I’ve often said that I feel like a pinball, trapped inside a furious game of pinball arcade, during mealtime. My kids issue one command request after another. “More pasta. I want ketchup. Can I have a fork, instead of a spoon? I need more milk. Wait, I changed my mind; I want water. Mustard, please! Can I have my cheese grated instead of sliced? Awwww, my milk spilled!!”

I obediently pop up and down, back and forth, trying to meet their every need. Meanwhile, I shovel food in my mouth as I dash past my plate, barely taking the time to chew, much less taste, what I’m eating.

Snack time isn’t much different. Even when I’m not hungry, I often find myself eating crackers in a sleep-deprived trance, not even remembering how they got into my mouth in the first place.

It’s time to stop the pinball madness!

This mindless eating thing isn’t good for my waist line. And it’s certainly not good role modeling for my kids. I’m always trying to teach them to listen to their hunger signals, but how can I realistically expect them to listen to their hunger signals when I’m clearly abandoning mine?

As a dietitian, I know the ins and outs of mindful eating, but it’s always easier to think about it in a “textbook” style, quiet mealtime. Well, that’s not my life.  And I’m guessing it’s not yours either.

So here’s a really, really, really simple approach to mindful eating that works during a chaotic, kid-focused meal.

Take a breath.

Before you start eating dinner, pause to center yourself and take a big, deep breath. Give your permission to enjoy your meal – as much of it as you want – but tell yourself that you will have the discipline to stop when you’ve had enough.

It’s as simple as that.

Once you get used to it, you’ll find yourself doing it several times throughout a meal. It’s extremely empowering and relaxing.

There are a lot more great mindful eating strategies out there, including others that work well with kids (such as the “kitchen is closed” strategy). Maybe I’ll write about those another time.

But sometimes, one simple breath is all it takes.

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Photo source: sjEngraving on Etsy. A small stone engraved with the word “breathe,” like this one can be a helpful reminder to have around. Just make sure your kiddo doesn’t throw it at one of your windows. Kidding. Sort of.

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