By Dina Cohen, MS, RDN, CEDRD
My girls are confident self-feeders by now, and it’s a lot of fun to watch them eat. When I put a new food on their trays, they curiously examine it, poking and prodding with great interest, and finally cramming it into their little mouths. By the time they are done, their noses, ears, eyebrows, and hair have all had a share in the meal, and naturally, the floor is a disaster, but it’s great fun for them, and for me! The babies are fascinated by new colors, textures, and tastes. While they recognize their favorites and will grin and gurgle at each other in appreciation when I serve something that they think is fabulous, they’re still very open-minded, and I take full advantage. It’s so entertaining to see their expressions after I shock them with an entirely new texture or flavor. I love that they are so curious and will always try at least a bite or two, no matter how different a new food looks, smells, or feels. I don’t know how long this will last, but I hope it always will! I’m certainly appreciating it for the moment.
Eating with my girls is showing me how enjoyable a meal can be when you involve all your senses and approach it with a sense of discovery and adventure. Watching their active participation in their meals reinforces how valuable it is to eat mindfully. Mealtime is about more than simply filling your stomach and moving on to your next activity. Eating is a much more satisfying experience if it involves noticing and appreciating the color, texture, and flavor of your food. Is it as good as you expected? If you were brave enough to try something new, how much did you enjoy it? Is it worth going back for another bite? Not everything you eat is always going to taste super-amazing, but once you’re eating, your food should taste good to you! My girls aren’t finicky, but they don’t compromise, either. They enjoy a variety of textures and flavors, but if they aren’t impressed with a particular food, they’ll abandon it after a few bites. They listen to their stomachs and will leave over food when they are full.
I try to vary their menu to keep them curious and so that we don’t get into a Cheerio rut. It’s important to me that their meals are stimulating and fun, as well as nourishing and tasty. But I’ll admit that my own meals don’t always receive the same level of attention. As moms, even dietitian moms, it can be easy to put ourselves last and eat the same thing day after day just because it’s easy, and, well…mindless. How different might our eating look if we ensured our meals included a variety of colors and flavors? When did you last try a new ingredient or a unique recipe? How much time do you take for your meals, and how much do you enjoy them? Are your meals enjoyable? Satisfying?
Eating mindfully is something we were born knowing how to do. Noticing how food makes us feel while we’re eating it and how satisfied we are afterwards is not a special talent. We all started out with this ability. Somewhere along the way, though, most of us were socialized to focus more on external signals as opposed to what’s going on internally. We eat in a hurry. We eat past the point of fullness. Sometimes we might finish a meal barely noticing what it was we just consumed. None of this is a crime; sometimes, when life is busy, it’s a necessity. But there’s no question that it’s a less-than-ideal way to eat. The good news is that mindful eating is something that can be relearned. You’ve done it before, and you can do it again. If there’s an opportunity in your day (or even a day in your week), when you can slow down enough to enjoy a meal that’s appealing to your senses and satisfying to your body, you’ll be eating the way it’s meant to be done. So as I amusedly watch my babies’ gleeful faces as they squish and smash their way through their gloriously messy mealtime, I can’t help but think, “Hey…they’ve got a point!”