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Different night, same story: You whip up a quick dinner for the kids, and as soon as you set it on the table, it’s either scarfed down in seconds (ooh, pizza) or pushed aside (ew, meatloaf). Healthy food guru Cassandra Bodzak, author of the new how-to cookbook Eat with Intention, has a few ideas to help your kids eat more mindfully, and foster happy, healthy and more peaceful mealtimes. 

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Enlist a Little Helper in the Kitchen

Instead of a rushed trip to the grocery store, plan a few hours over the weekend to go to the farmers’ market together. “Let the kids check out the fruits and veggies that look interesting to them and gather ingredients for making a big meal together,” Bodzak suggests. They’re probably not ready to make a soufflé, but your kids will be a lot more interested in eating that veggie omelet if they understand what goes into making it. Let them choose their own toppings (peppers! spinach! Cheerios?), and if you’re really brave, let them try a spatula flip.

mindful eating boy plate
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Take a Moment Before the Meal

If you’re reminded of the long-winded “grace” speech your grandpa always gave at dinner when you were a kid, don’t worry. This informal time for gratitude can be just a few minutes to check in with your child. “Thank all of the farmers you met who grew the vegetables and fruits with love,” Bodzak says. “And if you’re eating animals, thank them for the food they are providing you.” The dinner table should be a happy place to refuel and recharge, and taking a moment to give thanks can make all the difference.

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Eliminate All Distractions

Your kiddos are oh so quiet when they have an app to distract them, but resist the temptation to use a phone or iPad to pacify them during dinner. Keep music low, turn off the TV and keep mealtimes focused on the food you’re eating. Have your kids describe what they’re tasting and talk about where the ingredients in your food came from. (“Did you know bread comes from a plant?”) Tell them how good it feels to sit down and eat together, and explain how eating is helping their bodies grow big and strong.

mindful Eating dinner table
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Teach Table Manners

Even if your dishes don’t match and you’re using paper towels for napkins, teach your child how to set the table, sit up straight, eat with a fork and knife and set her napkin (uh, paper towel) in her lap. Encourage her to put her fork back down on her plate between bites and to chew her food twice as long as she thinks she needs to. Be consistent, and soon good table manners will become second nature.

kids eating dinner
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Don’t Make Your Kids Clean Their Plates

It’s frustrating when your son turns his nose up at the zucchini casserole you spent two hours making, but resist scolding him for not finishing his meal. “Give them credit and space to explore what makes them full,” Bodzak suggests. “There may be times they’ll under-eat, but that’s OK. Allow them to be hungry later, and learn by trial and error how much they actually need.” Half an hour after the meal, check in with your child and see how he feels. “It's so much more effective for them to notice that they feel great and have a lot of energy after eating a big bowl of vegetables they begrudgingly finished at lunch.”

mindful eating eating family
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Lead By Example

Eating thoughtfully and with respect for the food you’re eating starts with you—trust us, your kids are watching your every move. When you sit down for dinner, be mindful of any stress or negative feelings you might be bringing to the table that could be rubbing off on your kids. Eat slowly, stay present and your kids will take your cue.

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