How do you feel about the quality of your diet and your family’s diet? Too often parents find themselves at a crossroads when it comes to creating a healthful balanced meal that both nourishes and satisfies all members of the family. In a recent article published by the National Institute of Health, diet was listed as one of the five modifiable factors to improve health outcomes for all Americans.
It is possible to love your food and provide your family with the building blocks for a lifetime of healthy balanced nutrition. Today, many parents and caregivers are like short-order cooks, catering to each individual’s needs, preparing meals like pizza, macaroni and cheese, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, and the like. Historically these foods take center stage on kids’ menus. Further, mealtimes are often considered grab-and-go experiences. These scenarios result in excessive snacking and mindless grazing, and contribute to a decreased intake of vitamins and minerals and an increased intake of empty calories. To amp up the positive effects of mealtime, I challenge you to implement family meals, remove heavily processed items from your family’s rotation, and focus on a balanced diet.
You may think, “No one in my family wants to sit together and have salad for dinner.” There are plenty of healthful balanced meals that are both nutritious and delicious, outside of salad. For a balanced meal, aim to have at least two servings of vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or spinach, with one serving of a lean protein like skinless chicken or salmon, and one serving of grains like brown rice or quinoa, or starchy vegetables like corn, carrots, and peas. With the right balance of healthful foods, you are supplying the nutrients that children need to grow, and adults need to function optimally. And with a designated mealtime, you allow everyone at your dinner table to learn about and appreciate a balanced meal, setting them on the right path to a life of health and wellness.
- Clean out your pantry and fridge. Get rid of heavily processed items that contain more than 20 percent of the daily recommended value for salt, sugar, and fat. Give any unwanted items to your local food pantry. Taking away questionable foods that do not contribute to your health makes choosing the right foods that much easier.
- Restock your pantry and fridge. Fill your home with (1) protein sources like dry and canned beans, lean animal meat, fish, eggs, and low-fat dairy such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, (2) complex carbohydrates like quinoa, barley, faro, brown rice, and wheat berries, (3) healthy fats like nuts, olive oil, and grapeseed oil, and (4) fruits such as berries, apples, and pears, and vegetables such as spinach, carrots, and broccoli. When the fridge and pantry are stocked, you can easily throw together a healthful meal.
- Involve your family. Find ways to involve all members of the family in grocery shopping and meal preparation. Try making grocery shopping more like a scavenger hunt, and invite your family to help choose meals for the week or even help you cook! By making food a family project, an interest in healthy eating develops and eventually grows into a more healthful lifestyle.