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Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 1:42 am | Fair 51º


Collin McShirley: Teaching Our Children to Eat Mindfully

Mindfulness is about paying attention. Regarding food, it’s about our conscious awareness of the experience of eating, both outside and inside the body.

We pay attention to the smells, textures, flavors, temperature, and even sounds of our food. We notice the physical expression of the body. Where do we feel hungry? What does being full feel like? How would you describe an empty tummy?

Incorporating this kind of mindfulness approach into your kitchen is actually quite simple, and involving your children, from preparation to cooking and even cleaning, can improve everyone’s relationship with food.

Whether or not your children are old enough to appreciate the zen of a well-stocked kitchen, or the joy of creating a fantastic meal for friends to appreciate together, children definitely do appreciate creativity, time with parents and learning.

So how do we turn prep, cooking and cleaning into something fun?

Let’s start with a simple seasonal recipe that children can participate in and enjoy: Apple Crisps.

Not all kids like apples, and some people may have allergies to walnuts, so feel free to replace this with something that best fits your family. What’s important is sharing in the process.



» 4 medium unpeeled or peeled sliced apples (4 cups)

» ¼ cup flour

» ¼ cup brown sugar

» ½ cup quick-cooking or regular oats

» ⅓ cup chopped walnuts

» 1½ teaspoons cinnamon

» ½ cup butter

First, lay out all the ingredients on your countertop with a small sampling of each set aside.

Talk to your kids about each ingredient, encouraging them to touch, smell and taste. How does the apple smell after you cut into it? What does a tiny pinch of cinnamon taste like on its own? What do the smells and tastes of brown sugar bring to mind?

This simple exercise can pique their senses, and teach them the unique subtleties that every individual ingredient brings to a dish.



» Heat oven to 375˚

» Spread apple slices in ungreased 8-inch square pan

» Mix remaining ingredients, sprinkling them over apples

» Bake uncovered until topping is golden brown and apples tender (typically 30 minutes)

If your children are too young to work with the oven, this is a teaching opportunity to learn to respect the kitchen and cover some simple safety rules.

Then, work together to start spreading the apples around the pan, mixing your seasoning together and sprinkling over the dish.

Make it into an art project in which they can be hands-on, engaging them about the colors, smells and textures.

Memory is associated with all our senses, with taste and smell being powerful catalysts. This fun exercise can create beautiful memories that they will carry into the future, associating positive emotions with your holiday traditions.


You have 30 minutes before your dish is ready, so take this time to encourage teamwork to clean up your space.

Assign simple jobs, with the reward of your tasty creation waiting just around the corner. Celebrate small victories with positive reinforcement, like putting away utensils, cleaning out measuring cups, wiping down countertops.


Your timer has gone off, and it’s time to enjoy! Before everyone dives into those warm sugary apples, repeat your sensory exercises and ask your little helpers to share how the finished product smells with all the ingredients combined and cooked.

Have everyone take one single bite together, sharing the textures and tastes, and how they are different now than as individual pieces.

Finally, celebrate your victory! Congratulate them on creating something special from such simple ingredients.

                                                                 •        •        •

Let’s approach these holidays as an opportunity to teach our kids to truly appreciate food. By including them in the preparation of your holiday meal you will be reminded to slow down your own thoughts, while at the same time sharing invaluable lessons, enriching the holiday experience for everyone.

Who knows, maybe you’ll discover you have a little master chef in the making! At the very least, you’ll create a lasting memory of a positive loving experience around food.

Collin McShirley, MA, IMF, is certified and specializes in mindful eating, emotional eating, body image and self esteem; she provides coaching services in Santa Barbara, Montecito and Goleta; and she developed the program, “Break Free From Emotional Eating and Learn to Love Your Body.” She grew up in Santa Barbara​, graduated from UC Santa Barbara and received her masters in clinical psychology from Antioch University Santa Barbara. Click here for more information, contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter: @CollinMFTI. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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