Nutrition and Your Family
Research has shown that families who eat together eat healthier meals. Families that plan their menus on a weekly basis also save time and money. Children engaged in family meals are more likely to:
- limit the use of harmful or illegal substances
- achieve greater success in school
- develop a high self-esteem
- experience fewer mental and behavioral issues
- have lower obesity rates
- cultivate improved communication skills
- build stronger ties with their families
- develop healthier eating and lifestyle habits
Remember: Parents prepare and put food on the table. Children choose whether or not to eat and how much to eat, based on their personal level of hunger. Here are a few tips to help your family get started.
Establish a general structure for meal and snack times, and allow eating only at these times. Most young children need three meals and two snacks per day, but by the age of eight, three meals and an afternoon snack are plenty. Offer water, fruits and vegetables if kids are still hungry in between meals and regular snack times. Save soda, punch, and flavored waters for special occasions.
Limit eating and snacking to a certain area of the home, such as the dining room or kitchen. Discourage grazing in front of the television or computer. If a child generally eats somewhere, it can be a reminder to him to eat whenever he sits there, whether the child is really hungry or not.
Give your kitchen a makeover.
Move party foods like cookies, chips, soda and punch to higher cupboards or to the basement storage area. Make a designated snack drawer and fill it with things like low fat granola bars, raisins, vanilla wafers, and dried fruit. Pre-portion foods that don't come in individual packaging into small plastic bags. Place a fruit bowl on the counter for easy access.
Find alternatives to rewarding or bribing with food.
Instead, try stickers, hugs, and small toys, or simply say, "You did a great job!" Everyone wins when you offer some activity or time with your children as a reward. Dad can take the kids for a walk in the park. Mom can offer a swimming outing. The whole family can ride bikes together to the library.
Eat as a family as often as possible. Sit down and enjoy each other's company during meals. Kids learn when parents act as positive role models. They will also learn the social pleasures of eating well. Try not to use this time for scolding. Focus on eating and conversation and turn off the television. Limit fast foods to once a week or less.
Check out Chapter 5 in The Cook's Companion: A Guide to Health Cooking from Check your Health to learn more about making mealtime healthy and fun for the whole family.