Could you describe five simple elements that represent your family’s eating values? If so, what would they include?
I believe that every family has a different approach when making food choices and one of the great ways to improve how we eat is to identify what we do well and what our challenges are.
I was recently asked this question by a colleague and reflected on what influences what we do as a family in our home and through our daily lives.
Each of our Five Family Foundations of Healthy Eating have developed over time both as a couple and now as a family with young children.
These foundations include steps that help to form a strong and healthy relationship with food and offer a structure that is easy to follow; helping us to adopt change in a manageable way.
Another benefit of having foundations of healthy eating is it allows our family to navigate through the many overwhelming recommendations and reminds us to keep it simple.
Our Five Family Foundations of Healthy Eating
1. Shop Together, Cook Together, Eat Together
Even before my husband and I were married we enjoyed grocery shopping together. It was an opportunity for both of us to discuss the food choices we made. Since having our son it was important for us to include him in this activity so we can help teach him where food comes from, why we chose the foods we buy and he has an easier time identifying different foods.
Cooking together is also an important tool for children to learn how food is prepared, how it changes through cooking and the process of food coming to the table. I have found this gives our son an opportunity to ask questions about new foods and participating through simple tasks such as mixing ingredients and spinning lettuce.
Eating together as a family may be the single most important tool in helping your family and young children achieve a healthy relationship with their food. From a very early age (3-4 months) I encourage parents to have their children sitting at the table to observe family meals and snacks. This begins to set a pattern of appropriate mealtime behavior prior to starting solids with your infant. I advocate that children are given food only at the table and will write about this in a future post.
2. Eat a Variety of Foods
When planning meals for your family it is important to include a variety of foods. Different foods carry different nutrients and not all foods are equal. One strategy for including a variety of food is to strive for at least three (3) of the four (4) food groups; vegetables & fruit, grains, meat/protein and dairy at each meal.
A good tool is The Healthy Plate: half the plate should be vegetables (broccoli, carrots, peas, salad), a quarter should be protein (chicken, beef, pork, eggs, beans) and the last quarter a starch (pasta, potato, bread, rice).
3. Focus on Veggies
Everyone loves their vegetables right?!
Vegetables need to be a priority, but bringing more vegetables to the family table can be a frequent struggle.
When cooking look for ways of adding vegetables into your meals in new ways. I often add spinach to omelets; grate carrots and zucchini into pasta sauces and double the vegetables asked for in recipes. When preparing a meal look in the fridge and see what other vegetables you can add to the meal you are making. Vegetables like carrots, zucchini, red and green peppers, leafy greens (spinach, kale) can add more flavors to soups, stews and pasta sauces and therefore more variety.
While hiding vegetables in meals can add more variety of nutrients, it is important to offer vegetables in their natural form. Young children need to be able to identify and taste the vegetable in it’s true form to encourage acceptance. It can take up to 12-15 times before an infant can accept a new food and children often go through phases where they will refuse a food they generally like only to return to liking it later. Continue to offer new foods and with time food acceptance will come.
4. Less Healthy Foods Don’t Need to be Avoided
In our home we don’t strive for perfection and have adopted the idea that All Food Fits.
When at home we attempt to follow our foundations, but events such as special occasions, when we’re travelling or going out to eat present a change in routine.
The majority of the time we focus on eating healthy, but there are occasions when we indulge in treats, special extras or what we consider as not so nutritious. Teaching children that treats are ok helps to encourage a healthy relationship with food.
5. Family Food Goals
My husband always says that a goal without a plan is just a wish, but in reality it’s true. Goals need to be s.m.a.r.t.
Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Based
This can also be applied to our Five Family Foundations of Healthy Eating when setting Family Food Goals.
In 2014 our family chose to reduce our use of processed foods in the home. Specifically we identified soups and salad dressings as realistic areas for improvement. We started by making double batches of homemade soups on the weekends using fresh vegetables from the garden or grocery store. We then froze half of each batch for quick and easy meals during the week. By reading labels on salad dressings we chose to purchase products with low sodium (salt) and whole ingredients.
For 2015 we are choosing to plan ahead with weekly meal plans to help reduce food waste by only buying what we need using items we have in the home. We have also found that with a young family this dramatically reduces the indecision we often face when choosing what to cook last minute. Crockpot meals and sharing responsibility for starting dinner prep has become much easier and allows us to include our son in the kitchen more often.
I strongly believe that by developing any number of Family Foundations of Healthy Eating you identify what your family does well and where you face your biggest challenges.
When making changes it is important to strive for progress and not perfection. This will be the foundation for nurturing a healthy relationship with food for everyone in your family. Set one goal for the next few months and see where it takes you.
As always comments and questions are welcomed and encouraged!