Food… it's a part of our everyday lives, and the focus of much of our time and energy. It's how we stay fueled, how we nurture those we love, how we comfort ourselves, and how we connect with each other. Yet the simple question "what's for dinner?" can feel daunting for many parents.
The food you feed your children becomes the building blocks of their bodies and brains. Every cell, tissue, and organ requires specific nutrients for growth and repair. When growing bodies are not given the right materials, optimal health isn't possible. Because the Standard American Diet (or "SAD") is full of refined sugars, highly processed oils, and an abundance of chemicals and additives, it's no wonder that chronic illness, allergies, food sensitivities, and behavioral issues are occurring at alarming rates. When children have proper nutrition it shows in their behavior and ability to regulate their emotions, to focus in school, and to respond to adversity with resilience.
The good news is that it is possible to feed your family in a way that's healthy, enjoyable, and doesn't cause anyone to lose their sanity. A properly prepared, nutrient dense whole-food diet tastes delicious and satiates the appetite. Eating healthfully is also much more than what you put on the dinner table; it also includes the relationship that children develop with food. Learning the importance of nutrition can promote self-worth as children learn how to value their bodies and keep themselves well fueled. Knowing where to start can feel overwhelming, so here are a few tips to point you in the right direction.
1. Get educated. A nutritional therapist can provide you with the tools and knowledge to make health-promoting choices for you and your family. They can also provide you with resources for meal planning and preparation, locally sourced produce and meats, and practical strategies for eating healthfully based on your family's budget and schedule. There are also some great books and blogs out there, such as Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.
2. Tell a positive narrative about food. If you serve your family a dish they don't particularly like, you might hear complaints like "It's yucky" or "I don't like this." First, try not to be too deeply offended and pat yourself on the back for introducing something new. Then, respond with positive dialogue like "I'm glad you are finding out what you like and don't like by trying a little bit of everything." Or "It's ok to try something and decide it isn't your favorite." Their feelings can be acknowledged and validated while they are still asked to eat what's on their plate.
3. Make mealtimes about connection. As often as possible, try to make meals a whole-family activity that involves sitting at the table with no tv, phones, or other outside distractions. Dinnertime traditions can cultivate connection and positive interactions, such as having each family member saying what the best part of their day was. Avoid confrontation or focusing on negative behavior at the table, keeping dinnertime a happy activity. Research shows that kids who have regular shared family meals have better grades, healthier relationships, and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors like drinking and drugs.
4. Encourage exploration. Have children be involved with meal preparation in ways that are appropriate to their developmental level. Take them to the farmer's market and allow them to select an item of their choosing to incorporate into a weekly meal. This encourages greater connection to their food, to their community, and broadens their nutritional horizons.
5. Eating healthy is a process, it's not perfection. Throughout the stages of the family lifecycle you will encounter new challenges. Some days you just need to order pizza. Some days the kids might eat cereal in front of the tv. It's the regular habits and the nutritional education you give your family that will determine their long-term health and relationship with food. It's also perfectly healthy to have treats on the menu, as too much restriction can lead to a troubled relationship with food.
This article was first published at http://truelifewellbeing.com/healthy-habits-for-the-whole-family/
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