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3 tips for stress-free mindful mealtimes

Family laughing and eating dinner at the tableFor many parents, mealtimes are often a battle-ground, fraught with worry and irritation. Some parents find themselves expending a lot of energy planning meals that, they hope, their children will be happy to eat.

Some parents can fall into the habit of preparing the children separate meals to what everybody else is eating. Other times they will spend a lot of their energy agonising over how much their fussy eater has eaten, or worrying that they are not ‘getting enough food’.

Firstly, the most important thing to take away from this article is that (as long as you provide a variety of tasty, nutritious foods) your child is not going to starve. If they are hungry (and unless there is an actual medical reason for them not eating) they will eat the food that you provide.

3 tips for stress-free mindful mealtimes

Be Realistic

Have you ever stopped to wonder about why we are in the habit of eating three meals a day? Who was the person that decided exactly how much food the human body requires, and how did they come up with this figure? When we ask ourselves this question it is interesting to think about the climate in which these ‘rules for eating’ were first developed, and the lifestyle of the people who determined what was the appropriate amount of food.

We as parents need to recognise that children have small tummies, and they simply do not need to eat as much food as we think they do. The reality is that sometimes people just don’t feel like eating in that moment.

READ: How much food? A guide to standard serves and portion sizes for children

Be Flexible

Smaller children like to graze throughout the day on small portions, so providing healthy foods during these times will alleviate your need to know that they have eaten enough. Being flexible about the food that we serve to our kids can assist in making mealtimes more peaceful for everyone.

When the weather is warmer, we may feel thirsty more than hungry, and often may not even feel like eating much food, and so it is with our kids. There are times that perhaps they would enjoy a healthy smoothie or a big glass of water instead of a meal.

Breathe

During the critical development periods from conception to five years, children are in a constant state of emotional and physical growth. Our early associations with food and mealtimes can have lasting effects on the adults we become, so we need to ensure that mealtimes do not teach our children negative beliefs about food.

Rather than preparing children special meals to accommodate their desires to eat particular foods, try to incorporate the things they like into meals the whole family enjoys. Stay calm during meal times, and don’t make it about your fears.

Allow the child to eat what they are able to, without adding any emotional element to the meal time, and practice bringing yourself into the moment with a few deep breaths if you are feeling anxious. The simple act of sitting together during meals, talking and making eye contact is food for their soul, and is just as nourishing as the food that you provide for their body.

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