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Nutrition Starts at the Family Table

community connected parenting kids wellness traditional Dec 17, 2014

"Come and get it!" When was the last time your family sat down and enjoyed a meal together?

With extracurricular activities, traffic, conflicting schedules, and working parents, rounding up the troops for a meal can be almost impossible! Despite this reality, experts in nutrition, health, education, and psychology increasingly support family mealtime, regardless of children's ages. Eating together promotes good health, significantly impacts a child's emotional, intellectual, and social development. There are many benefits of eating as a family, including increased communication and well-being, bonding and connecting, practicing table manners, meal etiquette and social skills, increased warmth, love, and security, lower rates of destructive behaviour like smoking, drinking, and illegal drugs in pre-teens and teens, higher academic performance, and saving money due to the lower cost of making home-cooked meals.

As a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, in my eyes, one of the greatest advantages of eating as a family is increased health and nutrition. I’ve seen it with my own family, and a toddler that eats just about any food that is placed in front of her, including all types of different textures and tastes. Eating as a family and portraying healthy eating to your children by practicing it yourself, is the key to developing “non-picky” eaters with a healthy appetite, curiosity for new foods, and the willingness to consume wholesome and nutritious home-cooked meals.  Nutrition starts at the family table.


Nourish and Nurture Them

Meals prepared and eaten at home are usually more nutritious. They contain more whole foods that are unprocessed, unrefined, and traditional foods without artificial ingredients. They are superior in nutrition and taste, are non-addictive, and exist in tremendous variety. Whole foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, seaweed (sea vegetables), and if you aren’t vegetarian or vegan, unprocessed meat and poultry, fresh fish and shellfish, free-range eggs, and natural, unpasteurized dairy products in moderation (optional). Include a variety of fresh or dried herbs and spices in your cooking to develop your children’s taste buds.

In whole foods, no nutrients have been lost due to processing. The food contains all its original protein, fibre, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and unique nutrients.  The "complete package" enables us to absorb the food's entire nutritional value. The food is greater than the sum of its parts; its unique mix of nutrients increases the nutritional value of all its components. This is called food synergy. Whenever possible, purchase local, "organically grown" foods, since they not only promote your family’s health, but also the health of our planet.


Expand Their World One Food at a Time

Encourage your children to try new foods, without forcing, persuading, or bribing. Mealtime should be fun and relaxed. Introduce a new food along with some of the stand-by favorites. It can take 8-10 exposures to a new food before it is accepted, so be patient. Trying a new food is like starting a new hobby. It expands your child’s knowledge, experience, and skill. Include foods from other cultures and countries. Select a different vegetable or fruit from your local farmer’s market to try every week, and have your child select a new recipe from a cookbook, website, newspaper, or magazine.

Historically, many thousands of edible species have served us as food.  This variety represents true choice and an opportunity to develop wider tastes and taste discrimination. Whole, natural foods are endlessly customizable, as shown by the many cuisines throughout history and around the world. Whole foods, as well as whole food-based recipes, are complete with all their rich natural endowment of nutrients. They have not been highly processed nor do they contain synthetic, artificial, or irradiated ingredients and preservatives.


Help Them Become Self-Sufficient

Children today are missing out on the importance of knowing how to plan and prepare meals. Basic cooking, baking, and food preparation are necessities for being self-sufficient. Involve your family in menu planning, grocery shopping, and food preparation. Preschoolers can tear lettuce, cut bananas, and set the table. Older children can pour beverages, peel vegetables, and mix batter. Teenagers can dice, chop, bake, and grill. Working as a team puts the meal on the table faster, as well as makes everyone more responsible and accepting of the outcome. Improved eating habits come with "ownership" of a meal. Seeing what whole foods look like before they are turned into a meal will also help them understand what their foods look like in the market or grocery store, and where it comes from.


Encourage Them to Eat Consciously

When there is more awareness around the dinner table, there is better health. When you sit down to eat with your children, begin each meal with a silent pause or giving thanks. Help them understand where their food comes from and the reasons they should be grateful. Avoid having a meal when anyone is angry, anxious, upset, or overtired. The point is to eat with good company in pleasant conversation and avoid distractions such as reading, watching TV, texting, talking on the phone, or arguing while eating. Be present. Eat slowly, chewing food thoroughly and taking the time to enjoy the tastes, textures, and aromas of the food. Keep the mood light, relaxed, and loving. Keep a sense of humor while at the dinner table. Try not to instruct or criticize—lead by example. Your children will follow!


How to Get Them at the Family Table

With today's hectic lifestyles and streamlined food preparation, family mealtime often gets sidetracked. Can you get your family together at mealtime? Whether it’s for a quick breakfast before school and work, or dinner after activities in the evening, try to enjoy at least one daily meal together as a family! If that’s not at all possible, opt for weekends at least. Make it routine. Set regular meal times by writing them on the calendar. Let everyone know when breakfast, lunch, or dinner is served and when they must be ready to eat.

If the family is not used to eating together regularly, start small. At first, get used to eating together by scheduling family meals two or three days per week. Then, as the weeks progress, begin to have more and more regular meals. Keep table time realistic – not so long that the pleasure goes away. Keep table talk positive. Everyone gets to talk and to listen. Sitting around a table, not side-by-side at the counter, helps. The term “family” includes single-parent households as well. Eat with your child, even if it’s just the two of you. Eating as a family has great benefits for children of all ages from babies, to school children, and yes, even teenagers! Make shared family meals a priority. Emphasize the importance of being together.

In order to guide you on the path to nourishing your family, I've compiled my knowledge in the FREE Real Food Nutrition Guide. Click here to download it

Looking to source quality foods, supplements, and nontoxic home products? This vetted list put together by Beyond Vitality can help!

See List


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