I’m excited to introduce our guest author today, Tamara Grand. She is a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. It’s an honor to have her write on our GolladayFit blog! You can read her blog at http://fitknitchick.com, follow her on Twitter at fitknitchick_1 or follow her on Facebook at Fitknitchick.
Creating Healthy Family Meals: Tips for Busy Moms
By Tamara Grand
As a busy mom of three school-age children, I get that it’s challenging to find time to shop for, prepare and sit down to healthy family meals. Between work, school and extracurricular activities, there’s rarely an evening when I don’t have to be in two places at once 🙂
But given the fact that eating habits are strongly influenced by early life food experiences, I believe that one of the most important skills I can teach my children is the ability to make healthy food choices for themselves.
From the time my children were old enough to wield a spoon, I’ve used a variety of strategies to teach them about nutrition, food preparation and the consequence of indulging in less-than healthy options.
- Educate yourself about nutrition. Read product labels. As painful as it may be, take your children grocery shopping with you. Teach them to read the packaging and talk about why certain items don’t have a place in your grocery cart. I ask my children to read the ingredients list out loud; if there’s a word they can’t pronounce, we don’t buy it (note that this gets more difficult as they get older and better at sounding out new words 😉 )
- Make meal preparation a family affair. Even small children can help with age-appropriate tasks. Washing fruits and vegetables, setting the table, getting out the fancy napkins, etc. Children are more likely to eat new foods when they’ve participated in the planning and preparation of the meal.
- Prepare one meal and one meal only. Trying to cater to individual likes and dislikes may seem like a great way to get children to eat, but it’s exhausting for the cook and usually backfires. Chances are, when you visit grandma’s, there won’t be ‘extra’ dishes on the table for your picky eater.
- Serve dishes ‘family’ style so that children can see what’s on offer. I am a strong believer in letting children choose what and how much to eat. My job is only to make sure there are healthy choices available to them.
- Offer foods in their simplest and most natural forms. Include a selection of raw veggies, cut in interesting shapes and sizes; often children prefer the taste and texture of raw vegetables over cut (I leave a ‘raw veggie’ tray out on the kitchen counter while I’m preparing dinner; it’s often gone by the time we actually sit down to eat!). Covering healthy foods in calorie-laden sauces sends a mixed message; broccoli is good for you, but it needs to be covered in cheese to make it palatable.
- Make the time to eat together at least once a day. For some families, that meal will be dinner. For others, breakfast is a better time. Think of family meals not just as a time to eat, but as a time to re-connect and share moments from your busy day with one another.
- Avoid pre-packaged convenience foods. Food companies are very good at marketing ‘fake’ food to children; crackers, cookies, drink boxes and cereals. Even the healthiest looking options are still full of sugar, salt, preservatives and empty calories. Training a young child’s palate to expect these tastes is only setting them up for a lifetime of poor food choices.
- ‘Batch’ process your food in advance. If you’re short on time and tempted by convenience foods, carve out an hour or two in your week to prepare healthy meals and snacks in advance. Portion and freeze in appropriate sized servings so that you can ‘heat’ and ‘eat’ home made ‘convenience’ foods when you’re in a hurry.
- Start talking about nutrition with your children when they’re still toddlers. Avoid judgement when you talk about specific foods and ingredients. In my house, we avoid the ‘f’ word (fat) at all costs. Focus on how making good food choices influences your mood (“when I eat apples I feel happy”) and your energy levels (“when I drink soda I run around like crazy them fall down in a tired heap”).
- Avoid using food as a reward. As tempting as it can be, offering your child a sweet treat for good behavior or a job well done sets the stage for using food as an emotional crutch. Praise your children with words and reward them with experience. Enjoy a cookie for the simple pleasure of enjoying a cookie; nothing more, nothing less.
Do you talk to your children about nutrition?
What’s your biggest challenge with creating healthy family meals?
About Tamara Grand
Tamara Grand lives in beautiful British Columbia Canada with her husband, three children, a ginger cat and a large stash of hand-dyed yarn. She works as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor and enjoys pushing her clients and class participants out of their comfort zones. She’s happiest when they text her the day after a workout complaining about sore arms and legs.
She believes that exercise and healthy eating need to be part of everyone’s life and aims to inspire and motivate others by showing them that if she can do it, anyone can. She blogs about fitness, food, family and fiber (knitting fiber, that is) at fitknitchick.com and is always thrilled when you comment on her posts. Please follow her on Twitter @fitknitchick_1. She (almost) always follows back.