Feeding Happiness with Mindfulness and Gratitude
Growing healthy, happy, adventurous little bodies with expert advice and a dose of kindness has become a labour of love for two Auckland mums.
Rachael and Lorren created The Food Tree to help other parents support their children to have a positive relationship with food, their body and the world around them. They help ‘fussy eaters’ and their family, find peace at the dinner table, using tools such as mindfulness, gratitude and nature play, to nurture connection, and help people find confidence and joy, both in themselves and with each other.
The Food Tree also run practical workshops where they provide teachers with practical strategies for managing stress and overwhelm, that can fit in with their already busy lives. I really love this initiative as our teachers need support if they are going to give their best to our kids.
With one of these events coming up next week I recently spoke to Lorren and asked her a couple of questions about what they do…
How did the idea of The Food Tree come about?
Rachael and I met at a parenting class, connecting through sleep deprivation and the challenges being a new Mum brings. My little one had suspected food allergies, and was developing an eating aversion. Rachael (a paediatric dietitian and family nutritionist) gave me some much needed reassurance, lifting my anxiety, and helped my little person start eating again!
We got chatting about how more parents would benefit from accessing trusted expert advice, delivered with kindness.
When children are experiencing a challenge, with their health, behaviour or education, it is something that impacts on the whole family. We wanted to offer families access to compassionate professionals, quality information and ongoing support.. With my background in child development and education, and Rachael’s in science and nutrition the idea of The Food Tree was born.
My kids eat nutritional food most of the time but it is the same couple of meals, because I know it will get eaten, how do I help them to explore other foods?
We’ve seen the best success when new foods are served alongside familiar foods. Letting them choose (or refuse) with no pressure to eat or even try it. Getting kids involved in the food prep where possible, provides opportunity to touch, smell and talk about the food away from the table, this grows confidence and curiosity before it arrives on their plate.
What is the best thing I can do as a parent to stop the stress over whether my kids eat or not?
Accept that its actually not your job to get your child to eat. Whose job is it then you ask?!
So often when our child isn’t eating, we get focused on each mouthful and meal, we forget to look at the bigger picture. What else is happening for them in terms of development and their intake of food across the week. Fluctuation in appetite is normal and we genuinely cannot know how hungry another person is. We promote the ‘Division of responsibility’ (established by Ellyn Satter- world renowned family therapist and dietitian) Put simply – we provide: the child decides. “We decide what, when and where to offer the food, our child decides if, and how much. This allows them to stay connected with what their body needs, rather than pressure from us to ignore those cues or get into a battle of wills over ‘one more bite”.
Is it more about the emotions and guilt we have around food and less about the food itself?
Absolutely. Another gem from Ellyn is “when the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers”.
By bringing joy and connection back to our meal times, we find people actually starts enjoying a wider variety of food.
Is there a link between fussy eaters and body image? If so, how do we navigate that with our kids?
We know early childhood is a vital time for learning about our sense of self and our capabilities. Children learn so much about their bodies at meal times, when to eat more or less, learning what foods help them feel good. It’s very easy to complicate that relationship with food and body, by pressuring children to ignore their internal hunger cues. When children look to us to ask “am I still hungry?” or when they can’t trust they will get enough food to satiate their hunger, they are losing an innate skill their body has, moving to a reliance on us. Long term, we need them to understand how their body works and what their individual body needs to feel healthy and strong. So they can feel good about eating, as well as the body they are in.
By sticking to the division of responsibility we nurture that ability. We can also be good role models, in terms of how we talk about food and bodies, using neutral and positive language. When food is tasty, crunchy, sweet, salty instead of junk, good, healthy or bad, we keep the focus on the direct sensory experience. Same with our bodies, when we show awareness and gratitude for what our bodies can do ‘My clever nose can smell all the wonderful spices in this curry!’ ‘My tummy is telling me it’s had enough watermelon today’. It helps keep us present in the moment, to what we are experiencing, allowing us to connect with what works for us, teaching our children to do the same.
What are your top strategies for picky eaters?
- Take the battle off the table. Really and truly, it is not your job to get your child to eat. I know how stressful it can be having a child who won’t eat. If you can move your focus from one more bite, to bringing peace and joy back to the table, shift the conversation from what they are eating, tell them about your day instead. Connect and take the pressure off. They will learn to eat what you eat. They just need an opportunity to learn in their own time.
- Try family style platters, deconstructed meals and let children self serve. Yes there will be mess, yes mistakes will happen, but given time, eating, nutrition and table manners improves. Children learn most from watching us, then trying it out for themselves.
- Start feeding a growth mindset around food- If we believe they hate broccoli and stop serving it, they have no opportunity to change their mind. Put broccoli out as one of the options on the table, enjoy eating it yourself, and leave the choice up to them. My daughter took 18 months to start eating salmon again. Now its one of her favourites. That would never have happened if she wasn’t given repeated exposure to it and the chance to try it when she was ready.
- Have family meals as often as you can. We define a family meal as an adult and child sharing the same meal. Be it breakfast, lunch, brunch on weekends, fish and chips at the beach, midnight snack, whatever it is that works for your family. Being together, learning from each other, offers so much value.
The Food Tree are big supporters of AwesoME Inc, tell me how you incorporate gratitude in what you do.
Mindset is everything! We firmly believe identifying what is working well in your life is such a powerful tool for helping decide what should get your energy. For families we work with who now start their meals with a moment of gratitude, its been one way of bringing some peace to their dinner table. Previously meal times may have been stressful, now they start that routine with joy and thanks, it sets the intention for the meal, it’s a beautiful thing.
Often when we meet people it’s to support them through a period of stress and worry. Using a tool like your beautiful gratitude journals, helps them think about their support network, the beauty they notice each day, it helps guide their focus towards the goodness that surrounds them. When parents start making this time for themselves, to reflect on what is right in their lives, it certainly helps them create positive change for their family, the brilliant thing is when children grow up watching their parents with this habit, it becomes their norm.
This approach gives them a practical habit,
that we know grows resilience and confidence.
Teaching self-care to teachers is one of your main workshops, tell us more about it.
Teachers play such a vital role in nurturing our young people, often it’s a job you do for love. For those heart led teachers who pour everything they have into the role, we’re seeing an increase in burn out and demoralisation. We feel very passionately about teacher advocacy, so we’ve developed our latest workshop Teaching Self Care. We cover practical strategies to promote teacher well-being and empowerment.
By supporting teachers to learn different ways of managing stress and overwhelm, they can then share those tools and resources with the children in their care, so it becomes part of a daily habit for both adults and children alike. Being proactive in caring for our mental health has to become part of the curriculum, the well-being of both our teachers and children depends on it. Our workshop is a small step towards starting that conversation.
For more information on the upcoming Teaching Self Care workshop see below.
And lastly, what is your go to self-care technique to look after your own mental well-being?
Time in nature definitely! Bush walk if I can, but even just looking out the window or a few minutes to stretch in fresh air is often enough for a context switch. If things are really tense, a parasympathetic breath works wonders.
Teaching self-care: Practical strategies for teacher well-being
Being a heart led teacher requires your full energy and focus. If you are finding there are days that are taking more than you can give, this workshop is for you.
Teacher burnout and turnover is at an all-time high. We also know children in New Zealand are experiencing high rates of anxiety and stress. So how do we teach the importance of self-care, when we aren’t experiencing it ourselves?
At this event Rachael and Lorren provide practical strategies for managing stress and overwhelm. A practical approach to self-care that can fit into the already busy lives that most teachers have!
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