child develop emotional regulation skills, as they learn to pause and make thoughtful decisions rather than acting on impulse.
  • Improves focus and concentration: Mindfulness in general, can help improve focus and concentration, which can benefit your child’s academic performance.
  • Boosts mental health: The food your child consumes doesn’t just affect their body; it also impacts their mental health. Nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and iron support brain function and mood.
  • Prevents obesity and associated diseases: Making more educated food choices can help your child to maintain a healthy weight, reducing their risk of obesity and associated health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

Remember, the goal isn’t perfection. It’s about helping children build a healthy relationship with food that can lead to lifelong healthy habits.

Engage your child in grocery shopping
Engage your child in grocery shopping

What fun and practical steps can you take to educate your children about food?

Here are a few practical steps to turn your kitchen into a fun-filled classroom.

  • Engage your child in grocery shopping: Plan your menus together for the week, looking at recipes and discussing the ingredients. Encourage them to make your shopping list and talk about the different food groups. Ask them to find the items and group them by colour in your shopping trolley. Teach them how to read food labels and understand nutritional values. This real-life experience can be more valuable than any lesson taught in a classroom.
  • Cook together: Involve your child in meal planning and preparation. This hands-on experience is not only a learning opportunity, but it can also foster a sense of responsibility and ownership over their meals. Turn cooking into a fun and educational experience. Let them help with washing vegetables, mixing ingredients or setting the table. Discuss the ingredients you’re using as you cook, their nutritional benefits and why they’re part of a balanced diet.
  • Grow your own: If you have space, involve your children in growing fruits and vegetables. This teaches them where food comes from, instils a sense of accomplishment and encourages them to eat the fruits (and vegetables) of their labour! Consider a kitchen garden or a window box if you don’t have enough space outside.
  • Use fun and interactive games: You could create a “nutrition scavenger hunt” where children have to find certain foods in the supermarket or play “nutrition bingo” with different foods representing different nutrients.
  • Storytelling and Books: Use stories or children’s books that incorporate themes of nutrition. Stories are an engaging way to communicate complex concepts. After the story, discuss the nutritional themes that came up.
  • Food Art: Encourage your child to create art with the food on their plate. They can make faces, animals, or scenes with various fruits to make eating more fun and provide an opportunity to talk about their food.
  • Visit local farms or farmers’ markets: This can start conversations about the benefits of different types of produce, whole foods versus processed foods, and the importance of supporting local farms.
  • Create a food diary: Have your child keep a food diary where they can draw or list what they eat and learn about the nutritional content of their meals.
  • Educational videos/TV shows: There are many educational videos and TV shows designed to teach kids about nutrition in a fun and engaging way. 

Remember, the goal is to make learning about nutrition fun and not a chore. The more enjoyable it is, the more likely the lessons will stick!

How can your child’s school contribute to their food education?

Your child’s school can be pivotal in shaping their understanding of food. They can integrate food education into their curriculum and daily activities, fostering an environment that encourages healthy eating.

  • Integrating nutrition education into the curriculum: Schools can teach your child about the importance of nutrition and its role in their body.
  • Promoting healthy eating through school meals: Schools can set a positive example by serving healthy and balanced meals to your child at lunchtime. They can also display educational posters about food and nutrition to reinforce healthy eating messages.
  • Organising cooking classes or workshops: Hands-on cooking classes or workshops can be an engaging way for your child to learn about food. They can learn to prepare simple, healthy dishes, understand the ingredients used and appreciate the effort it takes to make a meal.

How can you work with your child’s school to enhance food education?

Parent and school collaboration is the backbone of successful food education. When you work together, the message of nutrition and health is consistent, and the impact is far-reaching. Here’s how you can make this collaboration work.

  • Communication is key: Discuss topics like food and nutrition as well as your child’s academic progress. Parent-teacher meetings can include discussions about your child’s eating habits, preferences, and any challenges they face.
  • Ensure consistency between home and school: Children need consistent messages to grasp the importance of healthy eating. If your child learns about the benefits of fruits and vegetables at school but eats processed food at home, they’ll receive mixed signals. Therefore, what’s taught in school should be reinforced at home and vice versa.
  • Involvement in school activities:  Join in cooking classes, food fairs or nutritional workshops to show your child that you value what they’re learning and support them in adopting healthier habits.

Remember, educating children about food is a collaborative effort that involves parents, teachers and the community. When we all work together, we can shape a generation that values nutrition and makes conscious food choices, contributing to their overall health and wellbeing.

School can help encourage mindful eating
Schools should serve healthy balanced meals and snacks

What are some potential obstacles to food education, and how can you overcome them?

While the importance of food education is clear, it’s equally crucial to recognise that challenges exist. Identifying these obstacles can help you be better prepared to tackle them head-on.

  • Lack of time: Today’s fast-paced world makes it difficult for families to spend time together preparing meals or learning about nutrition. Try to set aside time each week for food-related activities. Cook together as a family, or use the grocery shopping trip as a learning opportunity.
  • Limited resources: Not all schools or families have the resources to provide comprehensive food education. Look out for free workshops or events from local businesses, like supermarkets and farms, teaching children about food. Check out free online resources like those below that can provide valuable information at no extra cost. 
    • Change4Life by NHS offers information and advice about healthier food choices, easy recipe ideas, fun food activities and games to engage kids. They also provide a “Sugar Smart” app to help understand the amount of sugar in different food items.
    • The British Nutrition Foundation offers a wealth of resources for teaching nutrition to kids, including videos, fact sheets and activity ideas. Their “Healthy Eating Week” also provides a variety of resources to promote healthy eating, drinking, and physical activity.
    • Food – a Fact of Life provides a wealth of free resources for teaching children about food and nutrition, cooking and hygiene, food safety and where food comes from.
    • Eat Like A Champ is a free healthy eating education programme designed to teach children aged 9-10 about nutrition and healthy living.
  • Resistance from children: Let’s face it, not all children are enthusiastic about learning, especially when it comes to food and nutrition. Try to make the learning process interactive and fun. Use visual aids, educational games, or create challenges to spark their interest.

Why is food education so vital in the long run?

Ultimately, food education aims to equip your child with the knowledge to make informed food choices. But the impact goes beyond their health benefits. As your child grows into a conscious adult, their choices can shape a more sustainable and health-conscious society.

Proper food education can help to break the cycle of unhealthy eating habits, prevent diet-related diseases and foster appreciation for the hard work that goes into food production. The knowledge your child gains about food can ultimately lead to healthier individuals and a healthier planet.

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