Conquering family meals while serving up healthful foods

June 29, 2012|Brandy Baxter

Healthful eating as a family can be a challenge.

Many people are aware that eating together as a family is an important component in teaching their families good eating habits.

Unfortunately, putting this into action can be difficult in today's world where both parents are working and children are involved in multiple activities.

However, making an effort to eat together just twice a week can make a difference. This might include Thursday evening dinner and Sunday morning breakfast, or any combination of meals that work into the schedule.

Why is this so important? Because it gives parents the opportunity to model healthful eating for their children.

Cooking at home also gives parents control over what goes into the meals served, so they tend to be healthier than picking up something on the run.

Eating together also gives families the chance to bond and converse, encouraging them to take their time with eating and enjoy the meal.

Television can also be a major barrier to healthful family eating. For children, teens, and adults alike, the habit of watching television while eating a meal encourages mindless eating. 

When the focus is on what is being watched on TV rather than what is being eaten, people are less likely to listen to hunger and fullness cues. They are more likely to finish what is on their plate whether they are full or not. TV watchers are also less likely to follow proper portions. Even if only two people are home for the meal, make an effort to eat at the table.

One person's special nutritional needs might also be difficult to work around.  However, placing a priority on eating healthful as a family is very important. 

Does Dad need to lower his cholesterol? Is one child struggling with extra weight gain? Make sure to include the whole family in accommodating that person's needs. They will be more likely to make the positive changes for themselves if they have support. It will not hurt anyone to reduce their cholesterol or increase vegetable intake, and childhood is a crucial time to start healthy habits anyway. 

Overall, try to make healthful family eating fun.  You could have theme nights like Mexican or Italian, complete with decorative place settings or fun straws. 

Or host a contest to see which family member can make the best-tasting meal involving three or more food groups. Get everyone a funny apron to wear when cooking. Make it a goal to try one new recipe a week from a healthful eating cookbook.

Incorporating these tips one at a time can make the road to change a little easier.  Before you know it, they will become second nature.

Meeting resistance from one or more family members is to be expected, but keep trying and eventually the changes will likely be accepted.   

Brandy Baxter is a registered dietitian at Meritus Medical Center in Hagerstown. Her column focuses on kids' nutrition.

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