- Sit as a family: When juggling work, sports, and multiple schedules, it can be difficult to get food on the table, let alone sit down as a family. Sitting as a family offers many benefits including conversation time, modeling good eating habits, and introducing new or non-preferred foods. Encourage your child to talk about their day without being interrupted. Taking your time and chewing thoroughly while eating are good eating habits to model. When new foods are introduced, your child is more likely to try these foods if they observe you or siblings eating them as well.
- Turn off the TV: In order to eat without distraction, it is important to turn off of the TV during meal time. Subsequently, ask your child to eat at the kitchen table rather than in the family room. Eating in front of the TV may distract your child from the food on their plate, particularly if non-preferred food is offered. Additionally, eliminating this distraction allows your child to concentrate on safe eating habits.
- Make it fun: Make meal time fun by introducing animals and characters. First, tell your child there is a party in their tummy and all their food wants to be a part of it. Encourage your child to eat more by taking a mouse bite (little bite) or a dinosaur bite (large bite). Characterizing food can make food seem not so scary to children. Call broccoli “trees”, or make Mickey Mouse shaped sandwiches or pancakes. Fun utensils such as lizard forks or airplane spoons make meal time more fun too!
- Give your child choices: Getting your child to eat vegetables or a new food can be as difficult as taking them to the doctor. Giving your child choices when it comes to their meals not only gives you full control, but it allows your child to feel like they have a part too. If vegetables are typically refused, introduce these foods as a choice rather than telling your child what they have to eat. “Do you want broccoli or carrots?” or “Do you want ranch on the side, or do you want to eat your vegetables plain?”
- Include Child in Preparation: Encourage your child to help you prepare the food. Allow your child to help add ingredients, add food to each plate, set the table, and clear the dishes. Similarly to giving your child choices, let your child help choose what to eat for a meal. When your child is included in the preparation, they are more likely to participate during meal time.
The first step to having a healthy diet for your family happens when you make a trip to the grocery store. Choosing what foods you put in the cart actually determines your child’s health, in a lot of ways.
Here are some tips to make grocery trips a healthy success
Make a habit and priority of going to the grocery store at least once a week.
This sounds basic, but what happens when you are low on food in the house? Often this means picking up fast food, random snacks, or making a meal out of chips. Also, cooking food at home is key to a healthy lifestyle. Research supports this, and also shows that families who eat together eat more fruits and vegetables. It’s also wonderful family bonding time and a place for kids to learn healthy eating habits from their parents
Here is a basic list of foods to get weekly for the family
- Meats, beans, tofu, or seafood for main dishes
- A variety of fresh fruit for side dishes and snacks, frozen fruit for smoothies, and/or dried fruit for snack.
- Vegetables to eat raw, like salad greens, carrots, tomatoes, celery. Vegetables to eat cooked like potatoes, onions, garlic, brussell sprouts, zucchini, squash, peas, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower.
- Eggs (if your family eats them), for breakfast or to cook with.
- Milk or milk alternative.
- Cereal and/or oatmeal.
- A jar of nut butter.
- “Flavoring and cooking” items like sauces, dressings, olives, seasonings, cheese, olive oil, etc.
- Whole grain bread.
- Whole grain side dishes like pasta, quinoa, or brown rice.
- The rest of your list can be the specialty items needed for new recipes or specific meals.
Keep a pen and paper handy for an ongoing list for the next grocery trip. That way if you come across a good recipe in a magazine or online, you can write down the ingredients needed. Some people find it helpful to create a “menu” plan for the week for dinners, and use new recipes throughout the week. A list keeps you focused and organized while you are in the store.
Picture a typical grocery store in your mind and how it is set up. The middle aisles draw you in, but what do you find there? What do you find when you walk the perimeter of the store? It is not random that most grocery stores are set up this way. The middle aisles draw you in, but mostly are filled with processed foods. The outer part of the store is where many whole foods are: fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood. Don’t skip the produce section.
There are many side by side options of every food product out there, making a grocery trip feel like a “Where’s Waldo” experience. My choice is to buy organic and local as much as possible. Reduced fat or regular depends on what you and your family needs as part of a healthy diet. I choose regular, as many reduced fat foods are loaded with sugar or other chemicals in place of the reduced fat.
If you’re brave enough to bring the kids along to the grocery store (or maybe you don’t have a choice), let them pick from healthy options you have preselected. For example, give them a few breakfast cereal options and let them pick which one they want. Or bring them to the produce section and let them pick one fruit and vegetable each. This gets kids engaged in healthy eating, and if they picked it, they are more likely to be excited about eating it.
As a dietitian and a mom, I believe in whole foods nutrition. This means eating foods that are found growing in nature, and have undergone as little processing as possible. This doesn’t mean I never eat processed foods. It is pretty difficult not to in today’s world.
There are a few things I recommend avoiding:
- High Fructose Corn Syrup– This controversial sweetener makes the list for a few reasons. It is found in highly processed foods and beverages that are often high in calories and sugar. Also, fructose requires a “carrier” in the gut for digestion. These carriers get overwhelmed with large amounts of fructose coming through the gut at once (i.e. beverages sweetened with high fructose corn syrup), which results in gut bacteria breaking down fructose with side effects such as gas, bloating, pain, nausea, diarrhea and/or constipation. Furthermore, it is a highly processed food which is created using chemical processes.
- Partially hydrogenated– These words mean the same thing as “trans fat”. Trans fat is bad for us because of its chemical structure and the way it gets stored in our body (lining blood vessels). It is highly susceptible to oxidation, which is a chemical reaction that breaks the hydrogen bonds of the trans fatty acid chain, releasing free radicals. Free radicals can then break more hydrogen bonds, including in lining of cells, which causes cell damage and releases more free radicals, and the cycle continues.
- Artificial sweeteners– These make this list because they are chemicals, and often found in highly processed foods and beverages. Sucralose (aka Splenda) has a similar chemical structure as a sugar molecule, except chlorine atoms replace some carbon groups. Chlorine is not something we typically think of as a good thing to put in our body, in any quantity. In addition, they trick us into thinking we are going to eat something sweet, which arguably makes us crave the real thing.
- Artificial Food Coloring– European countries have imposed a voluntary ban onmany artificial food colorings because research indicates they may have harmful effects. There is controversy over whether artificial food coloring exacerbates aggression and/or ADHD symptoms. But the bottom line is, if a food is artificially colored, it is probably not a healthy food.
- Any label with a laundry list of unrecognizable, un-pronounce-able ingredients– This should raise a red flag. So many packaged, processed foods have a long list of ingredients that our grandparents and ancestors would never have considered “food”. And the obesity epidemic and cancer rates we have now didn’t exist in their day either.
Can you identify this common food by its ingredient list?
WATER, HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL (COCONUT AND PALM KERNEL OILS), HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, CORN SYRUP, SKIM MILK, LIGHT CREAM, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF SODIUM CASEINATE, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, XANTHAN AND GUAR GUMS, POLYSORBATE 60, SORBITAN MONOSTEARATE, BETA CAROTENE (COLOR).
It is “whipped topping”. I will leave the brand name anonymous- but it’s the one we’ve all had on top of birthday cakes, pies, and ice cream.
Some of the healthiest foods in the world do not have food labels with ingredient lists to read at all. Do you have foods in your cupboards or fridge that don’t have food labels? If not, take a serious look at your diet and your overall health. A good rule of thumb is, the shorter the ingredient list, the better; and the more ingredients you recognize, the better. Better yet, get single “ingredient” foods without labels like fruits, vegetables, and farm fresh animal products. For more tips for better nutrition and better health, see a registered dietitian at North Shore Pediatric Therapy.