Family Connection through Mindful Eating

 In Behaviour, Communication, Creativity, Development, Eating, Goal Setting, Happiness, Mindfulness

Hello parents and friends!
The festive season is fast approaching. This is a time to connect and set meaningful goals. It takes at least 21 days to create a habit so today will be a great time to start a family ritual on better eating patterns. Health is wealth; therefore as you head off to the shops, why not mindfully notice what you put in the trolley so that when the New Year approaches, a family ritual is in place. This article aims to give you four ways in which you can connect with your family and develop a healthy relationship with food by rethinking the way you eat.

I grew up in a country where food is abundant and in a home where mum insisted on every child finishing what was on the dinner plate. What happened in our home was no different from what happened in our neighbourhood. You either ate what had been prepared or you went hungry. Mum was a housewife, and raising 8 children made the job worth its while. In our community, everyone was a farmer, so it was no surprise that everything we ate came from the fields. Buying from the streets was a luxury we could not afford. On the playground at break, we ate our home-cooked food and then we went off to play. The spinoffs were great, although we did not realise it at that time.

So, fast forward to now… I am a teacher in a high school. When I look around me especially at break time, I see children who eat their food as they walk. Some gobble their food while texting. I see adults who treat food as just one of the items on their to-do list. Why have we lost such respect for food? I notice this lack of respect has robbed food of its value to the point where we fill our trolleys at the supermarket with specials in bulk, with items nearing the expiry date and vegetables that hardly make it to the next meal. Supermarkets, food manufacturers and TV commercials voraciously scream with prepared, packaged processed food to compete for who grabs the kids’ attention the quickest and the best. Today, most of our food is fast, fake and cheap. This partly explains the plethora of sicknesses and mental health issues plaguing our society, among them obesity, diabetes and poor functioning of the brain’s executive functions including the hippocampus. Well, there is good news! The solution is within reach!

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Food, glorious food. What’s new? The saying, “a family that eats together stays together”, stays true. Still, a reviewing of the quote to “a family that eats together connects better,” might be more apt in this context. This article aims to shed light on how you can enhance this feeling of connection to invite more and more goodness in your family and in your life day after day. I would like us to look at food with new glasses and hold it as sacred because, when we think about it; on average, 30% or more of our monthly salary is spent on food. This is backed by Virginia Woolf who says, “One cannot think well, sleep well, love well if one has not dined well.” Food should not just nourish your body; it should nourish your soul. So if we are spending so much on food, we should expect a healthy Return on Investment – we should have a happy, healthy, loving and alert population, kids who are focused, happy and fit. Show me what you eat, how you eat and where you eat and I will tell you the state of your mental health.

The cliché, “the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”, is now “The best way to a child’s heart, is through their stomach”. This was used by Kaitlyn, one of my students during a camp outing. She convinced me of the truth of the statement, and that got me thinking. Holding onto that thought, is where you, as the parent, come in. I will share four stages in the food cycle and show you how you can connect more mindfully to improve your family’s eating patterns. Mindful eating means eating with (more) awareness, with curiosity and be present at the meal – body, mind and soul. It is not aimed at replacing your lifestyle, but to complement whatever you choose to eat. I want you to enjoy each bite in a more present way and so, develop a healthier relationship with your food. The good news is that eating is not just at the table. That is the last stage. So, where do we begin?

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1. Mindful planning: Involve your child in the planning of the family menu. It shows that you are organised and helps the child to be organised too. This stage is important because communication starts here. You bond, and the environment is relaxed. As the role model, you can influence your child’s thinking significantly. This is a wonderful opportunity to incorporate healthy options and get buy-in from the child.I always get mothers telling me they feel guilty about their child’s diet – they know it is important to feed their kids healthy food, but they are not sure how to do it. As a parent, you don’t need to be a chef to produce 5-star meals every day. All you need is creativity, patience and love.
2. Shop mindfully: Another opportunity to communicate and connect with the child. Show the child where to buy healthy food. Go to the local farmers’ market; buy fresh fruits and veggies outside. These are fresh and mostly organic. The advantages are that the local farmer can explain how the food is prepared, what to avoid, how the food was planted, etc.
Your child has a chance to see and learn about the nutritional properties of these plants and to see what they look like in their raw and natural state. Shopping locally also improves the child’s social skills, since they meet and chat with their neighbours.
3. Cook mindfully: Connection is stronger at this stage since you get the opportunity to explain to the child the raison d’être of each ingredient: the why, what, when and how. The child can see and without you knowing it, a young chef is growing up. At age six, my daughter was a pancake pro, since we enjoyed having pancakes for supper. Today at age sixteen, she still offers pancakes as gifts to her teachers and friends. Needless to say her boundless creativity allows her to come up with new combinations every time. As you cook, there are lots of games you can play and laughter will only help secrete more serotonin. Connection is priceless, free and fun. Give it a try!
4. Mindful eating: The first three stages set the stage for the family meal. This is the moment when the child and parents feel proud that the child has made a contribution. It is a moment of gratitude. We eat at the dinner table with all devices switched off. It is a time for good conversation, no fighting, shouting or blaming. Active listening is activated. In a future article, I will explain how to use the five senses to savour the meal.
As Kids Life Studio® coaches, we usually organise cooking projects for the children we coach using our Meals 4 Zeal programme. In these classes, children learn about allergen-free cooking and correct food combinations for optimum nutrition. Once completed, we all sit down to eat. It is always a really proud moment for all, including the parents. We equip children to make healthy balanced food choices and they understand the role of nutrition in their future success in the sports field and academically.
Children love to help and learn. – Give them a chance.
Children only eat what they see you eat. – Be their superhero for healthy eating.
Be mindful of what gets into the kitchen and the fridge – Let it be medicine, not poison.
Cook more meals at home: you are responsible for the health of your family. Invest wisely.
No food is bad or good, you have to be mindful of what gets to the table. Bon appétit!

Therese Ndjeh
Kids Life Coach
Seed2seeds Kids Life Studio®

#mental health #obesity #kidslifestudio #meals4zeal #family connection

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