Healthy Eating that Works for Your Family
These days there’s a widespread awareness of the need for good nutrition, a balanced diet, and positive approaches to food and body image. But you’ll find many differing opinions about exactly *what* all that involves. Each household has its own very personal definition of healthful eating, and it’s important to clarify so all family members are on the same page. What does healthful eating mean to you? And what are the healthy guidelines that will work for your family?
Your choice of foods will depend on budget, seasonal availability, personal preferences, dietary restrictions, medical conditions, and cultural traditions. Within those parameters, work out a balanced food plan for you and your children. In this context, “balance” includes variety in terms of color, texture, and flavor as well as nutritional content. Whether you are vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore, the majority of your diet should be vegetable foods, preferably organic. Organic does tend to be pricier but planting a vegetable garden (vertical if you’re strapped for space), buying in bulk, or joining a CSA program are ways to reduce the cost. Store foods carefully for peak nutrition and flavor and, especially in the warm, humid Florida climate, for Orlando pest control.
Children thrive on routine. Because their world is so full of learning and new experiences, it’s helpful for them to know that they can depend on certain routines. Take into consideration your family’s weekly schedule and set up a regular time table for meals and snacks. This will let you offer balanced nutrition over the course of the day … and also frees whoever is charge of the kitchen from having act as an always-on-call short order cook. No matter how busy everyone is, be sure to find time for frequent sit-down meals as a family. If the dinner hour is too hectic, why not try Sunday brunch?
Mealtimes are an opportunity for youngsters to learn social skills. Make them relaxed and pleasant occasions. Children may be asked to take turns setting and decorating the table. When your offspring are small, invite guests (preferably ones who are comfortable with toddlers!) to join you at the dinner table from time to time so you can demonstrate good “company manners.” As kids get older, encourage them to bring their friends home for supper.
Along with tried and true dishes, occasionally offer the kids new foods to try, in a gentle, non-coercive way. Focus on pleasant table conversation rather than micromanaging what and how much each person eats, just as you would at a gathering of adults. You are allowed, however, to veto throwing food on the floor.
When making changes to the way your family currently eats, go slowly, as in a “Meatless Monday” supper one night a week. Substitute more healthful alternatives (brown rice instead of white, for instance) one food at a time. Try not to embarrass anyone by singling them out. If one household member’s overeating is a concern, serve up smaller portions to the whole gang – on salad plates, so the food is not swimming in a huge expanse. Then let each person decide whether they are ready for second helpings. Talk about the changes you are making and why you are doing so. Be prepared for children to decide on some changes of their own, as well. Many a vegetarian first took up the practice as a young teenager.
You are the most important role model your kids will ever have. Model healthy attitudes toward food and body size and shape. Never give food as a reward or withhold it as punishment. Encourage children to feed themselves from an early age. Even a one-year-old can manage appropriate finger foods, such as rice cakes or chunks of banana, and will delight in the independence. Teach youngsters to see food as fuel that gives them energy for play and school … and as fun, too. The occasional holiday treat or slice of birthday cake is part of a normal diet.
By Laura Firszt, Networx.