Creating mindful eating programs is a rewarding experience and an opportunity to make learning enjoyable and engaging for children of all ages. This article has been written to help you with that journey.
Introduce the children to each lesson by letting them know, ‘We are going to practice our mindful eating, so let’s get start by bringing our attention to our breathing to help us settle and focus.’ No matter what age the children are get them use to using the big words, or language of mindfulness.
When we settle the children with a few mindful breaths we are grounding them. Bringing their minds down into their bodies. For example, we might begin by asking them to notice their incoming breath for 2 breaths; and/or notice their bellies moving; and/or bring their awareness to how their stomach is feeling (moving towards teaching them to recognise what hunger feels like and/or what just wanting to eat feels like).
Remember a mindful eating session, or program doesn’t have to be just about exploring the sense of sight, touch, taste, smell and sound.
Creating mindful eating programs that include more than the 5 senses
Mindful eating sessions may also include noticing what’s happening on the inside. For example, exactly when does my mouth begin to water (salivate)? Or, what thoughts are coming up for me as I eat? And/or what emotions am I experiencing as I explore my senses (disgust, sunrise, happiness)? And/or what mood am I in when I am eating?
Of course, we don’t pack a session with everything, but instead we use all the possibilities at different times, to keep the session a little different and novel for the children, or the programs we are delivering/or developing.
Note: You can also download our 8 week eating challenge, if you haven’t already – that can be used for getting ideas for mindful eating sessions for any age group. The program is available via our home page on our other website Mindfulness For Children.
Additionally, if you are teaching younger children you can use the scripts booklet from the 10 week creative play bee program.
Add gratitude when creating your mindful eating programs
When we add gratitude to the beginning or end of a mindful eating session, we are ensuring we have had the children experience ‘positive emotion’ (one of our 10 wellbeing focus words).
Adding gratitude also helps the children experience a sense of oneness with our world and community. This helps the child develop feelings of interconnectedness and interdependence, which also develops a sense of positive relationships with the world around them.
And of course the key is to have the children really mean it. That is, really ‘feel’ grateful (from the heart), rather than just paying lip service.
One way to do this is to slow down the experience, for example we might ask them to give thanks to something or someone as they take one breath. For example, ‘Let’s breathe in and feel our grateful hearts for the farmers that got up really early in the morning, while it was still dark, and worked to grow the food we have before us today.’
Or, ‘let’s close our eyes for a moment and thank the truck driver for waking up so early in the morning to deliver our apples to the shop for us. Thank you mister truck driver.’ And for older children, deliver the same message, just with adult language.
Children of all ages can continue to think of someone new to thank within each session. The list of everyone involved in bringing us our food is very, very long.
Sessions might also focus on thanking nature. For example, the soil, sun, rain, bees, insects, etc., in that same slow and meaningful manner.
So think about how you will bring mindful eating, with gratitude, to your children. And because the list of people and things to be grateful for, in relation to our food getting to us, is so extensive, it’s a great idea to make a list to record what we have been grateful for within each session.
Here’s a list I’ve put together to help give you some idea of how involved a moment can be: the soil; worms, seeds, sun, rain, trees or plants; bees, or other types of pollinators; the farmer; pickers; truck drivers; people that built the trucks; roads; made the paint for the roads; made the signs and traffic lights for the roads; the people at the markets; factors; shops; packaging designers/packers; shop keepers; security guards keeping the shops safe; the electricians that made the lights, or on the roads, etc; the person that purchased the fruit for the shops; the people that made the plates; the table, etc., that the food is sitting on.
This list is so long, when we really put our minds to thinking about everyone involved along the way, in creating the moment that we experience our mindful eating session. Now imagine trying to thank everyone, every time you ate (lip service), it would be like a prayer that’s recited so many times you say it on speed dial as just something that needs to be done in order to get to what you really want to do.
So make sure it’s a heart ‘feel’ a heart-felt gratitude. That way, we are teaching the children to truly connect mind and emotion (which in this case is also mind-body-spirit). Because the words come from the mind, the emotions is within the body (within the heart) and it is through our spirit that we give thanks.
Planning Mindful Eating Programs
While it’s absolutely fine to give the children mindful eating sessions spontaneously without any real depth of consideration, it’s also good to have a plan of action that you are going to employ, using your own mindful eating program (that you build over time, based on your experience moving forward).
Begin considering what each session will be about.
What you’re wanting to develop within the children?
How does it relate to the curriculum (e.g, the early years learning framework, or education curriculum)?
What outcome are you hoping for?
And how and when might you measure that outcome?
For example, you might run a one month program aimed at having the children focused on smelling their food, in order to develop their sense of awareness that smelling the food heightens the mouth watering experience associated with eating.
So, taking the 3 deep sniffs is within every mindful eating session for that particular month/program. Along with guidance for noticing the moment their mouths watered.
And you might begin your program by simply noting the number of children that mentioned their awareness related to salivation at the beginning of the program, in comparison to the end of the program.
Additionally, you might also note through observation of informal mindful eating, which children are smelling their food without being told too, and/or outside of their formal mindful eating sessions.
Once you see a child consciously taking the time to smell their food, outside of the mindful eating session, without being instructed, you will know you have succeeded!
Why am I eating?
Another long term goal may also be to have the children understand why they are eating. While also learning to not eat through boredom. So we are focusing on curving overeating in an effort to help children maintain a healthy weight – throughout life!
Over eating is so easy to do. How many times have you sat in front of the television, but found your mind in the food cupboard, or in the fridge – just looking through the shelves for a tasty download! Even though you’re not even hungry. Boredom eating, or eating purely for the pleasure of eating are things we should try to afford – if we are not at all hungry.
When was the last time you ate because your stomach was grumbling? How often do you eat when your stomach has given absolutely no indication that it wants food?
Creating mindful eating program that identify trigger eating styles, or the ‘whys’ behind our eating might include a tracker for the children to record their ‘whys’, rather than the ‘whats’. Of course more advanced programs might include both, ‘Why am I eating?; and what am I eating?’.
What vitamins and minerals does my body need to stay healthy?
Our 8 week eating program looks at the what am I eating topic through the lens of dietary needs. Which can often turn into cravings that drive eating – not through hunger, but through an unconscious need for the body to eat the dietary supplements that it needs to stay healthy. However, this can also turn into consuming unhealthy foods and fats. For example, low magnesium may cause a chocolate craving. And while the body does crave for healthy fats to maintain healthy cell function, if unhealthy fats are used instead, then the body will eventually become ill.
Creating mindful eating programs should focus on developing healthy eaters.
In order to help children grow into adults that are healthy eaters, we should continue creating mindful eating programs as educational sessions for healthy eating. Simply adding a little bit of conversation to the session – targeting one fact that you’d like to teach the children within that session. And basing the food choice around that focus point.
Creating mindful eating programs should also include a variety of ‘ways’ of practicing mindfulness. For example, the internal gauge might also detect thoughts, emotions and mental images that are also present within the eating experience.
Take away point for creating mindful eating programs
Creating mindful eating programs should always build in an aim to have children learn to turn on that internal gauge to know not only if they are hunger, but also why they are eating – if their not hunger. Additionally, the internal gauge might also detect thoughts, emotions and mental images that are also present within their eating experience.
Maybe you’d also like to join us on Facebook: Mindfulness For Children the Page, or Mindfulness For Children the public group. Feel free to click on both links – I don’t double up on content – unless it’s something I really want to share with you
Always wish forward!